I just read this post over at Annie's Blog and she is talking about the 20/20 show on "Children of the Mountains" in which Diane Sawyer, a Kentucky native, talks about the struggle the children in Appalachia face to have even the basic necessities of life.
I was born in Pikeville Methodist Hospital in Pikeville, Kentucky, so I am familiar with some of the areas Diane Sawyer visits. I still have a lot of family there and in the surrounding area and let me say that not everyone in the Appalachians fit the description, or better yet, the stereotype portrayed in this piece.
What they say is true. I have seen some of the places they were talking about. I have had family members touched by the addiction to the prescription drugs and the alcoholism they reported. I have seen first hand the economic disparity that exists in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. The poverty is real.
I realize that the piece was an attempt to bring light to a spiraling situation that seems to have no end for the young children born and raised in the hills to impoverished families. I in no way mean to demean the purpose of the report. It was accurate and hopefully will bring the much needed attention to an area that is often forgotten.
What I would like to focus on though is the heritage I have been given by my connection to my family there. I didn't grow up there. In fact, I only lived in the area the first five years of my life. But the influence is still very evident in who I am today.
I am sad for my own children who really will never appreciate how their ancestors built a life out of little or nothing. They will never experience visiting Aunt Elfie and Uncle Banner and using the outhouse, drawing water from their well or watching them throw coal on the fire used to heat their entire house.....in the late 1960's early'70's. They will never shop at a general store where the owners lived in the back of the store. They will never know a Will Pinson, an old man who had nothing in life but hard work, but still had a candy bar (albeit old and stale) for a kid from up north visiting her grandparents.
It amuses me that my kids shop "organic" at a big chain store or farmers markets when their great-grandfather had a garden near the size of our entire back yard. The size of his broccoli and the sweetness of his corn was a great source of pride for him. The produce he so tenderly cared for was not a hobby, but a way to feed his large family.
They will never see first hand some of the traditions that have long since passed on. I can remember when we would all be together for a big family dinner, all the men would gather around the table and eat first. Then when they were done, the women would sit down and eat. It wasn't as though the women were banished from the table, it was just the way it was. There wasn't enough room for everyone to sit, so the men got to first.
Coming face to face with a loaded coal truck on a narrow road on the side of hill will cause an atheist to pray out loud. And playing in the creek all day long catching crawdads is something that every kid should experience at least once in their lifetime.
One experience that will stay with me forever is funerals. Although times have changed, I can remember funerals of my great-grandparents where the body of the deceased was brought to their home and was laid out in the living room for three days. Visitors would call at the home and always...always brought food. There was so much food there wasn't room for it. Services were held every night. A service would include singing, without any form of accompaniment, and the leader would say the first line in a chant like tone and the congregation would repeat it in a tune like manner. All the while during the singing, people are going from person to person shaking hands. After the singing, two, three or four preachers would each bring a message. Not an uplifting "he's with Jesus" kind of message but a "get your life right or your a goin' to hell" kind of message. (Visit the web site Blessed Hope Services to get a taste of what I am describing.) On the day of the funeral, the body is moved to the church. Now in Pike County the congregation moves from church to church. My great- grandpa Maynard's funeral was held in Brushy Creek. My Grandma and Grandpa's funeral was at the Apple Orchard Church. But the services were the same, singing, hand shaking and preaching. After all the preaching was done the pall bearers would take the casket and carry it to the grave, if the grave yard was nearby, or it would be put in the hearse and taken to the cemetery where there would be a little more singing and a little more preaching. Then it was time to go back to the house and eat.
Yes, the hills and hollers hold deep devastation for some. But for me, they hold a wealth of memories I will forever cherish. I pray that the cycle will soon be broken for those caught in the trap of despair and hopelessness. What my prayer for those fighting this up hill battle is that they gain a victory over their poverty and lack of education without loosing their identity. I pray that the legacy they will leave for the future "Children of the Mountains" will be one of pride in their heritage, a strength to overcome adversity much like their forefathers, and new faith in the One True God that will be passed on from this point forward.
1 day ago