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Songs of Life and Grace

Songs of Life and Grace: A Memoir

Linda Scott DeRosier
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j4pv
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  • Book Info
    Songs of Life and Grace
    Book Description:

    On a muggy, late August afternoon in 1936, somewhere along the banks of Greasy Creek, Life found Grace -- walking the dusty mile between work and home in a brand new pair of leather kitten-heeled pumps, blond curls bouncing in the sun. Two weeks later, Lifie Jay Preston and Grace Mollette married, a union that lasted until their deaths fifty-eight years later. There was something about them, their daughter Linda would discover, a kind of radiance and love of living that would mark them in the memories of every person they encountered -- a song that resonates years after their passing.

    Songs of Life and Graceis their story, told by the daughter whose own life grew out of their loving ministries and Appalachian sensibilities. Linda Scott DeRosier, the celebrated author of Creeker: A Woman's Journey, draws on family letters and lore, interviews, and her own recollections to reach a better understanding of her parents and the families that formed them both. Along the way, she introduces an unforgettable cast of characters: the formidable Grandma Emmy; Uncle Burns, an infamous ladies' man; helpless and simple Aunt Jo; and gentle Pop Pop, who could peel an apple in one long, unbroken spiral.

    A stirring, honest look at Appalachia and a tribute to the unbreakable bonds of family,Songs of Life and Graceestablishes DeRosier as one of the most vital and exciting new voices of the American South.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5989-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: Creeker–And Then Some
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. Introduction: The Opening Act
    (pp. xxiii-xxvii)

    Each time I stand at a microphone ready to tell a house full of folks about something or another I’m supposed to know, I am once again aware of the debt I’m owing to my parents, grandparents, indeed to all those folks who came before me. Every truth and tattle I’ve been able to turn up attests to how each generation of my people had life just a little bit harder than did their children. That has certainly been true of my family, all of whom labored long in field or coal mine—on the ground and under it, you...

  6. Individual Heritage Chart of Eliphus Jay Preston
    (pp. xxviii-xxix)
  7. Individual Heritage Chart of Grace Mollette
    (pp. xxx-xxxii)
  8. 1. The Overture
    (pp. 1-11)

    On a muggy end-of-August afternoon, fragrant with wild honeysuckle, Grace Mollette—blond hair shining in the sun—headed up Greasy Creek, marching along toward home. Though it had rained that morning, it had been a droughty summer, and the rain hadn’t gone a long way toward tamping down the polky dust that had turned Grace’s brown shoes to a smoky tan. The new leather kitten-heeled pumps pinched both of her little toes, and she could feel a blister rising on her left heel. It didn’t concern her that the shoes squeezed her feet, for Grace had never owned a pair...

  9. 2. The Early Verses
    (pp. 12-20)

    When Lifie Jay Preston married Grace Mollette, it appeared to be a match made in heaven, and the first years of the marriage bore that out. My mother, Grace, often characterized the first ten years of her marriage to Daddy as the happiest of her life. Though they didn’t have any extra money, everything seemed possible. First of all, Daddy didn’t make Momma quit work immediately, which was quite a concession in a time when a woman working was thought to undermine a man’s ability to support the family. Since Momma had signed a contract to teach out the year,...

  10. 3. Life’s Background Ballads
    (pp. 21-37)

    “Your our Grandma Preston and your Pop Pop were first cousins—brother and sister’s children. I didn’t know that before I married your daddy.” Momma was standing at the ironing board, doing up a batch of Daddy’s mine clothes when she imparted this bit of information to me. Her tightly pin-curled hair revealed the shape of her tiny little head as she pressed the iron down one long tan sleeve. Her cigarette smoldered in the heavy, blue, crystalline ashtray balanced on the pile of damp, rolledup khaki shirts and pants in the bushel basket at her feet. “It wouldn’t have...

  11. 4. Grace’s Background Ballads
    (pp. 38-61)

    Here in the twenty-first century, the birds still sing you awake on a summer’s morning at Three Forks of Greasy, and the frogs and the crickets serenade you to sleep at night. That much has not changed since young Elijah Mollette carried his bride, Emma Cline, here in December 1891. He had good intentions, Grandpa Lige. Who’d have thought he’d have to live out his last twenty years with his wife playing the roles of both man and woman on the home place? But that’s the way it was, much as it plagues me to tell it.

