For the Queens and Kings of Appalachia

247 thoughts on “For the Queens and Kings of Appalachia”

  1. My family originated in Mullens, WV. and I am proud that them mountains runs through our veins. I am proud how we use to play in the River and use to bath and wash and play in the purest of water. I havent been back in 3 yrs and I miss it terribly. Ill go back one day when the calling gets to be too much for my heart. Until then, i’ll close my eyes and let them take me back to my families roots.

  2. Reblogged this on Searching for the Baldridge Tree and commented:
    Searching for the BaldridgeTree, my family history blog, had its origin in the genealogy research I began in the latter part of my life. As the sad story goes, I was late to recognize the value of my heritage, and I squandered far too many opportunities to learn it from the best sources, my still-living family members. Thus, I now must dig out each and every scrap of family history from the books and databases that are available.
    However, I soon discovered that, as valuable as every old photo and document record may be, they did not satisfy my need. Okay, now that I know the dates of birth and death, the marriages, the children, the places lived and deeds accomplished, now what?
    When I first began researching my family, I often found quotes that were meaningful to my task and which encouraged me to persevere. One in particular that inspired me was by Mitch Albom, from his book For One More Day: “Sharing tales of those we’ve lost is how we keep from really losing them.”
    Someone wise also pointed out that, at the end, our lives are often encapsulated by two dates separated by a dash. And since the dash represents everything that happens between those two dates, it is the most important part. The guiding thought I adopted for my blog reflects all of this when it says in part, “I honor their history. I cherish their lives. I will tell their story. I will remember them.”
    I also have found inspiration in reading the stories that others write about their own family history. This story, For the Queens and Kings of Appalachia, for example. It’s from a blog written by Anna Wess, and since Appalachia is my heritage, too, I always recommend Anna’s work to others. If you haven’t yet read this particular story of hers, you should — it doesn’t matter whether it’s your heritage or not. And if you aren’t acquainted with the writing of Anna Wess, you should definitely correct that oversight, too.
    You may not have heard her name before, but you soon will. Anna writes with an authentic Appalachian voice — and I don’t mean that she mimics our dialect and accent as others have tried to do She doesn’t need to, because Anna Wess is the real deal and it flows naturally.
    Anna Wess writes of her home, the mountains of Southwest Virginia, but they are ours, too. The mountains of Kentucky, of West Virginia, of Tennessee, of North Carolina, of dadgum southern Ohio — even if you live in a city on the flattest of the flat plains of Indiana, no matter. We cannot leave those mountains behind; they will never go from us; for they are OUR mountains, and they are home.
    Anna is OF us, and her stories are OUR stories. When she writes about her Granny, you may recognize your own Granny. You will know Anna as kin by her words. One note of caution: if you’re no longer in Appalachia, her tales are a letter from home that will make you ache with yearning.
    After you have read this award-winning story, sit and stay a spell. Do yourself a great favor and look around at the other offerings on her blog. Anna will welcome you as family and offer whatever she has to share.
    Oh, and when you do visit with Anna, do not fail to make your acquaintance with Paw. You could hear some distant echoes of your own Daddy in him. At the very least, you will never be able to forget Paw.
    Yeah, I’m a big fan of Anna Wess. So? Just trust an old country boy — read, you will be, too. The only downside is that you may often find yourself wistfully looking into an empty mailbox, longing for another letter from home to arrive.

  3. no one born here who walked to a one room school barefoot until frost who still hears the mountains cannot leave them. i never could though i lived in various places. this is where i was born and where i will die. what these hills and hollors hold they hold tight.

  4. My mother grew up in Breaks, VA along Grassy Creek. I was born and spent my first 20 months there. Decades later the mountains still call to me. My father grew up in Elkhorn, KY. His momma was an Adkins. She died in childbirth when he was 8 years old and I know next to nothing about her. There are also Belchers in our family tree, so you and I are likely kin. Thank you for this wonderful blog.

  5. I grew up in Cumberland, Maryland . My grandfather was born on a small farm back in a mountain in Southwest Pennsylvania and my grandmother came from a similar farm in West Virginia. Your piece is right. I left Cumberland about twenty years ago and I still feel an affinity to the area. I have been to many places but to the day that I die I will always be a boy of Appalachia.

