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Saturday, December 30, 2017

"Screaming With The Cannibals" by Lee Maynard---Book Review

Maynard, Lee: Screaming With The Cannibals (Morgantown, WV Vandalia Press 2003)

Lee Maynard Photo by Huntington Herald-Dispatch


Until Lee Maynard's recent death on June 16, 2017, I had never read any of his work.  Maynard was, and will always be, a controversial figure in the world of literature in West Virginia and Appalachia.  His first published work, "Crum", was actually banned from sale for a time at the Tamarack Center in Beckley, WV, due to its perceived extreme negativity to Crum, WV, Maynard's hometown, and to West Virginia and Appalachia in general. Most of the West Virginia and Appalachian writers who have been my mentors and friends also held Maynard in contempt for the same reason.  We rarely, if ever, discussed him or his work.  And generally, to a person, we never bothered to read his work. Coincidentally, Maynard's death occurred just a few days before my 25th anniversary with my wife Candice and we had already planned a three day trip to West Virginia where we had been married.  I made a commitment to read some of the work of Lee Maynard based on some positive comments my friend, Cat Pleska, had made in an obituary which was published in the Huntington Herald Dispatch the week of his death.  Luckily, the first of his books which I read was "The Pale Light of Sunset: Scattershots and Hallucinations In An Imagined Life", a collection of essays and selections from other books which I consider to be some of his best work.  It also lacks much of the negative discussion of West Virginia and Appalachia which is prevalent in much of his other work including "Screaming With The Cannibals" which is actually the work we are discussing in this review.  I will repeat my prior statements and say that I might well have not read any more of his work if "Crum" had been the first of his books to receive my attention.  

"Screaming With The Cannibals" is the second work in the "Crum" trilogy which has generally been conceded to be fictionalized autobiography.  As the novel opens, the protagonist, Jesse, is hitchhiking out of Crum, West Virginia, Maynard's home town on the banks of the Tug River.  I will also repeat my disclosure from earlier blog posts that I know that area quite well since I lived for about five years in Williamson and Logan in Mingo and Logan Counties and worked that entire time as a door to door salesman in nearly a dozen counties in Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky on both sides of the Tug River.  Maynard's character leaves Crum to be picked up by a man driving a farm truck across the bridge on the two states' border at Williamson.  It is a bridge I crossed countless thousands of times.  Jesse is offered a job on the Kentucky farm on which his newly met friend is employed.  

Maynard's tendency to disparage West Virginia is spread equally well over Kentucky during the time the character is working there.  But somehow, I have managed to overlook Maynard's attacks on Appalachia based on the quality of much of his writing.  His work is well worth reading.  It falls short of great literature but it is genuine literature and deserves its place in the pantheon of Appalachian Literature.  The thought has suddenly occurred to me that I might have come to appreciate Lee Maynard for the same reasons that, as a mental health and substance abuse therapist, I was a fan of the Gestalt Therapy of Fritz Perls.  Both men and their works tend to raise the ire of many of their readers.  They generate reactions which are impossible to conceal.  They are cathartic.  The title of "Screaming With The Cannibals" comes from Maynard's discussion of some fundamentalist or Pentecostal  religious believers with which his character interacts in the novel.  I also must disclose that I have spent numerous hours in the company, the homes, and the churches of serpent handling believers in Appalachia and understand Pentecostalism and Holiness religion quite well.  

Jesse becomes involved with the wife of a neighbor who lives near his employer.  The employer has previously given Jesse an aged and abandoned motorcycle which a former farm hand left in his barn.  As the affair becomes common knowledge, Jesse manages to get the motorcycle to run and leaves Kentucky for coastal South Carolina where he is befriended by the residents of a small African American community.  This section of the novel exposes the reader to two subjects about which Maynard often produces his best work: sex scenes and motorcycles.  The protagonist and the housewife have a highly unusual encounter on a running farm tractor and the character leaves Kentucky riding an aged and limping motorcycle.  Life in South Carolina also goes awry involving conflict with a local personification of the old fashioned, abusive, and dangerous small town police officer and Jesse heads west. The conflict with the South Carolina law man is precipitated in large part due to the local racism and Jesse's close relationships with the African Americans. In this section, Maynard takes a clear stand against racism and discrimination and is probably the most political writing in his entire body of work.

In some ways, this book will inflame the devout Appalachian loyalist.  But it will also have moments that make you glad you read it.  Take it on with an open mind, read it and the other two portions of the "Crum" trilogy in sequence, maintain an impartial attitude, and take me at my word that if you read enough of Maynard's works you will come to understand that, in spite of his periodic defamation of West Virginia and Appalachia, he did actually love the state and the region.  But it was a love, like that of many family members toward each other, which was based on a lifetime of interactions not all of which had been positive.  But Lee Maynard did, in my professional opinion, long for a family dinner on the holidays somewhere in Southern West Virginia and did, in actuality, sometimes ride his motorcycle home from the Desert Southwest to visit his home state.  He always attended the annual West Virginia Writers Conference and was well respected by those who knew him well in Appalachia.  He did think of himself as a West Virginian.  So should you!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

No Republican Should Ever Be Unopposed



As I have watched the ongoing damage to America and American Democracy which has been perpetrated by the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump and the  Right Wing Radical Repugnicans over the last year, I have become more and more convinced of an opinion which I have held for nearly all my life.  That opinion is that if American Democracy, individual constitutional rights, and the common welfare are to be protected for the long run we must guarantee that the Republican Party be prevented from ever exercising the degree of power over our governments, federal, state, county, city, and local at all levels, which they have exercised over the last several years.  At every level of government over the last ten to twenty years, we have seen broad ranging attacks on all levels and divisions of government which have been productive for individual citizens, especially citizens who are not among the upper classes financially.  

In my own county of Morgan County Kentucky, we suffered from the crimes of a Republican County Judge Executive who is currently serving a seven year sentence in the federal prison system for thefts of government funds following the West Liberty Tornado of 2012.  At the state level in Kentucky, we are currently involved in a sexual abuse scandal involving several Republican Legislators including one, Dan Johnson, an alleged minister, who committed suicide rather than face the consequences of his actions.  Another, the Republican Speaker of the State House, Jeff Hoover, was forced to resign from his leadership post after his harassment of a female employee became public.  At least three other Republican state legislators have also been implicated in this scandal.  The Kentucky Republican Governor Matt Bevin has demanded that all these legislators resign although it seems likely that his motivation for that demand is based much more on his desire to be able to appoint their replacements from his own loyal cadre of Right Wing Radical Repugnicans who would acquiesce to his desires.  Kentucky is also suffering from Bevin's attempts to destroy Obama Care coverage in the state even though more than 800,000 Kentuckians now have health care for the first time in their lives due to the program.  Bevin has also cost the University of Louisville tremendously by his unconstitutional efforts to remake their board in his own image.  Thankfully, Kentucky has been blessed with a Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear who has consistently litigated in defense of the citizens of Kentucky having won many of those cases.  


