Mountain people hold to humility and modesty. They do not like to take credit for any achievements they might have accomplished. They had rather defer compliments to others, or at least defect them from themselves by saying such things as, “Well, this of which you speak is really not that good, not worthy of honor, anyway.” Take for example a man from Union County, who had to bear much of the responsibility of helping his mother rear his siblings after his father died. After a hard youth and manhood, he went forth from the mountains and did quite well as a leader in the state of Georgia. His name was Mauney Douglas Collins who for twenty-five years served as the state school superintendent. During his decade in the top school position in Georgia, he led in innumerableachievements in educational advancement to his credit. Among them were moving scattered one-teacher schools into consolidation, getting the “Minimum Program of Education” funded and a more stabletax base for education established, free textbooks, school and public libraries, nine months of school for all students, bus transportation. The list could go on of accomplishments under his administration. But when commended for his work, as is so often the case with mountain-bred persons, he would reply with, “It was time for a change, the people were ready for change, the time was right.” He did not like for credit to accrue to his own name. Yet the record is there for all to examine and admire. Loyal Jones describes this sense of modesty and humility: “We believe that we should not put on airs, not boast, nor try to get above our raising” (p. 90).
Love of place is almost a built-in part of our mountain ways. “Where’re you from?” one is likely to ask a person when hearing his/her mountain talk and wondering what cove or valley in Appalachian is home. Sense of place is deeply ingrained. There’s more truth than fiction to the saying, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.” We could substitute “mountains of Appalachia” for country and have a true evaluation of how much we who were born there cling to place. North Georgia Poet Byron Herbert Reece had the right idea when he wrote lovingly of his home and mine, “Choestoe,” the Cherokee Indian name meaning “Dancing Place of Rabbits.” It is a long poem, three pages published, so too long to quote here. But a few lines carry the strong sense of place he knew of the community where he was born, reared and lived:
“What does a land resemble, named for rabbits?...Patriotism seems almost to be a built-in characteristic of Appalachian people. Next to family, another beloved entity for which one will die is country. So many people now dwelling in the hills and hollows of Appalachia can trace their ancestry back to someone who fought in the Revolutionary War. Likewise, when the rift came between the states in the 1860’s, many mountain people sided with the Union in that fray. The county of Union, when founded in 1832, was named Union because the representative,John Thomas, when asked what to name it, declared, “Union, for only Union-like people reside there!” From every war in which America has engaged since the Declaration of Independence was declared in 1776, Appalachian mountain military persons have fought with the bravest to win and maintain freedom.
There is peace here, quiet and unhurried living,
Something to wonder at in aged faces;
These are not all I mean, but symbols for it,
A thing, if one but has the spirit for it,
Better, I say, than many rabbits dancing.”
A sense of beauty permeates place with majestic purple-clad mountains rising toward the sky and green valleys with meandering streams rushing through the rocks and rills of what is Appalachia. But as if nature is reflected in what hands produce, beauty is seen in creative projects from looms, needles, workshops, blacksmith shops. Mountain music played on banjo, dulcimer, and fiddle pays tribute to beauty of sound and accompanies voices that might have composed the songs telling about the land and its people. A concert of beauty rises in place, project and pursuits as if in tumultuous offering of what the people enjoy in Appalachia in loveliness. Is life not hard there? We wonder and yet know that it often is, but amidst the hard toil and sometimes deprivation, the imagination and industry of a people seek after and produce beauty.
And, finally, all the characteristics of mountain life are wrapped in a sense of humor. Loyal Jones assizes the humor of the mountaineer by stating: “Humor is more than fun; it is a coping mechanism in sickness or hard times” (p. 123). We often make ourselves the brunt of our own jokes. I remember the Rev. Jesse Paul Culpepper who was born and reared in Wetmore, Tennessee and who, for 26 and ½ years of his ministry was the director of missions among churches in rural Fannin and Gilmer Counties in Georgia. He was known far and wide for his preaching, and the points he could easily make on a difficult passage. He had the ability to do that oftentimes by telling one of his funny stories, with himself more likely than not the one who had put himself into a humorous position which would help the people to remember the point he was making. For example, in teaching tithing as a biblical way of giving, he would sometimes tell: “Our churches need a better way to raise money than to make punkin’ pies with foam on top (his word for merinque) and try to sell them to the highest bidder. I got one of those pies one time, and it was awful. We’re not winners when we get something like that. Why not give the money to the Lord’s treasury to start with?”
In closing his book on Appalachian Values, Loyal Jones appeals to us all to help correct the abuses to place and people that have occurred within our environs. We can no longer put on blinders and hope the problems of environment and social conditions will go away on their own. He implores: “The reasons for change (must be) sound and desired by mountain people” (p. 138).
[Resource: Jones, Loyal. Appalachian Values. Photography by Warren E. Brunner, with an Introduction by John B. Stephenson. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1994.]
c2012 by Ethelene Dyer Jones. Published March 8, 2012 online with permission of the author at the GaGenWebProject. All rights reserved.