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Sitting Up With the Dead, an Appalachian Custom

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The word Appalachia is an old Indian word, and it means “endless mountain range.” The Cherokee Indians who lived there thought the Appalachian Mountains went on forever and ever. Covering thirteen states today, gazing out the windows of a car or stopping at a look-out site give the same sense of forever to these mountains. Their beauty is breath-taking.

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Pioneer Ulster Scots and Scots-Irish settled the mountains of Appalachia during the 18th century. Proudly, they brought their heritage with them, which included an allegiance to family, friends, and faith, the Presbyterian faith. Gravitating to the rocky terrain, so like their homeland of Scotland, they sought new lives. Independent and self-reliant to the core, they also were protective of each other. Their helping hands reached out to kith and kin.

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Sitting up with the dead, also called a wake, is one of the ways they stuck close to each other. It showed respect for the person and his life. It might have been adopted from the Jewish tradition of sitting with a dead body until burial. Called in Hebrew shemira, which means guarding or watching.

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Their lives were hard, and a home funeral brought comfort to the bereaved. These wakes could last for days, as mourners traveled from many hollers. Generally, the guests paid their respects to the dead, then went into another room for sandwiches, coffee and a long visit. Some pulled up chairs beside the handmade coffin or leaned against the walls.

The women in the family prepared the body. It was an open casket, and usually a handmade quilt covered the body, along with flowers and sweet-smelling herbs. The body was dressed in the Sunday-best clothes, which might have been clean overalls and never left alone.

In describing the Appalachian people, John Muir said “You are not in the mountains, the mountains are in you.” When my husband’s family left the mountains of Erwin, Tennessee, to take jobs in the cotton mills of South Carolina, they brought their culture with them.

Just like their Appalachian forebearers, wakes were still part of the grieving process into the twentieth century.

Oliver Edward Ingle, my husband’s father, passed away on December 6, 1968 at the Wallace Thompson Hospital in Union, South Carolina. Though embalming was the funeral home’s job then to prepare the body, the family still held a wake at his home. In the living room, John and his brothers greeted their father’s siblings, cousins, and neighbors all through the night, while their mother slept sedated, overcome with the shock. They pulled the sofa in front of the fireplace, because it was the only heat in the house, and brought in the solid oak, kitchen chairs for extra seating.

The percolator kept them plied with coffee, and the women of Allen Memorial Baptist had filled the table with food. Emotions were high, as the reality of loss crept in the door. There were times during the night that only the sons sat steadily before the fire. These stoic brothers, still in shock from their father’s sudden death that day, passed the night sharing memories, tears, stories, and laughter.

For almost twenty-four hours, Tom, John, Buck, and Jim Ingle kept a vigil in the house their father had built.

When a ship moves across the water, it leaves a wake in its path. It is a concrete sign that shows the ship’s passage, and it can be followed. Sometimes it spreads out and touches other ships or a shoreline.

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At a funeral wake, people talk about how they have been touched by a life, remember stories about the person, and even think about how different life will be without that person. Sharing these memories affirms a life and what has been left in his wake. And even though we can’t see them anymore, we won’t and can’t forget.

As Navy veterans, the Ingle sons celebrated the wake of their father’s life that night and into the days that followed.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” Philippians 1:3 ESV

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Over 350 Million Dollars Given Away

He was fond of saying that “the man who dies rich, dies disgraced,” And so he, turned his attention to giving away his fortune. He abhorred charity, and instead put his money to use helping others help themselves. That was the reason he spent much of his collected fortune on establishing over 2,500 public libraries, as well as supporting institutions of higher learning. By the time his life was over, he had given away 350 million dollars.

Who was this American philanthropist? Andrew Carnegie.

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This industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was born on November 25, 1835, in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. Carnegie grew up in a family that believed in the importance of books and learning. The son of a handloom weaver, Carnegie grew up to become one of the wealthiest businessmen in America.

At the age of 13, in 1848, Carnegie came to the United States with his family. They settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, and Carnegie went to work in a factory, earning $1.20 a week. The next year he found a job as a telegraph messenger. Hoping to advance his career, he moved up to a telegraph operator position in 1851. He succeeded at each new job; he worked hard, kept his eyes open, and mastered each position. As they say, the rest is history.

My hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina’s first “public” library opened on October 17, 1885, on the top floor of a two-story building facing Kennedy Place; it was a gift to the city. Among the library’s first holdings was Dr. Kennedy’s 600-volume medical library and some 300 other books collected by the citizens of Spartanburg. The yearly subscription fee was $3.

The facility soon was adopted by the Ladies Auxiliary Association, which kept it stocked with books and furniture. By 1899, the ladies realized that Spartanburg was on the verge of outgrowing the little library. They wrote Andrew Carnegie, asking for a contribution to help build a new library. After four years of correspondence, the Kennedy Library Board was notified in June 1903 that Carnegie would donate $15,000 if the city would purchase the land and contribute $1,500 annually in support of the library. And it was done.

His generosity helped communities construct 2,811 free public libraries across America and 13 in South Carolina.

“A taste for reading is one of the most precious possessions of life.” -Andrew Carnegie

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon this earth as the Free Public Library.” -Andrew Carnegie

“The man who enters a library is in the best society the world offers”                  -Andrew Carnegie

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In Union, SC  is another library at 300 E. South Street which bears Carnegie’s name.

In Union Carnegie Library History, Jennie Holton Fant describes Carnegie as “a self-made immigrant,” who “succeeded in becoming the richest man in the world, with little education. He believed great wealth begets an obligation to provide for those of lesser fortune and he spent his money making books and information the shared property of all people, rich or poor. His free libraries were built to be a progressive hub of civic and cultural life for all citizens of a community. Fourteen towns in South Carolina benefited from the millionaire industrialist’s generosity between 1903 and 1920. He gave South Carolina $124,700 for thirteen public libraries to be built, and aid to one private library — the equivalent of over a million dollars today.”

The Union Library was the first public library in South Carolina.

Carnegie had a mission. This mission was born in Allegheny City, Pa., where Carnegie worked as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill — his job was to fill the bobbins with thread and oil them for the machines. He was determined to improve his lot, but he couldn’t pay the $2 subscription for a local library that was available only to apprentices (and he certainly couldn’t afford to buy books).

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He sent a letter to the library administrator asking for access to the library, but the administrator turned him down flat. So 17-year-old Andy got the letter published in The Pittsburgh Dispatch.

“He made his case so well that the administrator backed off immediately,” explains Carnegie biographer David Nasaw. “And the library was opened to working men as well as apprentices. He got what he wanted.”

In 1889 Carnegie wrote an article called “The Gospel of Wealth,” in which he spelled out his views on philanthropy: “In bestowing charity the main consideration should be to help those who help themselves.”

I would describe myself as an avid reader. From the early years of reading about Dick and Jane, I have sought out stories. During elementary school years, there was a limit of 15 books that could be checked out of the Kennedy Library in Spartanburg. They could be kept for two weeks. I ravenously read my choices and was always ready to check out more before those weeks were up.

Following in the reading lists of Mother and my grandmothers, I tended to read historical novels and biographies. There was a series of biographies of famous people that were in orange covers that I perused over-and-over. Gwen Bristow, Ken Follett, and Inglis Fletcher enthralled me with places and times I could only read about. Historical fiction is still my go-to comfort, but suspense and stories about my state also have their places on my book shelves. Pat Conroy, David Baldacchi, Kristin Hannah, Anthony Doerr, John Grisham are a few favorites.

Another one of my favorite authors is Charles Dickens, and he said,  “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

Thank you, Andrew Carnegie, for giving so much money away to brighten our lives one hundred years later.