And of course at the national level, we are embroiled in the worst constitutional crisis in the history of the country due to the Russian manipulation of the American electoral process which has resulted in the installation of a Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate in the White House under the reputed direction of the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Donald Trump.   The election results in the South Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin areas were all statistical anomalies which could only be explained by some form of tampering.  The evidence at this time all points toward Russian hacking under the orders of Vladimir Putin in support of the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump.  Additionally, we have seen a plethora of actions on the part of the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump which are intended to damage and destabilize our allies all around the world.  His retweeting of Right Wing Radical propaganda in England has greatly increased tensions in Britain and significantly increased the likelihood of other terrorist acts against the duly constituted government there.  He has also seriously damaged the budget of the United Nations by arranging to force a $285million budget cut.  If this cut remains in place, it will greatly damage peace keeping missions, health care programs, food assistance programs, education programs, and hundreds of other UN efforts to improve the world especially in developing countries.  It is my considered professional opinion that this effort is deliberate and part of a plan being directed by Vladimir Putin under the management of the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump.  The stated intent to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has already destabilized the entire Middle East and is also a part of that plan.  All our Arabic allies and Israel also have been destabilized by riots and the likelihood of another Middle Eastern war have been greatly increased due purely to this announcement.  God only knows what else is likely to arise from the minds of these people if they are allowed to remain in charge of American policy.  

Domestically, the attacks from the Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate under the management of the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump are just as malicious and deliberate as the international acts of terrorism discussed above.  More than three months after the Puerto Rican disaster, those American citizens are suffering without help from the White House purely because they are Hispanic and voted against TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump. In Texas, for no logical reason, hurricane victims are suffering without adequate assistance even though Texans voted in favor of TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump. 

In Kansas, elected Right Wing Radical Repugnicans took bizarre legislative actions which destroyed the state economy.  Sadly, those very actions are one of the models which federally elected Republicans want to inflict on the entire country.  Sadly, they have accomplished much of that aim with their much ballyhooed and highly dangerous "tax cut bill" of 2017.  That legislation will reward the rich and corporations at the expense of the working class, children, students, elderly, ill, infirm, and immigrants.  Republican legislators have also expressed the desire to attack Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, environmental protections, and the National Parks System in the coming year.  The Republican Party, in all its many disguises and manifestations, must not be allowed to get away with these efforts to destroy the rights of the many in order to reward the uncaring few.  

In order to prevent further such disasters,  no Republican running for public office should ever be allowed to run without Democratic opposition.  Conscientious, dedicated, committed, and qualified members of the Resistance and the  Democratic Party must step up, take action, register and run for every elected office at stake in the entire country.  No Republican candidate should ever be allowed to run unopposed, unconfronted, or undefeated.  The entire body of constitutional rights, individual freedoms, and American Democracy itself are at stake over the next few years.  The Democratic Party must recruit, train, and financially support these candidates.  The Democratic Party must design a national program of computer security to guarantee the protection of both party and governmental computer systems from Russian and Republican attacks.  The TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump has proven that there is no crime which these people and the Russians who support them will not commit in order to destroy America and American Democracy.  It is solely up to the American people to stop these white collar terrorists and their criminal efforts.  





     

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Reflections On A Dismal Year In America 2017




Roughly eleven months ago, America was preparing for a transition which I foresaw as and which has proven to be one of the most problematic shifts in collective thought this country has ever suffered.  As we were rolling toward January 20, 2017, the last day of the administration of President Barack Obama and the first day of the illegal occupation of the White House by a minion of Vladimir Putin and Russia which was achieved through the Internet manipulation of both the electorate and the electoral process by Russian Hackers working under the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin and in favor of the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Donald Trump.  I said then and I repeat now that the best action that could have been taken in defense of American Democracy would have been if the Joint Chiefs Of Staff had staged a military coup, installed a temporary president and set a new election about a year later which could have been monitored and protected from Russian interference.  

Since January 20, 2017, we have seen a concerted attack on many aspects of American Democracy and American life.  Nearly all our individual branches of government are under attack and facing destruction from the very officials who have been appointed to run them.  The State Department is seeing unprecedented departures from career diplomats without even minimal replacements.  Those diplomats are leaving government service because they understand that the very institution of the State Department is being hamstrung by the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Donald Trump and his appointed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who has ties, if that is possible, which are even closer to Russia than those of his illegally installed employer.  

The Department of Education is being systematically destroyed by  Betsey De Vos, a member of the notorious family which built Amway, one of the worst criminal enterprises in the history of American business.  She is a proponent of religious based charter schools which are a clear cut violation of the separation of church and state.  

The Environmental Protection Agency is now under the destructive management of one of its worst enemies in the history of the agency, Scott Pruitt.  Pruitt's law career prior to his installation as Director of EPA was centered around his long term history of filing law suits to prevent the EPA from doing its legally constituted work of protecting the citizenry and the land from destruction.  Now he is committed to destroying the agency from within.  He is one of worst cases of a Trojan Horse in the history of mankind.  

The TRAITOR and International Terrorist Donald Trump has kept America teetering on the brink of war with North Korea the entire time he has been allowed to illegally occupy the White House.  His inflammatory language toward North Korea and most of the rest of the world has been consistently intended to inflame, enrage, and endanger most of the world.   There has also been a pattern of actions which appear intended to destabilize our closest allies all  over the world.  Very early in the his occupation (I use the word "occupation" in the military sense) of the White House, the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Donald Trump became involved in highly insulting and damaging telephone calls to the Prime Minister of Australia and the President of Mexico.  He also insulted the most powerful woman in the world, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel.  Most recently, this TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump has stated he intends to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem which has inflamed the entire Arabic world and made the likelihood of war in the Middle East much more likely. To their eternal credit, the members nations of the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to condemn this action.  He has also retweeted posts from the most militant group in England which has enraged the English populace and increased tensions all across Britain. He has also recently managed to force a budget cut of $285million on the UN which endangers peace keeping, food crisis, and health care programs all over the world.  These acts are far too numerous and structured to be minor mistakes.  They are part of a plan and the purpose of the plan is clearly the destabilization of our allies all around the world.  It is my belief that there is a plan originating in Moscow with Vladimir Putin which is being carried out by the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump due to his indebtedness to Putin and Russia.
 
There have also been a few bright and positive moments  in the country in the past year.  But they are too few, too far between, and too hampered by the inaction of thousands of elected officials all across America.  The Russia Investigation of former FBI Director Robert Mueller appears to be progressing but is slow.  It has managed to gain indictments against three of the minions of the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump and two of those people have plead guilty including Retired General Flynn who is cooperating with the investigation.  But nearly on a daily basis, some person in the Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate of the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump is speaking out about the idea that Mueller can actually  be fired by the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump.  In the event that Mueller should be fired, congress should immediately begin impeachment proceedings but they have shown no support of that action except for a few outspoken, liberal, and patriotic members.  

Nearly every special election in the country since November 2016 has been won by Democrats including in Virginia, New Jersey, and Oklahoma.  It appears that a trend toward rationality and reason may be taking place in the electorate and that is what is terrifying TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump and his Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate.  They know that if the Mueller investigation proceeds to its natural conclusion and the electoral trend continues into the off year congressional elections of 2018, they will all be indicted, prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned for all their crimes.  And that is exactly what must happen if American Democracy is to survive the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump.   

