Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Senior Adult Years: Are They the Best?

America's adult population is growing year by year. We once considered those above age 65 as being "seniors." But now, with retirement coming earlier, those 55 and even younger are numbered among retirees and the senior adult population.

Robert Browning, English poet, in "Rabbi Ben Ezra," wrote these often-quoted lines:

"Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be;
The last of life
For which the first was made."

Can we really consider retirement years "the best" of life? Much of it can depend on attitude. After working that magical "30+ years" or even more at a career, unless one prepares for the changes retirement brings, he/she may find a sense of vacancy and purposelessness entering life. Retirement years, for some, are considered a time when life's work is finished and the person is no longer useful to himself or those around him.

Right attitude can mean that the retiree embraces the years remaining in life. Retirement years can be a challenge, a time to pursue new interests, to travel, engage in hobbies, do neglected work around the house, make new friends, volunteer at jobs that will benefit people and the community. Even these retirement activities can become overwhelming if "personal time" is not woven into the fabric of retirement lifestyle.

The possibilities are limited only by one's perspective. The senior citizen can determine to make the last of life the best, as Poet Browning declares, or he can shrivel away in some self-inflicted "pity party." A choice is involved, and the option to be productive and active is being taken by many senior citizens today.

Because of advances in geriatric medical care, retirement income, and opportunities for continued learning, senior adults can be fairly healthy, economically independent and mentally productive. Awhile back my husband and I were at Duke's Creek Falls seeing the fall scenery there. We met a friendly couple outfitted with a nice recreational vehicle which had been home to them for six months on their extended trip. They lived in Florida and were on their way back to Florida for the winter. Their trek in the past months had taken them all the way to the west coast and up to Washington state, and from there diagonally back across mid-America until they came to Duke's Creek Falls in White County, Georgia. Their friendly manner and outgoing personalities made them a delight to meet. We exchanged home addresses. They told us they hoped to make many more trips, learning about America first-hand by visiting each state. As they met people along the way, or picked up brochures at Chambers of Commerce, they found interesting and historic sites to explore. Their interest in life, though senior citizens, was still keen, geared to learning about and seeing America first-hand. Before retirement, their demanding jobs and rearing their family had not allowed them time to pursue this goal of their later years. I personally hope they've found many more cascading waterfalls and breathtaking sights along their journey.

Hobbies are another benefit of retirement years. I talked to a woman recently who was excited about her church's senior citizen group of ladies who meet weekly to piece quilt tops and quilt them, using patterns passed down for generations. The "quilting bee" is reminiscent of early pioneer days when women enjoyed the occasions to help each other "quilt out" a covering they would give to a new bride or use to add to the store of handmade quilts to keep a family warm in harsh winters. At senior citizen centers now and in some church groups, the "quilting bee" is becoming popular, providing opportunities for camaraderie, friendship and productive work.

For those unable to do their own driving to sites they would like to see and activities they would like to engage in, there is help for them. "Golden Clubs" offer many opportunities for guided tours and access to dramas or other entertainment.

For those who like to read or write, community organizations of reading clubs and writing groups are fun and invigorating. These help to keep the mind alert and looking forward to the next meeting.

Poet W. B. Yeats had some advice for seniors: "When you are old and gray and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire, take down this book." Each day should find the mind stretched and the imagination unfurled through reading. Reading keeps the mind alert. It also can provide a subject for intelligent conversation with friends.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of retirement can be strengthening of family ties. If one is fortunate enough to have family, children and grandchildren (and even great grandchildren!), special times with them can be a wonderful blessing and create memories for all involved.

Some may say I've looked at only the "best scenarios" of retirement in this article. What about illness? Debilitating diseases? Pain, discomfort, seemingly endless trips to the doctor, the hospital-all a part of retirement years? I am not so naive as to disregard these. I know from personal experience that we deal with all of these challenges in retirement years. But again, attitude and how we face these challenges of illness and eventual separation from a beloved mate enter into how we manage. There is a supernatural strength for every day. The attuned senior knows that God's help and strength are just a prayer away.

All the years of a senior citizen's life accrue to an apex: "the last of life for which the first was made!" With right choices and proper attitude, the best can, indeed, yet be.

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 28, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Mountain folk – the way we are

Those of us born and reared in the Appalachian Mountains have certain distinctive characteristics. (Note: education tells us to call our up-bringing "reared"; the mountain vernacular is "born and raised," and some astute persons might say, "‘raised’ several times in the woodshed if we disobeyed parents or were disrespectful of elders.” )

Characteristics of mountain people are noticeable in personality, work ethic, lifestyle and language. Although we have changed somewhat through education, exposure to a world beyond the mountains, and those "levelers" of cultures, the availability of television, radio and other forms of media, the solid characteristics of our forebears are still evidenced in many mountain natives into the twenty-first century.

