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The Wolfpen Notebooks: A Record of Appalachian Life

With a Foreword by Eliot Wigginton
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Wolfpen Notebooks
    Book Description:

    After keeping school for six years at the forks of Troublesome Creek in the Kentucky hills, James Still moved to a century-old log house between the waters of Wolfpen Creek and Dead Mare Branch, on Little Carr Creek, and became "the man in the bushes" to his curious neighbors. Still joined the life of the scattered community. He raised his own food, preserved fruits and vegetables for the winter, and kept two stands of bees for honey. A neighbor remarked of Still, "He's left a good job, and come over in here and sot down."

    Still did sit down and write -- the classic novel River of Earth and many poems and short stories that have found their way into national publications. From the beginning, Still jotted down expressions, customs, and happenings unique to the region. After half a century those jottings filled twenty-one notebooks. Now they have been brought together in The Wolfpen Notebooks, together with an interview with Still, a glossary, a comprehensive bibliography of his work by William Terrell Cornett, and examples of Still's use of the "sayings" in poetry and prose. The "sayings" represent an aspect of the Appalachian experience not previously recorded and of a time largely past.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4373-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Eliot Wigginton

    James Still tilted precariously in a ladderback chair in George Brosi’s Berea, Kentucky, bookstore. He and I had both been involved that day with events on the Berea College campus, and, as always happens after such activities, we had gone to Appalachian Mountain Books to relax, browse, buy books, talk about new projects, and gather news from George about what other Appalachian writers and publishers were up to.

    At over eighty years of age, Still, one of the region’s best-loved and most skillful writers, had new projects on his mind. There were unfinished stories to polish, and negotiations to conduct...

    (pp. 1-8)
    Laura Lee

    A group of high school students from Rabun County, Georgia, conducted two interviews with James Still, one in our classroom and one in Hindman, Kentucky, where Still lives. Still looks closer to being sixty years young than eighty years old. Although he moves carefully, all his actions are sharp and enthusiastic. He is very expressive in using his hands and changing his facial features to emphasize a point he is making. His face is plump and cheerful, the forehead creased with years stretching back into a smooth, bald head ringed by short white hair. His ears are those of an...

    (pp. 9-42)
    Laura Lee

    My paternal grandparents were William Watson Still and Annie McClendon Still, and my mother’s parents were James Benjamin Franklin Lindsey and Carrie Jackson Lindsey. My forebears from both sides first settled in Virginia during pioneer days. The Lindseys set down near Berryville and the Stills in what is now Lee County near Jonesville. There’s a roadside marker at Jonesville noting the birthplace of Alfred Taylor Still,¹ the man who conceived the medical system of osteopathy. Jonesville is up the road from Cumberland Gap where I came to attend college in 1924. I didn’t know then I was completing a genealogical...


    • In the Haystack
      (pp. 43-51)

      “When you tear into a haystack you never know what you’ll discover. A ’possum, a covey of quail, a rattlesnake, maybe a gallon of moonshine stashed away. Or, not unheard of, a pair of sweethearts bedded down.”

      “God sent the very strongest people to live in these here mountains. Otherwise they couldn’t of stood it.”

      “Things hain’t going to be no better no more no how.”

      “There have been frightful struggles to live any kind of life in these mountains.” —Willis Weatherford,Sr.

      “A poet is the nearest thing to God.”

      “You may watch it and note it for yourself....

    • Heaven High and Hell Deep
      (pp. 51-63)

      “Come and see us some damn time. We’ll treat you so many ways you’ll never come back.” “My pap believed in boys learning to work. He’d have us hoeing corn until the lightning bugs started winking.”

      “I’ll never forget the rocky creek bed I grew up alongside of. I had too many toenails knocked off in it to forget.”

      “The hill I was raised on was so steep you’d skin your nose climbing it.”

      “Hit might not be true but I’ve heered it. They tell how in olden times when Kentucky was Old Virginia they come in here a family...

    • Sparking Material
      (pp. 64-76)

      “Today is my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I tried to forget it but my woman wouldn’t let me. You know women, they keep in head everything you’re trying to forget. When she reminded me I said, ’Jane, it’s been twenty-five years but it seems like a hundred: She laughed, thinking I was bull-ragging her, and I sort of was. By now she never knows when to believe me. ‘Well,’ I says, ‘being I’ve put up with you a quarter of a century and couldn’t run you off I reckon I might as well keep you.’ And you know what that crazy...