 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Always Confront Political Ignorance



Yesterday, November 28, 2017, I had an appliance repairman in my home working on my washing machine.  He has been in my house on several occasions over the last few years since it seems that the relatively expensive, high tech, front loading washer we bought a few years ago seems to eat software and other parts regularly.  Until yesterday, he had never broached any political subjects and that might be due to the fact that he and his brother recently took over the business from his former partner and the founder of the business upon his retirement.  But as he was working on the washer, we talked about many random subjects just as we always had before.  But during the the course of the conversation, he made the statement that "the problem with this country is that all the big corporations think there is nothing in the world except the left wing people".  Just as I always do in such cases with anyone, anytime, anywhere, I confronted his error in logic.  I responded "no, the problem with the country is that we have a Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate illegally occupying the White House".  

Freeway Carpets, El Paso, Texas, Photo By Roger D. Hicks


That response obviously was not the answer the man had been expecting but I have to give him credit.  He took it well as I proceeded to go on to inform him that in my opinion TRAITOR Trump is just that and nothing more, a TRAITOR, and that nearly everyone close to him is also a TRAITOR.  I went on to tell him about the long and ever growing list of evidence and documented incidents of illicit contacts between TRAITOR Trump, his Right Wing Radical minions, and various Russian operatives.  We also talked about the recent timeline of events in the Robert Mueller investigation and how the road is being paved to indict, convict, impeach, and imprison not only TRAITOR Trump but the great majority of his flunkies.  I reminded him that Russia and Putin seem to have begun to groom TRAITOR Trump for his current status as a Russian operative sometime in the 1980's with the onset being linked to the original deal to allow a TRAITOR Trump Tower in Moscow.  I have to admit that I failed to inform the repairman of the number of Russian covert operatives who mysteriously died immediately after the 2016 US Presidential Election in what seems to be an attempt to prevent any of the operatives who had contact with TRAITOR Trump from living to potentially defect and testify against the scheme, Vladimir Putin, and TRAITOR Trump.  

Freeway Carpets, El Paso, Texas, Photo By Roger D. Hicks


I also neglected to advise him of a recent article from Bill Moyers on his website in which he interviewed attorney Steve Harper, one of the top court room performers in the world of big time criminal law, about the rapidly moving events related to the Mueller investigation and the potential outcomes of that investigation.  I also informed the repairman of several legitimate sources of news which could help to relieve him of some of naivete and provide him with actual news instead of the fake news he had been receiving from a variety of Right Wing Radical Repugnican sources.  Additionally, I told him about several of the well informed people I know who would also be willing to assist him in relieving him of his factual void.  I told him about four people I had met on my recent southwestern vacation.  Those people included a carpet store owner in El Paso, Texas, who uses his outdoor marketing sign on a daily basis to post messages about the crimes of TRAITOR Trump and the Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate which he directs.  In that group is also a retired associate superintendent of schools in Austin, Texas, and her retired teacher/chef husband who work daily to assist in the effort to have Traitor Trump held responsible for all his crimes, past, present, and future.  Additionally, the group includes a retired engineer with a plethora of international business experience who lives in a gated community in Arizona and runs a business testing golf equipment for manufacturers and once got out of the car of an acquaintance more than thirty miles from his own vehicle because the acquaintance insisted on repeatedly defending TRAITOR Trump.  The last of the people on this list of which I advised the repairman is a retired plumbing contractor in the Baton Rouge area who started telling me of his knowledge of the crimes of TRAITOR Trump literally as soon as I entered his home.  I also informed the repairman of two men I know who between them spent nearly fifty years in the US Army, both with long time high level security clearances, who work daily to inform the world of the crimes of TRAITOR Trump.  The man did state that he would check out some of the honest media sources of which I informed him including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and The Atlantic.  He might do as he said and check the sources.  He might not.  But, based on the information I gave him, he can never again say that he has not been told the truth about the danger in which American Democracy exists today.  

And that is exactly what every American citizen should be doing every time anyone, any time, anywhere attempts to disseminate support for TRAITOR Trump, his lies, his Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate members, or any other aspect of their efforts to destroy American Democracy.  Always stand up, speak up, and speak out when the supporters of TRAITOR Trump attempt to spread the disinformation, fake news, and outright lies about the criminal conspiracy currently under investigation by Robert Mueller and his staff.  

 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Crum" by Lee Maynard--Book Review

Maynard, Lee: Crum( Morgantown, WV Vandalia Press 2001)

As I said in my recent review of Lee Maynard's book "The Pale Light of Sunset: Scattershots And Hallucinations In An Imagined Life", I had never read his work, by my deliberate choice, until after his recent death.  Quoted below is my introduction to that first review of a Lee Maynard work:
"Until Lee Maynard's recent death on June 16, 2017, I had never read any of his work.  Maynard was, and will always be, a controversial figure in the world of literature in West Virginia and Appalachia.  His first published work, "Crum", was actually banned from sale at the Tamarack Center in Beckley, WV, due to its perceived extreme negativity to Crum, WV, Maynard's hometown, and to West Virginia and Appalachia in general. Most of the West Virginia and Appalachian writers who have been my mentors and friends also held Maynard in contempt for the same reason.  We rarely, if ever, discussed him or his work.  And generally, to a person, we never bothered to read his work.  I chose to read this book  [The Pale Light of Sunset: Scattershots And Hallucinations In An Imagined Life] after having read some comments, in a newspaper obituary, from Cat Pleska about Lee Maynard, his death, and his writing.  Cat Pleska and I have never met but are now Internet and E-mail friends and I trust her judgment. I am glad I read the book." My Appalachian Life July 30, 2017

Since reading that first Lee Maynard book, I have become a dedicated reader of his work, while continuing to hold some serious misgivings about some of his actions as a writer, a West Virginian, and an Appalachian.  At his best, Lee Maynard was a powerful and talented writer.  At his worst, from my viewpoint as a native Appalachian writer and protagonist for the Appalachian Culture, Lee Maynard was an inflammatory, abrasive, and insulting writer who sometimes used the bully pulpit which his popularity provided to defame, denigrate, and abuse his native state and Appalachia as whole.  But I was sufficiently impressed by the quality of much of the writing in "The Pale Light of Sunset..." to delve deeper into Maynard's work.  I have now nearly completed reading every book which the man published.  "Crum" was the next book I chose to read after completing "The Pale Light of Sunset...".  Although I have continued to read the body of the man's work after reading "Crum", I must say that if it had been the first of his books I read, I would not have continued in the effort and I might well have not even finished the book.  The opening page describes Crum, the town of Maynard's nativity as a "...sad little town...awaiting each stagnant winter with all the patience, good looks, and energy of a sloth."  The third page describes Kentucky, the land of my nativity, as a "...mysterious land of pig fuckers".  Most native Appalachians who have read such comments about our homeland have a natural and well justified tendency to throw such comments into the burn barrel, whether they came from a recognized writer of  Lee Maynard's stature or from a cousin who was writing back home after making a foothold in the industrial north after fleeing Appalachia.  

In her introduction to "Crum", Meredith Sue Willis states that "The novel, then, makes a remarkable journey from the opening descriptions of barren shacks to a rich human and natural landscape."  She goes on to conclude that "this is a novel about love of place".  I will not concur with Ms. Willis completely in that assessment.  But I have stated elsewhere that I believe in some of the writings which appear in "The Pale Light of Sunset..." that Maynard did love West Virginia and Appalachia.  It is much more difficult to reach that conclusion about him if "Crum" is the first of his writings which the reader encounters.  