The mountains are now populated with persons from many places. But to find a native mountaineer is almost a guarantee of encountering persons who bear noble and notable characteristics.

In personality, mountain folk are slow to accept change. Cogitative in nature, the native of the mountains weighs issues, considers alternatives, and acts on conclusions. He holds dear the methods of his forebears, and seeks to follow them.

He may reason, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" Good enough may be a standard for quality, and "making-do" is often a way of life.

Another maxim to which the mountaineer holds is, "If it was good enough for Pa, it's good enough for me." With antipathy toward change ingrained in the mountain mind, natives are extremely dubious of imposed and legislated changes. Evidences of this mindset were seen in the days of school consolidation when each community wanted to hold onto its local school, even though advantages were to be had through bus transportation to a more modern and better staffed and equipped school. Many argued and put up strong opposition to selling land for rights-of-way for building new highways or developments. The land is a part of the native mountaineers' ways, dear to them.

There are not as many farmers now, but in the era when my father was a farmer in Union County, he often resented being told how many acres he could cultivate in certain crops. After all, did the land not belong to the farmer, to plant as he desired? Cooperatives and agricultural agendas finally broke through some of the personality barriers of the mountain farmer. But that's not to say he always liked the new ways.

Another facet of the mountain native's nature is perseverance. His word is his bond. Honesty and integrity are earmarks of his character. Regardless of how hard the task or how remote the goal, a dogged persistence marks the true mountain man's temperament. This characteristic, no doubt, was ingrained from the pioneer forebears who overcame great odds to find their way into the mountains through virgin forests and unmapped lands. Their tenacity in conquering the wilderness, clearing farmland and building homes left a heritage of resolution and endurance. Independence was a feature of their persevering spirit. Passing the traits on to subsequent generations of mountain folk, the early settlers left us with a stick-to-it-ive-ness that is deeply ingrained.

The mountain work ethic is another noteworthy transfer from hardy ancestors. Hard toil was necessary to bring the mountain land from wilderness status to productive farms and family businesses. The early years of settlement in the mountains saw many entrepreneurs forming a self-sufficient enterprise along mountain streams. Water wheels turned turbines that ran mills to grind corn and wheat. Sawmills shaped tall timbers into lumber for houses and industries.

Barter made yield of farm, forest and mountain a means of trading goods not produced in the hills.

Industrious housewives knew how to card, spin, weave and sew. Scarcity became the impetus for making-do. But whatever the enterprise, hard work was required. A day's labor was given for a day's labor in return as neighbor helped neighbor.

Consequently, this work ethic confirmed the idea that the laborer, indeed, is worthy of his hire. Shoddy work reflects indelibly on one's character. "He or she is a good worker," was a compliment desired and well-earned.

Many in other areas of the country consider the mountaineer's lifestyle as slow and unhampered, even today in this fast-paced age. It is true that the mountaineer desires and usually makes time to be friendly with neighbors, to pass the time of day with those we meet, to take time "to smell the roses," to inhale the pure air and appreciate it, watch glorious sunrises and sunsets over the mountains.

Tied with our mountain characteristics is the ability to meet eventualities head-on.

We are not always as leisurely and slow-paced as our personalities indicate. We have learned to rush with the rest of the world. A main difference lies in the way we set our pace. By knowing that certain jobs need to be done and forming a timetable for doing them, the mountaineer moves purposefully, deliberately and efficiently. "By this time next week," the mountain farmer says, "this field will be harvested." And he sets the pace required to do it.

We don't waste much time on regrets or non-achievements. Some things are meant to be, the mountaineer reasons, and why opine that it be otherwise? From this mindset comes a certain assurance and satisfaction reflected in a lifestyle of peace and oneness with self, with nature, with people and with God.

Then there is the mountain language. I, personally, regret that it is fading away. But we hear echoes of it even now, "I reckon," or that inevitable dropping of the "ing" to just "in." Takes a fur less time t' talk that away!

If you have doubts that these distinctive characteristics are true of mountain folk, just talk to a native who has reached fourscore and ten years. Or, better still, if you are a mountaineer yourself, reflect on your heritage, your "raisin'." You may reach the same conclusion about the way we are.