    • At the Dinner Table
      (pp. 76-79)

      “I love a good mess of parsnips. When I’m eating them I have to hold my hand over my mouth to keep from shouting.”

      “The woman who invented grease gravy ought to have a monument a mile high.”

      “What’s for supper?”

      “Bread and with-it.”

      “When Russell dropped and broke the milk jar he lost his belly timber.” —Jay Thornsberry

      “A lot of folks are living out of cans and pokes these days. And when they put it on the table it’s not fitting to eat.”

      “The poor man’s piece of the chicken is the neck.”

      “The way to make ‘Low...

    • Critters
      (pp. 79-85)

      “Critters that walk the earth or fly the sky were put here the same as us and for a good reason.”

      “There’s a serpent in this country we call the ‘laughing snake.’ If one ever bites you you’ll laugh yourself to death. But I don’t reckon one ever bit anybody.”

      —Sam Stamper

      “Me and my woman found the first baby we had dead in bed. A cat had stole its breath.”

      “Ten ears of corn feeds one working mule a day. That’s three thousand six hundred and fifty ears a year. There are a hundred ears to the bushel...

    • Mountain Horse Sense
      (pp. 85-89)

      “Yellow poplar makes good coffin lumber.”

      “The balk between the corn rows should be the width of a mule’s rump.”

      “Corn meal that’s not dried out proper makes stubborn bread.”

      “Goose grease is the main-est thing for waterproofing shoes.”

      “Plant ’taters when the signs are in the feet.”

      “When I was a boy I used to have headaches. I don’t know why. I’d crumple up black walnut leaves and fill my cap full. I was told that would do some good.”

      “The time to plant beans is on the hundredth day of the year.”

      “Jimson weed grows in rich dirt....

    • Weather
      (pp. 89-92)

      “When raindrops gather like berries on the bushes you can bet your thumb there’s more rain a-coming.”

      “The worst sort of weather ’cast has been coming over my Philco radio lately. I’m of a mind to buy me another brand.”

      “Hornets are building their nest-es low down in the bushes. A certain sign of early cold weather.”

      “The wind was so strong it’d knock a fellow down and beat him to death after it got him there. Well, mighty nigh it.”

      “If there’s a dry wind on the sixth of June there’ll be no blackberries for picking in July, and...

    • Superstitions
      (pp. 93-96)

      “My mother kept a silver dollar in a churn to keep the witches away. She believed that with all her heart.”

      “Sowing sage seed is sowing sorrow. Hit’s bad luck. My neighbors won’t plant it. They come at sausage-making time and borrow off of me. They want me to have all the trouble.”

      “A cow-lick on your head is a sign you’ve got grit.”

      “If you don’t share your blossoms, your flowers won’t grow; if you don’t share your bread, your dough won’t rise.”

      “If you ever find a plumb honest man, there’ll be a patch of hair growing in...

    • Politics
      (pp. 96-101)

      “There’s a condition I call a ‘force put.’ Something you have to do whether you want to or not. You can’t beg off. Like being summonsed to set on a jury in a case you don’t want to get messed up in. That’s plime-blank what happened to me last fall. How was I going to get myself to do what I so strong hated to? What I done was I cut me a hickory switch, and I whipped myself to the courthouse.”

      “There used to be the independent voter. Nowadays people vote in knots.”

      “He’s hung himself on the thorns...

    • Moonshine
      (pp. 101-105)

      “I spent all the money I ever made on whiskey, except for the little I wasted on groceries.”

      “The time I pulled in the penitentiary for making moonshine was tough tiddy. If they ever put me in again it will be for singing too loud in church.”

      “He used to run off the best moonshine likker in the country. When you took a snort of his whiskey you’d better be standing on level ground.”

      “If you can drink the other fellow’s likker, you’ve got yours left.”

      “There are three things you can’t make nastier than they already are: tobacco, molasses,...

    • When the World Fell In
      (pp. 105-107)

      “He can load twenty-one shuttle buggies of coal in a day and everyone with a graveyard hump.”

      “Before I’d mine coal for a living I’d make me a tin beak and go peck with the chickens.”