My friend and mentor of forty years, P. J. Laska, and I discussed Lee Maynard and his work during my recent visit with Laska at his home in Arizona.  He reminded me of an essay he had written about Lee Maynard and Denise Giardina in 1990 entitled "Saints And Sinners The Either Or Syndrome In Appalachian Fiction" and provided me with a copy of the essay.  In the essay, Laska states: "Crum" has realistic details but they are cut off from any meaningful context."  Laska goes on to say that "Crum" is a one-sided picture of life in Appalachia.  It isolates the comic, the crude, the trashy, the disgusting."  But he goes on to say in that same paragraph that "Crum's details are not false.  The deprivations, the narrowness of experience, the boredom, the crude pleasures that relieve it--these ring true."  And therein lies the conundrum that Lee Maynard presented to the world in general and to native Appalachians in particular.  

The conundrum of Lee Maynard leaves the reader, especially the native Appalachian reader, with some serious questions.  Did Lee Maynard love or hate West Virginia and Appalachia?  Did Lee Maynard intentionally denigrate and defame the town of Crum, the state of West Virginia, and Appalachia as whole?  And, for me most importantly, after he achieved fame did Lee Maynard perhaps regret the damage he had done to his homeland?  These are not simple questions to answer.  They do not lend themselves to a quick, brief discussion and an easy fix.  Lee Maynard understood Crum and Mingo County.  He chose to leave them behind and to write a great deal of highly inflammatory material about them.  But he also chose to return to West Virginia every year for the annual conference of West Virginia writers as my friend Edwina Pendarvis, an equally broadly published Appalachian writer,  has reminded me.  In a recent e-mail she said this about Maynard: "I knew him just a little bit because almost every summer for several years he came to the WV Writers conference.  I think he liked WV but wouldn't want to live there!"  He also returned, as he wrote so eloquently about in "The Pale Light Of Sunset...", to the farm of a long time friend to deer hunt and rode his motorcycle on most of those trips.  I will never believe that anyone rode a motorcycle from Santa Fe to West Virginia just to see place they hated.  

But to get back to the real subject of this review, the novel "Crum", let's consider that book alone, on its own merits, strengths, and weaknesses.  It is a novel which has caused the blood of many a native Appalachian to boil.  I am sure that many copies of it have been thrown into either the Tug River or a good, hot fire.  It is also a novel which is frequently listed on long lists of works by Appalachians.  It is now sold in Tamarack, the West Virginia cultural and tourist attraction near Beckley, where it was banned for many years.  That is actually where I bought my copy.  

I was born in Lackey, Knott County Kentucky, about fifteen years after Lee Maynard was born in Crum, Mingo County, West Virginia.  Our birthplaces are only about sixty miles apart.  We grew up in very similar communities and attended very similar high schools.  Based on our personal experiences and educations, we seem to have to reached different conclusions about our homeland.  I might also add that I lived in Logan and Mingo Counties in West Virginia for about five years and worked as a door to door salesman in nearly every inch of Lee Maynard's home environs.  I know Mingo County nearly as well as I know Knott County.  I consider myself to be just as much a West Virginian as I do an Eastern Kentuckian.  They are both soaked deep into my blood, bones, psyche, and soul.  

In the novel "Crum", Lee Maynard insulted both West Virginia and Kentucky in ways that were hurtful, deliberate, and likely not fully founded in facts.  But the novel is still worth reading.  It tells a story that resonates with a significant portion of the populace both in Appalachia and out.  It is a tale of alienation, deprivation, and determination.  Lee Maynard's narrator uses his God given talents to leave Appalachia and seek his healing elsewhere.  Most characters created by native Appalachian writers choose to grit their teeth and either stay at home or return after a brief hiatus elsewhere.  In my opinion, the novel has enough redeeming virtues in its writing to make it worthwhile to read.  But, if you are a native Appalachian, be prepared to see words in print that leave you wishing you had your hands on that rascal.       

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Another More Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner With Family, Saturday, November 25, 2017

Today, Saturday, November 25, 2017, we drove to Prestonsburg, KY, again for a second, more traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with family, most of whom had been at our earlier state park lodge buffet Thanksgiving Dinner.  A couple of faces were different but the attendance was about the same, roughly a dozen.  The meal was at my cousin Judy Terry McGuire's house in Prestonsburg where we seem to get together about once a year.  Judy's husband, Eddie McGuire is an excellent cook and raises a large garden each year, cans and freezes a lot of vegetables, and does an excellent job with a lot of homegrown food.  Most other attendees bring some sort of side dish and it turns into a large, traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, rolls, coleslaw, cakes, pies, etc.  This year, with the temperature at midday around the high fifties, anybody who wanted to could spend some time outside while others watched football and talked inside.  

As I had said in my earlier post about the buffet dinner on Thursday at Jenny Wiley State Park Lodge, I would rather have a traditional family meal with family in a home setting even if I was eating bologna sandwiches.  Actually, I haven't had funeral bologna for while and that might be an interesting twist for a family holiday meal sometime.   How about a menu of funeral bologna, peanut butter, brick cheddar, and other sandwiches with the only rule being that any item brought to the dinner would need to have been available in a small country store in Knott County Kentucky about 1958.  You could maybe add a few roasted or boiled chestnuts, paw paws if you could manage to save a few until late November, an allowance for grocery mix candy, chocolate drops, and sugar stick candy for dessert.  That could generate a lot of old memories and a lot of long winded stories.  I might try that sometime...Kentucky Border Bologna and crackers.  But you can no longer find saltine crackers with all four squares still together for sandwich making instead of the current method of selling them in single squares in a cellophane tube.  Maybe add a few Koolickles.   For those of you who don't know about Koolickles, they are dill pickles soaked for several days in a large jug of your favorite flavor of Kool Aid.  I think this idea could be turned into a good meal for those who remember the old times. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Mildred Haun Conference--Walters State College, Morristown, TN, February 2-3, 2018

The 2018 Mildred Haun Conference will take place at Walters State College in Morristown, TN, on February 2-3, 2018.  The featured author at this year's conference, in addition to Mildred Haun, will be Marie Manilla, whose work I have written about on this blog and also previously published a review of her novel, "T he Patron Saint Of Ugly", in the Appalachian magazine "Now And Then".  Marie Manilla is a native and current resident of Huntington, WV, and the great majority of all her published work focuses on Appalachia with just a wee bit based on Texas which she knows well.  Manilla is often the featured writer at conferences these days which focus on the literature of Appalachia and she well deserves that attention.  

The focus of the conference is titled "Who Tells Our Stories: History, Haints, and Happenings".  I apologize for the fact that I did not mention this conference on this blog before the submission deadline for papers and presentations had passed.  The conference staff are also establishing an online journal this year which will publish the best papers from the conference where they will be available for the foreseeable future.  I will be presenting a paper at the conference on Saturday afternoon, February 3, 2017.  That paper is titled "Mary Dorthula White and Saint Garnet: Saints Or...?"  The paper will examine similarities in and differences between two major female characters, one each of which was created by Haun and Manilla: Mary Dorthula White, the protagonist/narrator of Haun's book, "The Hawk's Done Gone" and Saint Garnet del Vulcano, the protagonist/narrator of Manilla's book, "The Patron Saint Of Ugly".  