  6. I am fortunate enough to be from East Tennessee and still live here .I have also been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel throughout the U.S. quite a bit . There is a difference between visiting a place on vacation and being there for work. I have come to the conclusion that people aren’t much different in small towns anywhere but there is something so special about the people of Appalachiam. Every time I make it back to My Moutains I feel excited to be home and a sense of relieve knowing this is where I truly belong.
    These will forever be my moutains and East Tn.will always be home. I may be forced to move ,as I don’t know what life has in store for me, but I will do all in my power to make sure that when I pass on, Home will be where I’m laid to rest

    1. Amen, from the Northern Appalachian Plateau, (Pittsburgh, and Southwestern PA) where most folk don’t realize they’re Appalachian, and don’t understand why they don’t why they feel more at home there than anywhere else.

  7. I love your stories. They help me to remember my great grandmother, who I loved and always wanted to be when I got older. I was born in FL. Raised in West KY. Moved to Nashville at 15. When I was 23 I moved to a lil town named Elizabethton, TN. These mountains put a spell on me the first time I ever saw this place. I moved around so much growing up I never really felt like I belonged anywhere. I felt like I had been on a very long trip to some far off destination. That was until I moved here. I know I was finally home!! These mountains spoke to me. I was theirs and they were mine. My daughter’s are growing up here. THIS is their home!! It always will be.
    Thank you for your stories. I hope to read more and buy a book of them.
    Mandi Grindstaff

  8. I dearly love these writings and precious memories that takes me back to my childhood and listening to my Grandpaw and Grandamawbtell us stories of their past days. Maybe I’ll writ some for you if permitted . Thanks for the memories. Marcella Smith

  9. Love all the stories and wish I could express my thoughts and feelings about growing up in Mingo County, WV. I love my mountains too. I also love the wonderful people that lived in my little home town of Slabtown. I think if them often and wonder how they are living in my mountains.
    Thank you very much for these stories of our mountain people. Ellie

  10. I don’t have a lot of fancy words to type…but I hope y’all can read my heart instead…folks round here call me “dolly Jane” .I live in Johnson county..Tennessee.I’m just a waitress …but I see and talk to folks from all parts of the world. Some folks drive for hours to our restaurant just to hear me talk they say..don’t understand that part but they tip well so I talk…the part they love to hear about the most is about why u will never leave these mountains….cause see to me there is nothing out there past these mountains.I can’t see over them…so there is nothing there..I’ve never been on a plane or bus or subway or boat or even in a taxi…I never leave my mountains…she may need me.I tell them I’m not sure if God put me here to protect me from the outside world or to protect the outside world from me….probley both.ya see here every hour the church bells in town ring so loud you can hear them all over town…just a reminder that God hasn’t forsaken us….yes we have our bout with drugs and such…but there are no liqueur stores so no robberies goin on…if ya brave enough to breAk in a fellers house then u know u will surely meet ur doom….we got our faults yes….but I’m bout 50 now and I’ve yet to see anything that would make me wanna climb over to see what is past my mountains. My granny always said.. “You are where you are cause that’s where ur spossed to be!” no questions ask. So u bet ur britches I’m proud to be part of these mountains. For the ones that ain’t from these mountains….I’m sorry.bless Ur heArts…and I mean that in a good way to darlings.
    Love ur heart…God bless and keep ya… Dolly jane

  11. I’m a new fan. You are truly the real deal. Only “us” would know what you have spoken about. I’m proud and one of the strong. Gotten out. But you can take the girl out of the Appalachia but you can’t take the Appalachia out of the girl.

  12. Anna, you speak Appalachia. I don’t really understand it . . . why my soul longs to be back in that place . . . with those mountains . . . and those people . . . in that way . . . moving at that pace. I’ve been away from Western North Carolina for decades now. I suppose some would say I live in an equally beautiful place here . . . in Colorado but . . . . It is that place and that space back “home” in Appalachia that I dream of and it is that history that has crept into the very cells of my body. And . . . try as I might I just can’t let go . . . . It is both a gift and a curse that I bear . . . knowing I am of that place and these people. I carry those mountains with me both gently and wistfully knowing we are a special people with our Appalachian roots.

    I wonder if other people from other places possibly feel this connection to their land the way that we do. It’s a visceral thing for us. And, I’m just not sure that all places . . . all people experience such. But, still I wonder . . . .

