Friday, February 19, 2016

An Appalachian Migration Slant on Kentucky's "Where I'm From" Project

 In 1993, George Ella Lyon, Kentucky's current poet laureate, wrote a now famous poem entitled "Where I'm From," documenting the experiences that shaped her growing up journey in the mountains of Harlan County, Kentucky.   Lyon has now challenged Kentucky residents from every Kentucky county to create their own "Where I'm From" poem.  Information for submission, as well as a copy of Lyon's original "Where I'm From" poem can be found here.  The submission deadline is March 7 if you wish to participate.

George Ella Lyon's challenge has inspired me to write my own "Where I'm From" poem...from the perspective of the child of Eastern Kentucky migrants.  I had so much fun writing this and I hope you enjoy!  (Don't forget to read George Ella's original version first at the link above.)

Appalroot Farm's Where I'm From

I am from blackberry dumplins                                
from half-runners and city streets.
I am from a baby blue station wagon.
(Back home and mountain bound,
heading south on 23.)
I am from briar scratched shins
and sidewalk scraped knees
two worlds marking and etching
one gangly legged girl.

Me in front, in the white and blue dress, with my family.
I'm from supper vs. dinner,
from Banquet pot pies and creasy greens.
I'm from the haves 
and the have nots (except I knew better), 
from mountain high and hoe cake flat!
I'm from Mamaw's beet egg Easters
watching for snakes
and "everybody and his Granny" Decoration Day highways.

I'm from uptown and up salt creek,
thin as hen skin and tough as whang leather.
From the factory floor my daddy's broke hip paced,
the cattle filled creek bottoms of my papaw's place.

Under quilts of old feedsack
my mother had me sleep,
as sirens howled and street lights shone.
I am from a mountain migration--
long before my time--
a "lift up thine eyes" Duke's mixture.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Day I Discovered City Boy's Mountain Roots : An Appalachian Migration Romance

I always thought I'd marry a mountain man.  Afterall, when folks describe your origins as "an Eastern Kentucky farm in the middle of Columbus, Ohio," guess you go through life expecting no one but a mountain man could understand you well enough to pop the question.

Then, one day, along came City Boy...and I dropped any thoughts of a mountain man like a hot Arsh tater! We attended the same church, and were brought together by friends in the church who knew us well.   And somehow,"unbeknownst" to man, this guy got me.   Now, he couldn't always understand every mountain phrase or word I used, but he took that in stride and treated me like a princess through it all.  He walked through life following God, and was the kindest, biggest hearted man I had ever met. It didn't take long before I was utterly smitten.

But when it finally came time to travel further up north to meet his family, I got a case of the willies!  Winning over City Boy was like hitting the jackpot, yet I thought getting his family to think much of me might be pushing my luck a bit.  But those thoughts all changed when I met City Boy's Aunt B!  City Boy's mama and daddy had passed away not long before we met, so City Boy's Uncle T (his daddy's brother), and Uncle T's wife, Aunt B, were there to greet me.  And that's when I got a sweet little surprise!  Turns out Aunt B had grown up in a little coal mining community in the hills of Southeast Kentucky!  What!??  City Boy, from the time he was a baby, had grown up around someone from Eastern Kentucky!? She was his aunt only by marriage, but she had always been an important and ever present part of his life.

City Boy's beloved Aunt B
Let me tell you, I felt like God Himself had just reached down, tapped me on the shoulder with a wink, and whispered, "Trust me, this is where you belong!"  Within about five minutes, Aunt B and I felt like friends who'd known each other our whole lives.  She was just like all the sweet Appalachian women I had grown up knowing and loving...and I immediately knew that I had come "home!"

Fast forward a few months, and City Boy popped that big which I wholeheartedly said, "Yes!" I felt blessed beyond belief, and couldn't have guessed that God would soon have yet another sweet surprise in store for me.

I'm somewhat of a dabbler in genealogy, and by that time had traced much of my own family tree.  So during our engagement, I offered to trace City Boy's genealogy for him.  He liked the idea, but teasingly assured me that he was of a hundred percent German descent.  So I set off on the journey of digging up his roots.  I was really excited to find out more about his people, as they were soon to be my own.  And not being able to speak with City Boy's parents about their pasts left me longing to learn more about who they were.  As far as his daddy's side was concerned, City Boy's prediction panned out...all I unearthed were Ohio roots that ran back to Germany.  But I was about to discover that his mama's side was a whole different story!

City Boy seemed to know very little about his mama's people.  He had grown up closer to his daddy's side for one reason or other.  Yet City Boy's mama had been the rock and glue of their family, a woman of deep faith, with a big heart and a contagious love of life...and City Boy had absolutely adored her.  So I was excited to be able to trace her roots and share what I found with him back a little piece of his mama all over again.  Little did I know, I was about to discover that I would be more fit for that job than I realized.

City Boy's mama on her honeymoon
Within the first fifteen minutes of digging up his mama's roots, I was sitting at the computer a little slack jawed.  City Boy's mama's parents both came from the mountains of East Tennessee!  City Boy was the grandson of Appalachian migrants!?  Half of this man's roots coursed through the same culture and way of life as all of my own roots coursed through, and we had not even realized it!  As I traced back generation after generation of his mama's side, finding deeper and deeper mountain roots, I felt the weightiness of my discovery.  His mama's folks came from a way of life that I knew like the back of my hand...and maybe that was God's plan all along.  City Boy had lost his mama...but in a small way, I truly could bring a little piece of her back to him.  I could share with him everything I knew about my culture...which in turn was his own mama's culture...his culture!  If God had whispered to me, "Trust me, this is where you belong," when I met City Boy's Aunt B, I felt like he was shouting it to me now!

City Boy and I have been married several years at this point.  Next to Jesus, he is God's greatest blessing to me...a wonderful man who never ceases to amaze me with his sweet kindness and giving spirit, traits I'm just convinced he got from his mama's side (Teehee!).

I've certainly tried to share as much about my (our) culture as I can with him.  And a lot of those cultural traits seem to have taken "ahold" of him.  Or, I don't know, maybe they were really there all along... You know the saying, "You can take a boy out of the hills, but you can't take the hills out of the boy?"  Maybe,  long after a boy leaves the hills, a piece of those mountains remains and passes down through the generations in the hearts of his descendants...

As for what remains of those hills in City of his passions is our large backyard garden he created.  He can grow heirloom tomatoes and big old candy roasters with the best of them.

City Boy's garden
He learned to love soup beans and cornbread so much early on in our marriage that he's nearly foundered on them.  He's grown to where he'll ask me for a mess of dumplins, and nearly begs me weekly for homemade biscuits.  And he's learning to play the mountain dulcimer...and has just about mastered the sweetest rendition of Amazing Grace.  You see, if you trust God more than you trust your own plans, He will bless you ten fold...'cause, as it turns out, I ended up married to a mountain man afterall!

Happy Valentine's Day from Appalroot Farm!