If you have not read the work of either of these women, you should spend the money to alleviate that void in your knowledge of Appalachian Literature, especially Appalachian Literature by and about women.  Marie Manilla is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop which has furthered the education of Flannery O'Connor, John Irving, and Wallace Stegner.  It is arguably the best masters degree level creative writing program in the country.  Admission to this program in and of itself is a statement that the applicant has demonstrated talent well above the average. 

Mildred Haun was a 1937 masters degree graduate of Vanderbilt University under the well known writing professors John Crowe Ransom and Donald Davidson.  Haun only published one book of fiction, the aforesaid "The Hawk's Done Gone", which is one of the finest little books ever produced in the state of Tennessee.  She wrote the stories in the book during her writing classes and never sought to publish another book.  Her masters thesis "Cocke County Ballads And Songs" is widely considered one of the best collections and examinations of the folk songs of Appalachia ever assembled.  The book, "The Hawk's Done Gone", is a unique work in many ways.  It is an outstanding use of Appalachian dialect in a fictional setting.  The dialect used in the book is that of Cocke County Tennessee around the turn of the twentieth century at the time of Mildred Haun's childhood.  It is a shame that she never wrote and published more both in the fields of fiction and non-fiction.  The book also bridges the gap between the novel and a collection of short stories with a central narrator and protagonist in most of the stories and a central cast of recurring characters.  The book does have a rough time line which runs parallel to the narrator's life which further blurs the line between novel and short story collection.  It is a book well worth reading for many reasons.

I would love to see all of the regular readers of this blog at the conference.  I will also look forward to reading comments on this blog from those of you who have read or will read the works of both Haun and Manilla. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving With Family At A State Park Lodge

Today, my wife Candice and I had Thanksgiving Dinner with ten other members of our extended family at the Jenny Wiley State Park Lodge which has recently been refurbished after a major fire.  There were twelve of us at the dinner which had at least a couple of hundred diners during the time we were there.  Apparently, nobody wants to cook a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner anymore.  We represented three generations of our maternal grandparents' descendants.  There were four of us first cousins there from the seven which were raised by our mothers, sisters Mellie Hicks Hicks and Ellen Hicks Terry. Two of that original seven are now dead.  There were three spouses or significant others of that group, one daughter of my cousin Jack Terry, one daughter of my cousin Greg Terry, and several of Jack's grandchildren.  This was the first time many of us in the family had met Greg's daughter, Shay, who suddenly appeared in his life not long ago after finally learning who he biological father is.  Neither of them had known of the identity or existence of the other until very recently.  That, in and of itself, made it an interesting meal. 

The buffet was served in a large dining room, one of two, which must have seated at least a hundred people.  The staff worked constantly and kept drinks refilled, dirty plates bused, and minor requests for information answered.  I am certain they never received, in that kind of setting, anywhere near what they deserved in tips. The standard 18% for large groups would be in order in that setting.  I tried my best to be reasonable with my tip and so did at least one other in our party.  The setting, twelve people spread along the length of a long table, did not do a lot to benefit conversations.  The tables were a bit too close together and the overall layout of the room made traffic to and from the buffet a bit congested.  Salads, vegetables, and meats were on a steam table along the left side of the room with both sides open for self service.  Desserts were on two tables along the perpendicular  wall on two tables with only one side open for self service.  A staff member was on the right side of the room slicing and serving ham and roast beef from another table with heat lamps.  This setup caused too much traffic across the room, back and forth, and sideways.  

The food was generally acceptable but not outstanding by any measure.  When I got to the turkey to serve for my wife Candice, I found a wet mess of shredded turkey in the bottom of a hotel pan.  There were a couple or three dishes on that steam table which kept eliciting questions among strangers to the tune of "do you know what that is".  The salad makings were a bit too few to make a good salad for the person with vegetarian leanings.  The coleslaw was good and made along a traditional Eastern Kentucky recipe.  The green beans came straight out of an institutional can.  The pies, pecan, peanut butter, and pumpkin, were straight out of a box.  The baked Alaska was good and made on the spot.  The roast beef was far overcooked for my taste without a wink of pink in sight.  The ham was minimally acceptable.  Overall, this was a large restaurant buffet designed to minimally please diners who did not have high expectations without minimizing the potential profit from the occasion.  Nearly every time I have eaten at Jenny Wiley State Park Lodge, which is a frequent choice of some of my relatives who live close to it, I have left once again convinced that most of the other state park lodges in which I have eaten do the job better, especially Natural Bridge State Park Lodge.  I nearly always prefer Natural Bridge to other parks and the setting is usually far more picturesque.  

After the dinner, we hung out for a short time in the lodge lobby talking and split up until this coming Saturday when we will get together for a second dinner at the home of a cousin in Prestonsburg which is a much better idea.  I had told a friend in an e-mail today that I would rather eat bologna sandwiches in a genuine family setting with family than a high class buffet in a restaurant setting anytime.  This dinner convinced me I was correct in that statement.  A home cooked meal with shucked beans, hog jaw, ground hog, squirrels, pinto beans, corn bread, cushaw, and hominy would be far better anytime. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"Feather River" by Paul Foreman--Book Review

Foreman, Paul: Feather River (Austin, Texas Thorp Springs Press 2003)

I almost never pass up a book of poetry even if I have no knowledge of the author so long as the price is right which explains why I read and am now writing about "Feather River" by Paul Foreman (1943-2012).  I acquired a copy of the book during my recent long vacation which included Austin, Texas, which was apparently the stomping ground of the author.  A little research has shown me that Paul Foreman was much more important to Texas and the world as an editor and publisher than as a poet.  He was the founder and owner of Thorp Springs Press and did a great deal of work to promote and publish Texas writers including J. Frank Doby of whom I had previously been aware.  I cannot really say, based on reading this one book, that I have been impressed by the writing of Paul Foreman.  He was formally trained as a scientist and a historian.  His poetry reflects that.  Paul Foreman had a penchant for penning poems for his many friends and several of the pieces in this book are inscribed to several of those friends.  He also had a penchant for writing essays about writing, history, and interesting people he had known.  Those essays are sometimes more palatable than his poetry.  For me the high points of the book were an essay about the writer Frank Waters  and a poem about a man Don Foreman who, at least in the poem, appears to have been one of those larger than life figures who tend to impress everyone they meet in a positive manner.

If you are a student of Texas writers and/or Texas poetry, then, by all means, read this book and learn all you can about Paul Foreman.  If you are seeking high quality poetry which will stay in your heart and mind over time, look elsewhere.  I will stop short of saying that reading this book was a waste of time but I will not give it a ringing endorsement. 

