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My Appalachia

My Appalachia: A Memoir

Sidney Saylor Farr
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 272
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    My Appalachia
    Book Description:

    "My family lived as far back in the hollers as it was possible to go in Bell County, Kentucky. Dad worked in the timber woods and at a sawmill, when there was employment to be found. We ate what we grew on the place or could glean from the hillsides. Just about everything was made by hand. We had little contact with people outside the region." Sidney Saylor Farr grew up in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky, the eldest of ten children.

    Her devotion to her family led her to accept heavy responsibilities from a very young age: at three, she remembers being put in charge of her baby sister while her parents worked in the corn field. At the age of twelve, Farr was forced to leave school to care for her ailing mother and younger siblings. Although she did not often have time to pursue her own goals, life in the mountains nourished and shaped Farr and the writer she would become. Her great-grandmother was a master storyteller, and stories passed down from generation to generation helped define her family history and fueled her imagination. Her Aunt Dellie, a voracious reader, received discarded books from the Pineville library, and as she shared these volumes with young Sidney, she opened the world to her eager niece.

    Farr's intense determination compelled her to find her own path and gave her the strength to become one of the most influential figures in Appalachian letters, nurturing other young writers who wanted to document the region's particular way of life. Although living in Appalachia was difficult -- many people of Farr's generation left the mountains for good -- she persisted through countless challenges, including poverty, discrimination, and personal loss. Farr managed to thrive despite these adversities, educating herself, raising two sons, and becoming a voice for her family, community, and culture.

    In My Appalachia, Farr shares the stories of her struggles and triumphs to create a vivid picture of a culture as enduring as the mountains. Composed of a rich mix of folklore, family history, and spiritual and intellectual exploration, Farr's deft and gentle storytelling reveals the beauty of life in Appalachia.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4567-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Beginning
    (pp. 1-11)

    I believe that each of us is a link between the past and the future, and that it is our duty to pass along family history; otherwise, legends, stories, songs, and traditions will be lost. I want my story to reveal past events that affected the lives of my people and me.

    By the time my father was a young man most of the cleared fields on Stoney Fork, Kentucky, where he and his family lived, were worn out, and new ground constantly had to be cleared for corn. Dad courted and married Mama in 1930. She was from Laurel...

  5. 2 A Way of Life
    (pp. 12-18)

    The earliest memory I have is the day I turned three years old. Mama was holding my hand as we came through the gate and climbed the steps to the front porch of Grandpa’s house. “Today’s your birthday,” she said. “You are three years old and a big girl now.” I felt proud to be three, but it was cold and wet and I was tired and hungry. The door opened and we were in the kitchen where Grandma was cooking supper. I don’t remember anything else about being there—just that brief experience of being wet and cold, knowing...

  6. 3 Oral History
    (pp. 19-31)

    A treasured “patchwork” folder reposes in my files. In this folder are transcripts of taped talks with my dad, grandpa, and others. It holds accounts of memories handed down from generations back; ghost tales, hunting trips, and strange occurrences during other treks through the woods. It is a record of the good and bad times in this century in the hills of southeastern Kentucky.

    One morning early in the spring, after I was married and living in my own house, Grandpa and Dad came by on their way down to the mouth of Stoney Fork to the post office. I...

  7. 4 Satisfy Hunger, Tickle the Funny Bone
    (pp. 32-37)

    The kitchen has been the center of most of my family life, just as it was for the first pioneer settlers who built log cabins in the wilderness. The red- or blue-checked tablecloth and curtains, a fireplace, the warmth and smell of good food cooking—these linger in the memories of generations of country people. Thanksgiving and Christmas, fried chicken and homemade ice cream, and birthday celebrations—it all originates in the kitchen. As I look back, I realize how that big, warm kitchen knitted the family together. To my way of thinking, family rooms have never quite succeeded in...

  8. 5 Decoration Day
    (pp. 38-41)

    In my home in the mountains, we observed Decoration Day on May 30 every spring. Weeks before, people would take up shovels, rakes, hoes, scythes, and other tools and would clear off the graveyards and spruce up the area. Then, on Decoration Day, they would travel to various cemeteries, carrying both fresh and artificial flowers, plants, picnic baskets, and jugs of water and Kool-Aid. They would spend hours on the various hilltops, socializing with other families, sometimes listening to an impromptu sermon or homily if a preacher happened to be on the premises. Then they would return home for another...

  9. 6 Growing Years
    (pp. 42-49)

    When I was five and my sister Della was not yet four, Dad moved us from Coon Branch down to Straight Creek so I could go to school. Until Dad could get our new house built, we lived in a ramshackle two-room building at the back edge of the property, which faced a small hill called Little Knob. The roof of the building slanted all one way, with the front, high part facing Little Knob. The back wall of the house had no windows and no door, so from inside the house we could not look across the valley to...

