Married To Appalachia
I am a 7th generation Appalachian still living on my home place in the North Georgia Mountains. I’m held captive here, not with chains and fetters but by an undying devotion to a land of great beauty. I was reared in a humble farm family that taught me to appreciate God’s giant pastures.
On winter mornings from underneath thick layers of patchwork quilts I studied ice crystal formations on frosted window panes. Oxygen-rich air burned our noses until Dad kindled a fire in the mud-daubed fireplace he had built from creek rock and red clay.
Long before the rooster’s crow, he raked gray ashes with an iron poking stick, looking for glowing embers. He reached into the wood box for the rich pine splinters and cones to place on the live coals. Gently he fanned with a paper until bursts of yellow flames appeared. Aromas of rich pine filled the house. Finally, a leather string latch was lifted, opening a weathered plank door. Dad carried larger sticks from the porch to cross over the young fire. A huge back stick was placed behind the flames. It held heat all day while he was away working at the sawmill.
The morning fire, now ablaze in the fireplace turned into a rib-roaster. Mama called it a ‘turn and burn” heating system. Stepping into my brother’s bedroom with a voice of authority, Dad said, “Hit th’ floor. More people die in th’ bed than anywhere else. Shake a leg!” An unheeded call was met with a bucket of cold water thrown into their snoozing midst. It always worked.
Dad assigned chores for after school. He was not to be triffled with: nothing short of a hospital stay excused us. He honored the law requiring school attendance, but school was secondary to working the land. My brothers had one foot in the classroom, the other on fallow ground.
When Dad was not pulling “the money stick” at Ritter’s Saw Mill, he lived behind a mule-drawn plough. He never saw mere dirt, but envisioned planted seeds and tender plants kissed by morning dew. He saw bushels of shelled corn drying in hampers for seed and bread. He saw winter feed stored among ribbons of cobwebs, hanging through barn cracks and well fed stock roaming the fields. Faith in a full harvest kept him stepping.
I watched the plough turn new earth row after row. It looked like the earth was opening her mouth to produce life. Corn was life. Soft silver winds brought scents or pennyroyal and mint from the creek bank, awakening the sap within him. When he stopped for a dipper of cool water, he often picked dandelion blooms that dotted the landscape like golden jewels of Eden. They looked nice on Mama’s table.
Our hearts were knitted with golden threads to The Appalachian Mountains. We were in fact married to our portion of paradise.