Another Thanksgiving With Little To Be Thankful For

One year ago tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day 2016, I wrote a post on this blog entitled "Thanksgiving 2016 So Little To Be Thankful For" . Today, the day before Thanksgiving 2017, I writing another blog post and searching for a few things, anything to be thankful for.  First and foremost, I am thankful that America and world have managed to survive nearly a year with American Democracy in greater danger than it has been since at least 1945.  We are still hanging onto a fragile freedom which has been under direct and relentless attack since November 8, 2016.  Somehow, the TRAITOR Donald Trump and his Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate are still in control of the White House despite all their crimes which are common knowledge and those crimes which we still do not have sufficient knowledge about to discuss.  Somehow, the TRAITOR Donald Trump and Kim Jun Un have avoided an armed conflict which will, if it happens, literally destroy the world in a radioactive plague which can only be imagined.  I am thankful that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors and investigators are still going about their work and have actually been able to indict three of TRAITOR Trump's henchmen for at least part of their crimes.  We can only hope that their work will continue to its completion and the entire Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate and TRAITOR Trump are indicted, prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned for their crimes.  I am thankful that in most of the off year elections which have occurred since November 2016 Democrats and rational, qualified people have been elected.  In Virginia, we saw a widespread win by a diverse group of Democrats all across the spectra of both humanity and state elective offices.  In Oklahoma, we saw several important offices won by intelligent, well qualified Democrats.  There is a great deal of hope in these wins.  Perhaps, the tide has turned that assisted Vladimir Putin and TRAITOR Trump in their seizure of the White House.  However, the Republican Party holds control of all three branches of government at the national level and has shown absolutely no willingness or ability to face the crimes of TRAITOR Trump, Vladimir Putin, and their Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate. 

In Alabama, the Fascist and accused sex offender and pedophile Roy Moore is the Republican nominee for the US Senate and very few members of the US Senate or the Republican Party have shown enough courage to speak out against him and his crimes against both women and children.   The TRAITOR Trump has spoken publicly in support of Roy Moore.  My response to that endorsement of Moore by TRAITOR Trump is this: Ask any detective!  Any time a self-admitted sex offender claims another accused sex offender is innocent it is the best indicator you can find that both are guilty of everything of which they have been accused.  American Democracy is in a terrible state and, as citizens, we have little to be thankful for.  This Thanksgiving Day is a bleak day in America.  Health care, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Education, human rights in general, the Bill of Rights in particular are all under attack from TRAITOR Trump and his Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate.  Our only hope lies in the voting booth, in public protest, and in the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  Thanksgiving 2017 is turning out be just as bleak as I predicted it would be one year ago at Thanksgiving 2016.  God Help Us All, both as a country, as individual citizens, and as a world in great danger! 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Foods I Have Ordered But Never Been Served!

There is nothing I enjoy more than eating something I have never eaten and, if possible, never seen.  Any time I walk into a restaurant or other food service setting and see anything on the menu which I have never experienced, I try it.  That is one of the best ways I know to broaden my culinary knowledge, experience, and taste.  When I travel, I look for food service settings which will provide me opportunities to eat and experience new foods.  On our recent extended vacation in the desert southwest, I had several experiences to do just that.  But I also found myself in a situation which prompted this post.  My wife Candice and I were eating in a little restaurant in Southern Louisiana called Boudreaux's in a wide spot on Louisiana 56 called Chackbay, Louisiana.  It is a well known, but never before known by me, little restaurant with nice gingham curtains in the windows, a few good sized bass mounts hanging on the walls, and a single waitress with just enough of South Louisiana in her accent to let you know you are in the right place.  While we were there, we were served some really nice craw-fish etouffe and Candice ordered fried shrimp which came to the table big enough and fresh enough to hang over the edge of the plate as if they were preparing to walk back into the Gulf of Mexico.  Fried shrimp do not usually tempt me at all.  In the majority of places which serve them, they are usually rubbery with a hard, doughy crust, and over cooked to the point that it is sinful.  Candice shared her shrimp with me and they were tender, cooked just enough to be done but still tender and tasty.  Amazingly, the breading was light, fluffy, and crispy which was one of the most pleasant surprises I have had in a long time.  

But the event at Boudreaux's which prompted this post was something which I ordered and was told they did not have that day.  Turtle Sauce Piquant was on the menu but not in the kitchen, at least not that day which was Wednesday, October 25, 2017. I have eaten turtle prepared in the traditional fried Appalachian manner since I was a child.  But this was my first chance to have genuine Cajun Turtle Sauce Piquant and I have to say it made me sad to miss it. Wednesday is a day in the middle of the week when sales can be slow and I fully understand why they did not have turtle in the kitchen.  But this kind of thing has happened to me several times, in several great restaurants, in several cities, in several states and Candice and I both agreed that I needed to write a blog post about foods I have ordered but never been served.  I have now had this happen, with a variety of foods and restaurants all the way from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico to the southern shore of Lake Superior, from Saint Louis to Rockville, Maryland.  These dishes are usually a bit off the mainstream food taste when this happens to me.  I find an inviting menu item listed which I have never tried, order it, and the server says, "I'm sorry, sir, but we don't have that available tonight."  It has happened often enough to cause me to sometimes think people who want to limit their exotic menu see me coming and plan ahead to not order anything an ordinary meat and potatoes eater would not order.  Rationally, I know this is not true.  I am just paranoid but it happens far too often for my personal satisfaction.  

One of the earliest occasions I can remember of having this happen was in the middle 1990's when Candice was traveling regularly to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.  I would often drive her there and rent a room in a private home in the neighborhood of the clinical center which rented rooms at low cost to family members of patients.  Most evenings during Candice's stays at NIH, we could sign her out of the clinical center and go out to eat and do our version of the tourist thing.  We found Sam Woo Jung Japanese and Korean Restaurant on Rockville Pike in Rockville, Maryland.  This became one of my favorite restaurants of all time and was generally well reviewed by anyone who ever ate there.  They served a melding of Japanese and Korean dishes and had Korean Barbecue grills in the center of their booth tables.  Their sushi was awesome and I will always remember eating flying fish roe sushi there. They also had the best kimchee I ever had. But on our first visit, I noticed beef intestines on the menu and immediately ordered them.  You guessed it!  They did not have them that night.    Now, I am sad to report that during a quick Google search as I am writing this blog post, I have found that Sam Woo is no longer open in Rockville.  That is a damn shame if there ever was one.  It was a wonderful restaurant which should have lasted a thousand years.

A few years ago, we were in Saint Louis where I was attending a Certified Personal Property Appraiser Course with the Missouri Auction School and we tried to complete another of my efforts to have still one more food I had never eaten.  Not too long before we left for Saint Louis, I had seen Andrew Zimmern's review of the pork brain sandwich at Schottzie's Bar and Grill and I wanted to try it.  I have eaten brains from hogs, cattle, and squirrels all my life.  I was probably fed brains as a babe in arms since they are usually soft, creamy, and tasty no matter who cooks them or what species had grown up using them.  But I had never had a fried pork brain sandwich and I was fired up to get one.  My professional training was a three day course on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the week, once again not the prime days for a restaurant to serve unusual items.  We drove to Schottzie's and managed to get Candice's wheelchair in the bar over a minor obstacle or two which we are accustomed to in our travels.  When I ordered the pork brain sandwich, I was told by the bar maid, "I'm sorry but we only serve those on the weekend."  Since I had one more night to spend in Saint Louis, I offered to go to a local grocery store or butcher and buy a container of pork brains if they would cook me one sandwich the following night.  I was given a health department based reason that they could not do that. I settled for an ordinary bacon and cheese burger which just did not sufficiently scratch my itch. I still cannot wait to get back to Schottzie's in Saint Louis on a Saturday night and have a fried pork brain sandwich. 