  10. 7 It Was So Ordered
    (pp. 50-57)

    Being the oldest, I became almost like a second mother to my siblings. I was bossy, telling them what to do and when. Della resisted the most, and told Mama everything I said or did. Then Mama would sit me down and tell me straight what I could and could not do. Clara, the next sister, was mild-mannered and cried easily. I remember one game we played often—Farmer in the Dell. We made a circle and sang about the farmer; his wife, Lillie; and his farm animals. One by one they all died, and Lillie was left all alone....

  11. 8 Honeybees and Birch Trees
    (pp. 58-67)

    Dad, Grandpa, and several of my uncles each kept five or six hives of bees. Most of Dad’s hives were homemade except for one lovely blue one; it looked so elegant and out of place sitting there in the row. I have often wished that I had asked him where he ever got such a pretty thing as that blue hive.

    I have read that one of the more important and ancient foods in the wild was honey. The English brought the honeybee to America in the early 1600s. The settlers took colonies of bees with them as they moved...

  12. 9 Transition to Harvest
    (pp. 68-74)

    Always in early spring, Dad began clearing off new ground in preparation for a field of corn. He liked to plant a new field every year, along with the old ones. We planted corn as early as possible and by the middle of May, if the weather was good, it was ready for the first hoeing. When the rows of corn were shoulder-high, Mama would stick in half-runner beans, which would grow up and twine around the cornstalk. This kept the beans off the ground and made picking them easier. The beans never hurt the corn.

    Dad said that corn...

  13. 10 Sweet and Meat
    (pp. 75-81)

    We always had molasses at our house because almost every year Dad and some of his brothers, along with Grandpa, planted a cooperative crop of cane. From this one patch they would get enough molasses to supply their families for the entire year. And, like other of their reciprocal understandings, if they did not plant cane one year, they helped their neighbors cut, gather, and process their crops through the stir-off process and received gallons of molasses in return.

    Early in the fall when the cane was ripe, Dad and his brothers cut it and separated the stalks from the...

  14. 11 Winter’s Hunger and Cold
    (pp. 82-87)

    The winter months always remind me of cold and hunger. I don’t know why this should be because even in Appalachia we always had food to eat. It may have been only a kettle of pinto beans cooked with a ham bone, a bowl of fried potatoes, and home-canned pickles with a pan of hot cornbread, but it was filling, and we never went to bed with empty stomachs.

    Perhaps the memory of cold and hunger has a racial or ethnic origin. Through stories and accounts handed down from one generation to another we all knew of starvation, the inability...

  15. 12 Family and Friends
    (pp. 88-97)

    When my youngest grandson, Eric Lawson, celebrated his eighth birthday, I went to his house to pick him up. When he answered the door, I announced to him that I had been “instructed to come kidnap a little blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who was eight years old!” His blue eyes opened wide, and he looked toward his dad. I hurried him out of the house without telling his parents specifically where we were going.

    When Eric was younger, we would go shopping together. He loved going to the grocery where they had a big, round sun face as part of their...

  16. 13 Foods We Loved
    (pp. 98-111)

    Perhaps it is my memories of early childhood, warm kitchens, and scrumptious food that has made my kitchen the most popular place in my house today. When friends come to visit inevitably we end up settling down to talk in the kitchen. Each of us has different types of memories and recollections from childhood to call upon, but food often figures largely in those memories.

    After I married, my husband and I had two sons, Dennis Wayne and Bruce Alan. Wayne is eleven years older than Bruce. We lived on Stoney Fork when Dennis Wayne was small; Bruce Alan was...

  17. 14 Moonshine and Celebrations
    (pp. 112-118)

    As part of my work for the Council of the Southern Mountains, I read articles and books about Appalachia and talked with people working in community action programs in communities across the area. In this way I learned that land grants brought the Scots-Irish mountain folk to the hills of southeastern Kentucky. Marooned in their mountains, they were generally isolated and were spread out as political minorities among the states that share Appalachia geographically. Grandpa told me that he and his people felt hardly any loyalty to North Carolina, Virginia, and the other states they lived in when they first...

  18. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  19. 15 Snake-Handling Saints
    (pp. 119-127)

    My dad, grandpa, and various other relatives used to sit on our front porch or around the heating-stove in the living room and critically examine the subject of snake handlers in our community and in other parts of the mountains.

    History tells us that snake handling as a religious practice started with a man named George Hensley in 1909. He was “searching the Scriptures for a text for a Sunday sermon,” he told people. He came across Mark 16:17, 18. He read the verses again and again, and testified that it was like a bright light being turned on in...