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 21, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Recounting High Humor of the Hills

Some of the stories were written down in a century-old ledger book that belonged to James Harry Turner's grandfather, James Lon Turner (2-21-1875 - 5-5-1972). On the unused pages of the old ledger book, Harry began to record humorous stories, many of which had been told and passed down by generations of his mountain ancestors.

Harry Turner (1928-2005) added to these as long as he was able, collecting choice anecdotes that dated back to Revolutionary War times and reached down to the present. He always intended to publish them, but feared that he might somehow offend someone still living who might recognize familiar stories as being part and parcel of their family folklore. And so it was, after Dr. James Harry Turner's death in 2005, his son, Dr. Joseph Blair Turner, assumed the cloak of storyteller, compiling his father's tales and adding some of his own to form a delightful compendium with the signal title of High Humor of the Hills. It has both Drs. Turner as joint authors and was published by Nathan House Books, Oakwood, Georgia, 2006.

The book is a valuable addition to our mountain literature and lore on several levels.

The first level is given in the title. It is a book of "High Humor," coming from our mountain folk for many generations, kept alive by repetition, and serving to add a bit of levity to what was often a "hard road in a rough land."

Dr. Joe Turner has done an exceptional job editing the stories and arranging them by eras. If you want a tale from the Revolutionary period, "How Skinflint Won the Race" will pit the frontiersman against a "Virginia Dandy" in a bare-foot race (only the story says they were "bar-foot").

The Civil War era brought forth such tales as old Ben Nix and "The Mule Shoe Dentist" when a blacksmith doubled as the community's tooth-puller. Through various decades, the true tales of humor represent a people, humble and unpretentious, who found entertainment by listening and telling events, often with themselves as the subjects. Neighbors had time to exchange stories, share laughs, lift each other's burdens.

Altogether, the book contains 200 stories and 139 pages of delightful vignettes. The reader will enjoy the volume as a straight read-through, but will return again and again to reread and learn the variable shades of humor certain favorite tales convey.

So on the level of historical reference book, this volume has merit.

Another level of the book's value is in the language. A five-page "Appalachian Glossary," alphabetized and with meanings of now almost obsolete mountain words and phrases is a reference not only for the vernacular of the stories but for a language that is rapidly passing away. It has been said that the Appalachian people, especially those of previous generations before the media rendered a "standard English" language for us all, was one of the truest Scots-Irish and Elizabethan English tongues still practiced. Dr. Joseph Blair Turner writes in his foreword: "I have attempted to capture the more folksy expressions. If it seems different, remember that socio-linguistically there are no right or wrong accents or dialects, only some people who do not appreciate the beauty of folk-tendered expression, preserved by the folk themselves. This culture is vanishing. I am thankful I was there, warmed by its fading rays" (page xv).

High Humor of the Hills will bring laughs. But, further, it will bring understanding. The storytellers who people its pages are real, proud of their heritage, unafraid of hard toil and life's knocks, able to pick up and move forward, always keenly compassionate and ready to lend a helping hand. As both Harry Turner and Joe Turner state: "These are my people. I am one of them." And those of us born and reared in the Appalachian region-or Union County, Georgia, in particular- can relate to the tales, to the thread of hope that lies beyond the pranks, to the people seeking some respite from grueling work and sometimes drab life. As Dr. Harry Turner states in "The Prologue":

"You wouldn't dare call them 'hillbilly.' They aren't. Just real honest- to-goodness folk, getting more of life's blessings than you might be, dear reader." They care not for aberration nor embellishment, but life as it comes." (page xii).

Many of the stories show strong faith held by Appalachian people. Even though these stories deal with faith laced with humor, that faith is, nevertheless, an unswerving dependence on God. Harry Turner expressed this faith of the people well: "Neither are they complacent in their fear of God—their Divine Master. They are His stewards of the soil. They toil and grow strong on it. They laugh deep and long there in the valleys, next to Heaven's crests, heeding the only call that counts to them: God's." (page xiii).

The author who first started recording the stories, Harry, son of a dirt farmer, and the author himself a longtime agricultural agent in the mountain counties of Georgia, knew first-hand of the strong affinity between the land and the people. High Humor of the Hills will provide amusement while teaching the reader many valuable lessons he will remember.

For purchasing information, see the website at I think you (as am I) will be glad to have your own copy for $12.95 (price includes shipping). If you do not have internet, you may order from Nathan House Publishers, P. O. Box 1696, Oakwood, GA 30566.