In July of 2016, Candice and I took another pretty good road trip all the way to Winnipeg and back and drove along US 2  along the southern shore of Lake Superior before crossing into Canada at International Falls, Minnesota.  We spent a night in the area of Bayfield, Wisconsin, and I was hoping to find whitefish livers at Gruenke's Restaurant in Bayfield.  We got there in the heart of the tourist season, but on a week night, and I ordered whitefish livers with a smile.  With a less enthusiastic smile, the server returned to our table in a couple of minutes and said, "I am sorry, sir, but we don't have whitefish livers tonight."  Once again I was foiled from eating a food which I could not find near my home or in most other places in the world.  I settled for some fish which just did not meet my expectations.

I do not blame any of these restaurants for not stocking perishable items which do not sell at the top of the menu.  But I truly regret every time I have ever met that apologetic smile from a server along with the stock answer about not having that items in stock at that time.  Since I travel widely I might be able to get back to some of these places at a time when they are serving the uncommon item I crave from their menu.  But it is a big world and I still have about twenty American states, eight provinces and three territories in Canada, thirty Mexican states, and more than 190 foreign countries to visit.  I am sure I will find other places where I will not be served the items I order and I know that I cannot double back to all of them on a day of the week when they serve the items I want.  That is a shame.  I hope all of you have better look finding these exotic foods than I did. 


Thursday, November 2, 2017

"Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir Of A Family And Culture In Crisis" by J. D. Vance--Book Review

Vance, J. D. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (New York. Harper Collins 2016)



First and foremost, let me say unequivocally that the fact that I chose to read this book and write about it on this blog should never be considered a recommendation that anyone read it.  When the book was released in 2016 and the first highly negative reviews by legitimate native Appalachian scholars began to reach ink, I realized that it was likely to be a waste of time for anyone to read the book.  I never bought it, never read it, never borrowed it from a local library, never pretended in anyone's presence that I intended to ever read it.  I made a vow to keep my mind and soul uncorrupted.  But during my aforementioned long vacation in the southwestern United States, I spent quite a bit of time in the company of my friends, P. J. Laska (post #1) and his wife, Warene Hopson.  One day Warene called me into another room of the house and told me that she had a book she wanted to give me.  As she presented me with the book, she was honest enough to tell me the full story of why she had chosen to pass it on.  Warene has a friend who reads quite a bit and apparently knows little or nothing about Appalachia and Appalachian Culture.  This unnamed woman buys books, reads them once, and passes them on to others with the stipulation that they be passed along further after each recipient is done with them. Warene informed me that she was done with "Hillbilly Elegy..." the first second it was placed in her hands and she never read it and had no intentions to do so.  She also informed me that her husband, my long time friend P. J. Laska (post #2), also had no intentions of ever reading the book.  It is also pertinent to say for those of you who still do not know who P. J. Laska (post #3) is that he is a native Appalachian, a doctoral level retired professor of philosophy, and a life long student and professor of Appalachian Literature and Culture as well as a former National Book Award finalist in poetry.  Warene Hopson is not a native Appalachian but she has been married to P. J. Laska for the past 48 years and has known the great majority of the best scholars and writers in the field of Appalachian Studies during that time. She also lived for several years in the heart of Appalachia in the Beckley, West Virginia, area.  Let it suffice to say that all three of us had chosen independently to avoid reading "Hillbilly Elegy..." for the same reasons based on publicly printed reviews of the book and the private opinions expressed to us by our many friends and colleagues in the field about the extremely negative and derogatory nature of the book.  But due to the nature of the gift and my respect for Warene Hopson, I chose to overrule my better judgment and read it anyway.  I also chose to honor the original owner's stipulation that the book be passed on to another after each recipient had finished with it.  

Let me also preface my comments about the book with the information that I know a great deal about Breathitt County Kentucky, the home territory of J. D. Vance and both sides of his extended family. I was raised in Knott County, a contiguous county to Breathitt.  For the past twenty-five years, I have lived in Morgan County Kentucky, another contiguous county to Breathitt.  For a total of about seven years, I worked in the human services and mental health fields in two other contiguous counties.  During that work period, I specialized in substance abuse and mental health therapy.  I was also the only certified provider of Kentucky's Twenty Hour DUI Education Program for first time offenders in that general area.  I worked with numerous residents and natives of Breathitt County during that time.  One of the agencies I worked for is headquartered in Breathitt County.  It is my considered professional opinion that I am at least as well qualified as J. D. Vance to discuss the strengths, weaknesses, assets, and liabilities of Breathitt County Kentucky.

I had actually read several chapters of the book before I left the Southern Arizona area where P. J. Laska and Warene Hopson live.  When I told them that I had read that much of the book, they asked me about my opinion of it.  The remainder of this paragraph is a close approximation of what I told them and what I still believe about the book after reading it fully from "kiver to kiver" as my ancestors used to say. In my twenty years of practice as an Appalachian mental health professional, I never had a client walk into my office seeking professional therapy and carrying a biopsychosocial of their own composition.  If one ever had, that biopsychosocial very well could have carried the title "Hillbilly Elegy..."  The book is a wonderful piece of work if one were working with a single client or family unit in a mental health setting in an altruistic attempt to successfuly intervene in the mental health and substance abuse problems within that particular family unit.  As a piece of literature intended to be considered as a blanket analysis of a culture, and particularly the Appalachian Culture, the book is garbage.  The fact that the book was seized upon by mainstream American critics and readers as a legitimate assessment of the overall Appalachian Culture is a great miscarriage of both justice and common sense. It is also an indictment of the decision making capacity of that general readership.

First and foremost, let me address the title itself.  The word "hillbilly" is just as much an ethnic and cultural epithet as the "n" word, the "q" word, the "k" word, or the "s" word.  It is just as inflammatory and derogatory as the "c" word.  Any person who would use such a word in reference to themselves, their extended family, and their dominant culture and ethnicity is both defaming and denigrating those to whom they refer.  For an excellent film discussion of the use of the word "hillbilly" to discuss and describe Appalachia and Appalachian Culture, please acquire a copy of the Appal Shop documentary "Strangers And Kin: A History of the Hillbilly Image". It is particularly enlightening to learn about the history of the mascot of Appalachian State University, a character named Yosef who is dressed as a "hillbilly" in overalls, a flop hat, and no shoes. That character is the one occasion I can remember in which anything positive ever came out of the creation of a "hillbilly" character.  If J. D. Vance had held any respect for his homeland and its people, he would have never allowed the word "hillbilly" to cross his lips, his pen, or his keyboard. And he certainly would not have used hundreds of times, as he does throughout the book, to describe his closest family members and alleged role models.  The book is no more an assessment of the overall Appalachian Culture than it is a re-examination of "War And Peace".

I further believe that if there is an afterlife with awareness of and ability to influence the events occurring in the earth from which the deceased has departed that the ghosts of both Jack Weller and Harry M. Caudill were whispering encouragements into the ears of J. D. Vance as he was writing this latest attack on Appalachia and its people.  This book is just as damaging, derogatory, defamatory, and debilitating to its subjects as "Night Comes To The Cumberlands" and "Yesterday's People".  J. D. Vance has used this book to become a member of that ill-informed and uncaring brotherhood of those who seek to further the negative image of Appalachia and Appalachians without even a minor degree of the necessary knowledge to accurately understand or describe the culture .