  20. 16 Marriage and Life after That
    (pp. 128-135)

    My parents took me from school when I was eleven years old and in the seventh grade—I never graduated from seventh grade.

    “You are only eleven years old, Sidney, you can’t stop school now,” my teacher, Miss Howard, said.

    “I have to, Miss Howard, there’s no one to help Mama.”

    “What’s wrong with your mama?”

    “Mama has a bad heart. The doctor ordered her to bed. I have to help.”

    It became my lot to cook and housekeep for my family. I never got to attend classes again as a child or adolescent. I used to dream at night...

  21. 17 Missionaries and Books
    (pp. 136-141)

    At times I yearned to know what lay beyond the mountain ranges. I dreamed of cities, towns, lakes, and oceans, which I had only read about in books. When missionaries from the Evangelical United Brethren Church at the Red Bird Mission in Beverly, Kentucky, came to Stoney Fork to hold Sunday school classes on Sunday afternoons, I felt blessed. This was my first experience with people from outside the region, and they changed the world for me. I thought they were perfect.

    The Red Bird Mission had centers in several other communities that they called outposts: Beech Creek, Middle Fork,...

  22. 18 Love for a Child and a Man
    (pp. 142-147)

    In February 1950 Leon’s unmarried fourth cousin had a baby in the Red Bird Hospital. Reverend Wilson and Dr. Schaeffer, the mission doctor, said she couldn’t keep the baby, and they asked Leon and me if we would consider adopting him. We had been married three years, but had no children. After much discussion we decided we would, and I rode across the mountain to the hospital to get him. In hindsight the thought of riding a horse and carrying a baby sounds terrifying, but that day it just seemed the ordinary thing to do. I rode my father-in-law’s workhorse....

  23. 19 Endings and Beginnings
    (pp. 148-157)

    Time went by, and the gossips in the neighborhood told me that Leon was seeing a girl named Lizzie. I got to watching him. He would go to her house, and they would go for a walk together. This made me angry, because it was he who had insisted that we repeat our vows. I thought this meant that we were making a new commitment to try to make our marriage work. Yet now he was openly seeing Lizzie. Seven-year-old Wayne was with them once and later told me that he had seen Dad and Lizzie kiss each other. At...

  24. 20 There Was Grant
    (pp. 158-184)

    Leon and I were divorced in 1967. When school started at Berea College in September 1968, I met Grant Farr at a ballroom dance class being taught by a faculty member. I loved folk dances and went every time one was held on campus, but I joined the ballroom dance class because I wanted to learn about dances I had only seen on television.

    Grant, who was certified to teach ballroom dancing, came to the class because, he said later, he “wanted to see how the faculty member taught.” The teacher quickly realized that Grant was a skilled ballroom dancer....

  25. 21 Going to London Town
    (pp. 185-200)

    When I went to England in 1984, I kept a journal so I could recall the places, people, and events I experienced while traveling. With Grant having gone to Oregon, I was facing Christmas alone. Because Bruce and his friend Kimberly were already in London on work-scholarships, I decided to spend Christmas with them there. Bruce had invited me, although he believed it would be most unlikely that I would come. I had never been abroad, and the very thought of going frightened me. And yet my not wanting to be alone at Christmas was stronger than my apprehension of...

  26. 22 Tom Sawyer
    (pp. 201-216)

    As a little girl I needed to know what God was really like, and I kept asking the adults around me. I heard many answers: “God is love.” “God is this really old man with a long white beard.” “God is everywhere and sees everything you do. If you are a bad girl you will make God cry.” “God will be angry if you are not good and then he will let Satan take you to hell.”

    I had a hard time trying to understand why, if God loved me “like a father,” he would be willing to let the...

  27. 23 The Art of Writing
    (pp. 217-228)

    While still married to Leon and living at Stoney Fork, I received a scholarship to attend a Bob Laubach “Each One Teach One” Writing Workshop. At that time different groups of people were teaching illiterate adults how to read. Soon there was a demand for books and other literature to be written at about the fourth-grade level for these newly literate adults. The purpose of the “Each One Teach One” writing workshops was to have the participants rewrite such things as government pamphlets, drivers’ manuals, and the like so that a person who had very little education could read and...

  28. 24 As the Sun Goes Down
    (pp. 229-232)

    Berea, Kentucky, is situated directiy on the old Wilderness Road, which brought the first settlers into Kentucky. Daniel Boone came through Cumberland Gap for the first time on a hunting trip, and later a band of thirty men with axes cut the Wilderness Road into Kentucky. This opened the great west for one of the mightiest migrations in human history. From 1775 to 1796, more than 200,000 men, women, and children traveled over the Wilderness Road on horseback and on foot, seeking homes in mid-America and the northwest.

    The town of Berea grew up around Berea College, which was founded...