    Thank you, Anna, for taking the time to articulate what many of us have been unable to put into words. I look forward to following your work.

  13. Such truth! But only we Queens and Kings truly understand it. How the mountains will never let you go, no matter how far you travel. We are part of them and they us and they beckon and snare and pull at us until we become a part of them, as our parents before us and their parents before them and on back to creation. Only then, does that so needed rest come. As I get older, I long for that rest more and more. You stirred my soul and spoke my heart.

  14. Thank you, Anna, for expressing what I could feel since I could feel about my Home in the Connellsville Coal Seam of Soutwestern Pennsylvania (part of Greater Westsylvania).

  15. I luved yur story, an the comments of others too. We all could Write our own Book of our Life. Everyone has a different Unique story. Not knowing any of you I feel like yur friend, I Luved yur Memories an identify as my People are from the South. This made me Happy,Thank yu All , Cousins n Heart 🙂

  16. Beautiful writing. I, too am owned by the mountains and feel their pull though I no longer can live there. Thank you.

  17. Great piece – makes me homesick. I grew up in southwest va and east TN, now working in China. looking forward to future posts.

  18. I read this story and was reminded of two things. My father’s roots were from a place in Kentucky that echoes of your Virginia. The mountains were there to wrap their arms around me for two weeks out of every year when I was a young boy, and we took my dad’s factory inventory shutdown vacation to go to God’s country. It was there on that front porch swing that I learned what calm was. It was there in that feather bed at night that I learned what music was when I heard the chorus of katydids sing their song that echoed loudly between the holler walls that cradled grandmas house. A fine grounding that life was for a northern boy who would have never known what it was to go the front yard and fetch a bucket of cool and pure well water. Or be spoiled by the biscuits made by my grandmother who made them from the milk from the cow she would tend to every morning at daybreak. That breakfast spread would include chicken gravy, fried apples, bacon and the sight of seeing the last biscuit made by grandma, set aside on the pan on the wood fired stove top, waiting for her as she waited to make sure my dad and the rest of the family was catered to properly at a kitchen table whose window level to it allowed a view out to a hillside that rose up from a small creek just feet away from the back of that kitchen window. Those were the good times.

    I mentioned two things. Your story also reminds me of another thing I learned, but not by personal history – although there were stories whispered by my dad’s many brothers, sisters and cousins that I didn’t really understand as a child. The learning I encountered was from a Hollywood movie that I saw that so aptly fits into the description of your hard Appalachia where the Kings and Queens reigned in their aged and leather wrinkled skin. Reminders of scenes from “Winter’s Bone” come to mind. Their was a struggle to life in the movie that helped me understand your Virginia home and the story it told you to share with us. The dark and gray side of a time and place that takes hold of fine hair on your back and makes it stand up from fear and respect of all things before I was on this ground!

    Thank you for sharing and allowing us to escape into a world we forget about all too often because of a global theatre. Thank you and God bless you.

  19. You dug into my depths and pulled out what grabbed me as a baby whenever my mother and father brought us to east TN to visit my Mamaw and other kin…. My parents left TN to find work and reaised us souhern in a very northern town. Not a good fit and we were teased more often than not for it. But amidst all the teasing on the playground, we were proud, and loyal, and knew about cornbread that was not yellow, and front porches made for sitting, fox hounds, coon hounds, running through cool hollers on scorching summer days, raising a garden to eat off of all winter, and knowinf when and were your ancestors fought in the war, and when they first set foot in the south and how many hundreds of years you could claim that heritage. I made it back in my twenties to stay….and let the north stay in the north. Every time I think about leaving these hills I get physically ill and know I am home where it claimed my family generations ago. It’s in my blood and will be passed down to my children.

  20. These words could not ring more true. The mountains truly call to you (even from afar). I went to school and was friends with Christine (Anna) and Jerry, two really good people. I have been away from “home” for over two decades now, living in Northern Virginia and working in D.C. but I feel I have never became a part of this area.

    Oh how I would love to return home and live out the rest of my life. My children really do not even understand the area we grew up in, the home where my parents still live. They were raised and indoctrinated in the North, and it is truly a different world. I frequently try to explain to people here the differences in this state. It is really two different worlds, a true North and South. You used to be able to draw a line and basically “seal” off Northern VA as a place of its own, an area that really wasn’t the Virginia we know. However, it seems that imaginary line continues to creep south and has gobbled up more than half of the state now.