    Most of the...

  12. 5. Mining Camp Melodies
    (pp. 62-94)

    To Lifie Jay and Grace, the decade of the forties dawned looking much like sunset on the thirties. It found them living across the road from Pop Pop and Grandma Alk, spending any free time they had with one set of in-laws or another. Sometime in early August, Momma passed out in Grandma Emmy’s garden and had to admit to her mother that she was pregnant. From all the stories handed down to me, everybody termed it a blessing. After all, Momma and Daddy had been married nearly four years, which was a long time to wait for a pregnancy...

  13. 6. The Family Chorus
    (pp. 95-107)

    During the war years Grandma Emmy did not have one child who lived close enough to walk to her house, and for our people that was unusual. Though Momma wrote home often, she was five to eight hours away under good travel circumstance. Uncle Burns and Uncle John were off in the army. Both Uncle Fred (at Van Lear until he had to move to Wayland) and Aunt Lizzie (at Muddy Branch) still lived in Johnson County, but not near enough to come home often. Aunt Stella lived on a farm over in Martin County, and Aunt Amanda was all...

  14. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  15. 7. Two-Mile Tunes
    (pp. 108-143)

    Enthusiasm and hope leavened my family like soda in sorghum for a winter’s breakfast, expanding and lightening the heavy molasses while cutting the sweetness by half. Our laughter saved us from a syrupy sentimentality— laughter with an edge to it. The improbable we tried with heart. The impossible we just laughed about. Our thinking was that if you can poke fun at the devil, it gives you some control over him and over the inevitable outcome of his acts. Had old Lucifer in our sights, we did.

    Momma and Daddy moved back to Two-Mile essentially unchanged. They laughed a lot,...

  16. 8. Songs of Life
    (pp. 144-168)

    I have two fathers. The first, one Elipha Jay “Life” Preston, was born on March 12, 1917, down on Bob’s Branch, a tributary of the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River—and now lies buried on the top of a ridge that rolls right down to that river. He was an eastern Kentuckian, both by birth and by inclination. He loved the place, never wanted to live anywhere else, and his body now lies within walking distance of his birthplace. He was my daddy—my beloved “Daddy”—and I never called him anything else. Oh, now and then, I’d call...

  17. 9. Songs of Grace
    (pp. 169-190)

    My mother’s story—a woman born fifteen years into the twentieth century, dying before the sun rose on the twenty-first—is in some ways a cautionary tale, for it tells of a woman who never once put herself, her desires, or her needs above her family’s. She shared that habit, I think, with most rural, hillcountry women of that day. Not until the generation after mine were female children allowed—no,encouraged—to develop the virtue of selfishness necessary to gain independence. That my mother missed out on that saddens me more than I can say. Then again, the same...

  18. 10. Songs of Sister, Sister
    (pp. 191-202)

    It would be difficult, if not impossible, to document the rapidity of social change in the forties and fifties in my eastern Kentucky community, but one way of looking at it might be to compare my growing-up experiences with those of my sister. Except for the six-year difference in our age, Sister and I are a great deal alike. We are the only children of Life and Grace Preston. I was born near the beginning of the forties (1941), she near the end (1947). We grew up in the same house(s) on Two-Mile, attended Meade Memorial High School (and were...

  19. 11. Tears, Tombs, and Reunion Tunes
    (pp. 203-222)

    It is end of May in eastern Kentucky—the Friday before Decoration Day. The trees are leafed out so full that from the road I cannot be sure which hillsides have been logged. As I passed the home place this morning, I noticed that the stand of tiger lilies clinging to the bank of the main road is already in bloom. In my growing-up years I took those lilies for granted, but I’ve learned a lot since I left Two-Mile more than forty years ago. I’ve grown to appreciate those unexpected spots of beauty that come upon me unexpectedly—things...

  20. Afterword: In a Different Voice
    (pp. 223-230)

    It is spring in eastern Kentucky, and Gwen and I sit on her front porch, looking across the road beyond the creek bed at the doublewide that rests on Daddy and Momma’s old house seat. The land where our home place stood looks flatter and smaller than I remember it, and the sycamore grove that once sheltered it is all but gone. Gwen and I agree that the boy who bought the place has done a lot to clear the land and bring it back to where it was some years ago. The house Daddy built in ’56 burned more...