I personally congratulate Dr. Joseph Blair Turner for completing this book. He invites readers to contribute their own stories of true mountain humor. In the future there very likely will be a Volume II of High Humor of the Hills. But first, I highly recommend that you get Volume I of this brand new publication for yourself or for a gift. And if you hear of a book signing at a book store near you, I recommend that you go to meet compiler Dr. Joseph Blair Turner who felt it his mission to complete the work his father had begun.

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 14, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Georgia’s highest peak – Brasstown Bald

Both Union and Towns counties claim portions of Georgia's highest mountain, Brasstown Bald. Before Towns County was formed from Union in 1856, the mountain lay within the boundaries of Union. After Union was divided out to form Towns, the highest part of Brasstown Bald Mountain--also known as Enotah Bald--lay in Towns.

The name of the mountain was called Enotah by the Cherokee Indians who once inhabited the area. After the gold rush of 1828 when white settlers rushed pell-mell into the area seeking yellow riches around Nacoochee Valley and Dahlonega, and even into Union County later at the Coosa Gold Mines, they confused two names the Indians called the highest peak: it-se-ye meant "fresh green"; unt-sai-yi meant "brass".

The latter, for brass, was attached to this highest mountain in the Wolfpen Range. It rises through the mists, fogs and clouds to 4,784 feet. A peak to the southwest is Blood Mountain which reaches a height of 4,458 feet. Legend holds that the Cherokee considered Blood in greater reverence than Enotah Bald, unusual for the Indians who normally named sacred the highest peak in their area.

Perhaps their reverence for Blood goes back to the battle between the Cherokee and the Creek nations for sovereignty of the mountain region when it is said that Wolf Creek, originating high on Blood Mountain, ran red with the blood of brave warriors.

The Indians also had a story for what happened on Enotah Bald. A great flood once covered the earth. It killed all except those in a great canoe which landed on top of Enotah. The land was cleared on top of this high mountain by the Cherokee to make crops for sustenance. The "fresh green" –it-se-ye--for them meant renewed life after the trauma of the flood. It-se-ye could also have referred to "cloud forest" on Brasstown Bald. Even to this day an area of Georgia's tallest peak has a portion on the northeast section watered by moisture-laden clouds. There in this "mountain rain forest" lichen-covered birch trees, wild flowers such as laurel and rhododendron, various herbs, giant wood fern, allium (the common ramp of "ramp tramp" fame), ash, oak, willow, beach and even an occasional sugar maple (somehow imported from northeastern sugar maple stands) grow and thrive in this “cloud forest.” If anyone tries to walk in this area he may be hampered by lichen-covered damp rocks on which footing can be very insecure.

The tower at Brasstown Bald.

The first tower on Brasstown Bald (Enotah) Mountain was built in the early 1920's by the Pfister-Vogel Logging Company. It was constructed of chestnut and locust wood, and rose on the peak so that watchers could see smoke from any forest fires within the areas where the lumber company was conducting logging operations.

Brasstown Bald now stands in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. Between 1911 and 1930, the government bought approximately 743,000 acres of forest land and set it aside as a preserve. The present facilities of Brasstown Bald are open from May through October, with weekends open in November.

Much credit is due Ranger Arthur Woody for measures that led to preservation of forests in the north Georgia area. He wanted to see the forests that had been riddled from the thirst for virgin timber restored to refuges for wildlife and tall trees, deer in the forests, fish in the streams. He worked diligently to encourage the government to buy lands for forest preserves.

The second tower at Bald Mountain, built in 1935 by the "CCC boys" (Civilian Conservation Corps) was the dream of Ranger Woody. He sat at his kitchen table and drew plans for the stone and wood tower that replaced the old wooden tower constructed in the early 1920s. After World War II, the Woody Stone Tower was replaced by a steel tower in 1947. The present structures, visitor's center, and educational facilities with the thought-provoking "Man and the Mountain" program, recount the history of the area through various eras.

October is normally a time of "bright blue weather." If you have not visited Bald Mountain recently, perhaps you would like to choose a clear day in October to take your family up this highest peak in Georgia. You can ride a shuttle all the way from the parking area to the top. Or, if you are physically agile and want the challenge, you can climb the one-half mile trail to the top. Those who know about such statistics say that it rises 500 feet in elevation in the one-half mile, and is equivalent to walking 1,000 miles north. From the 360-degree observation deck on a clear day, you can view some of the most spectacular vistas in Georgia, and even into other states. Every time I have visited Brasstown Bald (several times in my lifetime) I have always been awed by the majesty and beauty of the Wolfpen Ridges reaching out in all directions, our beautiful Southern Appalachians.

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 7, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.