    When I have the opportunities to go home (which are rare), within a day or so you quickly remember what true living really is. It is almost like you reach inside your watch or clock and hold on to the hands of time. The world slows down, the fast paced life of Northern VA rings true to the rat race it really is. The people are still so welcoming, not stand-offish, they shake your extended hand and don’t look at you like you have two heads when you try to strike up a down to earth conversation.

    Even though my accent has morphed into a Northerner, and I have joined the proverbial fast paced life (unwillingly) my heart is still in the mountains…oh how they call to me almost daily!

  21. I found this from a friend. I just smiled. Many know me online, all who meet me know my heart is Appalachian, for I was bred, and raised in a ‘hollar’ in Pikeville KY and the mountains spanked my fanny when I was bad, and dried my tears when I needed them when I was sad.

    The animals was my friend, I sipped moonshine I made myself when I was 13, (and my throat still burns!) I was friends with an old black bluesman we called “Mt. Joe” my spiritual grandmother was a pure Cherokee traditionalist. I fought my way up the pecking order, but amazingly I never got on drugs and kept liqueur at distance.

    I now study Appalachia, the history, our culture. I speak out against the atrocities committed against us. Yes I was a princess of Appalachia, and like you said. I hear my land calling me back even 30 years later.

    I want to return to help us.

    Beautiful blog. Thank you, sister for writing.

  22. I left the mountains and for years lived in an equally beautiful but vastly different landscape. Daily the mountains did not whisper but shouted for my return to the ridges and hollers, to a place where the voices sounded like my own, not foreign to my ears. My soul ached to feel frost-hardened earth under my feet, to smell the perfume that emanated from the ground as the temperatures rose along with the morning fog. At last I made it back to where my soul belongs. I glory at the sight of batches of morning fog laying nestled between the low spots and the high peaks, see them rise and dissipate as daylight breaks. I welcome sunny days of spring and summer, watch people put out their gardens and then gather the bounty. Nature has marked time well here–you don’t need a calendar really. Simply pay attention to the terrain, sky, creeks and rivers, the plants and trees that bloom and fade in their own turn as they accompany each season, year after year. These are ancient mountains, set in their ways just as her people are. Learn Appalachia’s habits and over time, you, too, essentially become rooted in the earth on the side of a mountain–if you claim each other, man to mountain, mountain to man, a soul realizes a peace that cannot be obtained any other place or any other way and that gift of peace is priceless.

  23. My husbands family traces its roots to Pulaski County, VA. His grandfather ran moonshine and played the banjo on steamboats. I noticed you are of Belcher lineage. His family tree contains a Louisa Belcher. So hello cousin, love your writing.

  24. This is an excellent piece. You really nail the point that cries to be made. I ask you to consider, though, that the sentiments you express reverberate through the ridges and hollows of Northern Appalachia as hauntingly as they do in Southwestern Virginia. It long ago occurred to me that Appalachia is a land unto itself, and the descriptions North and South don’t have the signification here that they do in other parts of the country.

  25. You speak to this Appalachian Queen’s heart through your writings. Though I have been kept from the Mother Mountains physically due to circumstances beyond my control, they are with me. I appreciate your writing that speaks to the depth of my being.

  26. I posted a comment on The Last of the Granny Witches that would probably been more appropriate for this post. I have lived in the Tri Cities area of upper east Tennessee my entire 57 years. You truly know how to reach into the heart of a hillbilly or hick. To me both terms mean the same. I grew up knowing that outsiders thought we were stupid because of our dialect as well. At times that has given me an advantage as they were the stupid one for believing that. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is that we have generally been considered honest by most people. And for the most part that’s true especially in comparison with the ugly world beyond these here hills. Yes this is a hard place and we are hard people, people who can survive should some global catastrophe happen. I am so happy these beautiful mountains are my home. A pack a mules couldn’t drag me outta’ here. And people can move here all they won’t to. Still don’t make em one of us. If it ain’t born in you then you’ll just have to settle for lookin in from the outside cause you cain’t buy it even if it wuz for sale. And it ain’t… Thank you for your beautiful expression of a people few will ever understand.

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