      “The water coming down Yellow Creek out of the mines will eat the fenders off your truck. It’ll rot horses’ hooves, too. What do you figure it will do to your belly?”

      “I’m in for an unhappy summer. Them big coal trucks are running through my land and tearing my gate down everytime I fix it. I’m seventy years old and I’ve never killed...

    • Just a Selling Job
      (pp. 107-112)

      “A good whittier can work on a match stem all day and still have enough left of it to pick his teeth with after supper.”

      “He’s the boss. The man with the brass balls. When he speaks you’re supposed to jump.”

      “Any schoolteacher who hain’t never taught nobody nothing hain’t never teached.”

      “They ought to be a story wrote about me, and what I done. Working for the Inland Gas Company I walked 160,000 miles in 24 years and 5 months. Crossed eight hills a day, every day, walking to check the pipe lines to see if there were any...

    • The Nature of Man
      (pp. 112-125)

      “I don’t start fights I can’t finish standing up.”

      “He’s about half fool but what sense he does have he uses.”

      “All them Halls are good musicians. Right from the time they shed their diapers.”

      “He was full fifty years old and so small he had to wear boy’s clothes. But he allus carried with him the difference between him and regular-sized men—a razorsharp Russell barlow knife.”

      “When I was a young, growing-up fellow and somebody would say something to me I didn’t like, I didn’t act mad. I’d just laugh. And the next thing I’d do was to...

    • Rooted and Grounded in the Word
      (pp. 125-129)

      “If the good Lord doesn’t reconcile with you, you’ll split hell wide open.”

      “They’ve padded the seats in their church, and that won’t do. You know what the Good Book says about being at ease in Zion.”

      “When I get to heaven I’m going to hear the music of the harpers harping on their harps.” “He was a big preacher for our part of the country. Lived right himself and wanted everybody else to. But he wasn’t against a man taking a drink of whiskey at the right place and right occasion. He’d say, ‘It hain’t the likker that’s bad,...

    • Yarns
      (pp. 129-131)

      “He can lay two cobs on the ground six inches apart, keep his hands in his pockets and talk them together.

      He’ll talk and the cobs will inch toward each other until they tip.”

      “Who told you that?”

      “He did.”

      “Did you believe it?”

      “Now, no.”

      “By that worm bucket I see you’ve been out on one of your fishing sprees. Don’t start telling me about all them big’uns that got away.”

      “I’ll come clean with you. I put out six lines and barely got a nibble. But if I had time for it I’d tell you about the huge...

    • Tales
      (pp. 131-138)

      “Old Sid Pridemore never went nowhere much in his life. Never traveled farther than the forks of Troublesome Creek to pay his taxes, and to set once on a jury. That was yonder when the creekbed was the road and you had to travel horseback, by wagon or shanks-mare.

      “When final-last a road was built up Quicksand and an automobile could get in and out, Sid’s son-in-law, John Zeek Smith, talked him into going with him to Hazard in Perry County. Going to let Sid see a speck of the world.

      “Well, sir, they got to Hazard and old Sid’s...

    • Chewing the Cud
      (pp. 138-144)

      I sparked an old maid, kissed her twice;

      Her lips were dry but they sufficed.

      I bought a rude cow, she milked water;

      She kicked me where she shouldn’t have oughta.

      Skin your eyes and see the fishes;

      Shake a money tree if you crave riches.

      “When I was a tadwhacker, not old enough to make a shuck rattle when I peed, I learnt a verse off somebody. I’d say it just to act smart and grown up although I didn’t know what it meant. And I don’t know now. Maybe I didn’t hear it right.

      “Up jumped a six-foot...

    (pp. 145-158)

    We lived in Houndshell mine camp the year of the coal boom, and I remember the mines worked three shifts a day. The conveyors barely ceased their rusty groaning for five months. I recollect the plenty there was, and the silver dollars rattling wherever men walked; and I recollect the goldfinches stayed that winter through, their yellow breasts turning mole-gray.

    We were eating supper on a November evening when Sim Brannon, the foreman, came to tell Father of the boom. Word came that sudden. Father talked alone with Sim in the front room, coming back to the kitchen after a...

    (pp. 159-159)
    (pp. 161-164)
    (pp. 165-178)
  11. [Illustration]
    (pp. 179-179)