"Hillbilly Elegy..." is a splenetic diatribe about Vance's extended family which he has attempted to pass off as a discussion of the great values he sees in his deeply flawed family while also attempting to attribute the familial flaws to the general culture of which they are a minor part.  Vance proudly discusses the rearing he received from two grandparents he freely admits once held mourners at gunpoint as they left a funeral because the grandparents had failed to notice that the youthful Vance had fallen asleep in a funeral home pew and assumed he had been kidnapped.  He equally admires the virtues of a grandmother who curses like a sailor in the presence of young children, screams at family members as a form of purported affection, and generally makes herself a fearsome addition to the community in which she lives.  In an early chapter of the book, Vance makes the statement that in spite of the large number of men with whom his drug addicted mother kept company none of those men was abusive.  In the next chapter, he tells the story of how as a teenager, a fight between his mother and one of those men awoke him and he had to come from his bedroom in order to intervene in the altercation.  A error in logic of that nature would not have been well received by Vance's law professors at Yale.  Neither should it be well received by his readers.

I read "Hillbilly Elegy..." primarily because it was a gift from a friend whom I respect and admire.  The time I used to read it while on a long vacation road trip would probably have been wasted in an even more egregious manner if I had not read the book.  The most positive aspect of the experience is that I can now say  I fully understand why so many intelligent, educated, committed Appalachian activists have received the book with such scorn and disgust and I must admit they warned me in advance.  Now I am warning you with the same words which I used to begin this review.   Let me say unequivocally that the fact that I chose to read this book and write about it on this blog should never be considered a recommendation that anyone read it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Vacation Explanation

During the month of October 2017, I did less work on this blog than I had in several months, perhaps even for the past year.  My readers deserve an explanation.  From October 2, 2017, to October 28, 2017, my wife Candice and I have been on an extended vacation in the desert southwest.  We took a nearly month long road trip and when we are out of our home for an extended period of time we never disclose that on this blog or social media until we return due to the propensity for burglars to troll social media sites as well as blogs to seek potential victims.  We probably don't have enough personal property to attract a high dollar burglar but no burglar knows what they will find until they pick your lock, raise your window, or kick in your door.

We both love road trips and this was our longest, and probably best, ever.  We traveled 6401 miles and stayed on the road for 26 days.  We did most of the trip on Airbnb and saw parts of Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana, and Mississippi.  We stayed with three different Airbnb providers, one in Arizona, one in Texas, and one in Louisiana.  All three were great places to say and wonderful people to work with.  I will write more about that and other aspects of the vacation on several upcoming blog posts.  I still managed to complete reading a couple of books and will review those in the near future as well.  I will still try to mix in at least every other blog post with one about some aspect of life in Appalachia.  This was a great trip and deserves to be discussed.  Look forward to it!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Memorial Meeting On The Grounds Of The Elijah Smith Cemetery

Random Appalachian Cemetery Photo


On Sunday, September 24, 2017, my wife Candice & I attended a traditional Appalachian Memorial Meeting on the grounds of the Elijah Smith Cemetery in Dingus, KY, in Morgan County.  The service was conducted by Rev. Lonnie B. Wright and other ministers and members of the Enterprise Association Of Regular Baptists.  There were about forty people in attendance with most of the crowd tending toward the elderly side.  Several members of the congregation commented that the crowd was smaller than it had been in past years.  We attended the service primarily because Candice is friends with Shirley Robbins who also cleans our house and several members of her extended family are buried on the cemetery including her parents, Clint Howard and Ella Wright Howard .  We had known both of them and used to visit them before their recent deaths.  We also encountered a few other people we knew at the service including one of Candice's providers at ARH Physical Therapy in West Liberty.  I did not take any photographs of the service or the crowd since I was uncertain if anyone would object to being photographed.  



The cemetery is located on KY 437 off KY 172 between West Liberty, KY, and Crockett, KY.  The cemetery is located on a hillside but has a relatively good gravel road to the hill behind the cemetery.  The graveyard is fenced with chain link fence and has several benches made from 2" x 12" plank on cinder blocks.  There is even a lectern for the ministers although few of the Regular Baptist ministers ever stay stationary behind a lectern, podium, or altar.  The service began with several songs and eventually three ministers including Lonnie B. Wright preached in the typical rambling, unstructured fashion of the Regular Baptists.  Most of those ministers would say this style of preaching is about "letting the Lord lead you" or "doing what the Lord tells me to do".  The hymns are older, traditional, and not usually found in a Broadman Hymnal.  Most of the various associations of Old Regular Baptist Churches use some form of locally printed hymnal without music notation.  Here is a link to the one hymnal I can find online that claims to be designed for the Old Regular Baptists.  I do not personally own an Old Regular Baptist Hymnal and probably should find one for times like this.  

The service lasted about two hours and the crowd gradually wandered off after checking a few graves of people they knew.  Several of the graves had new flowers and other decorations which is usually more common around Memorial Day in late May.  It was interesting to see a memorial meeting on a cemetery which I had not attended in several years.  Many, if not most of them, have gradually died out.  Someone in the crowd mentioned that they "need to build a shed up here" which used to be common on Appalachian Cemeteries.  I grew up near one in Knott County Kentucky, the Turner Cemetery, which for many years had a building with a large roofed area of seating, stand, and podium which would have seated more than a hundred people.  But a forest fire got out near the cemetery and jumped to the stand and burned it.  It has never been replaced.  These meetings arose from the circuit rider tradition shortly after settlers arrived in the mountains.  People often died in those days and were buried without a minister being present.  Then, on his next pass through that area, the minister would hold a service on the cemetery for the recently deceased.  It is interesting to see the tradition being practiced in any context in today's world where so much of our Appalachian Culture, Traditions, and History are gradually disappearing. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Lady Sheba--Jessie Wicker Bell--Knott County's Other Major Writer

Ever since I was old enough to understand who Albert Stewart, James Still, and William Howard Cohen were, I have been entranced by, consumed in, and a student of the literature of my native Knott County Kentucky.  In the time I have studied that literature, Verna Mae Slone came to national prominence, a couple of other Knott County natives published lesser books,  and I have been published in a variety of genres including fiction, poetry, non-fiction, Appalachian Studies, and mental health practice.  But about a month or two ago, while searching some Knott County history and genealogy, I stumbled across a major writer from Knott County whose name I had never heard mentioned in my entire life. 

Jessie Wicker Bell--Lady Sheba Photo by Amanda JH

While perusing the pages of the website Find A Grave to which I make volunteer contributions  regularly, I found the memorial page of Jessie Wicker Bell, known professionally as Lady Sheba. Jessie Wicker Bell was born and raised in Mousie, KY, where my father and his family were raised and most of them are buried.  As a child, we sometimes attended church at Ball Branch Regular Baptist Church, visited the graveyards around Mousie where my ancestors and other relatives are buried, passed through Mousie on most of our trips to the county seat of Hindman, and nary a word did I ever hear about a writer named Jessie Wicker Bell or Lady Sheba who was raised in Mousie.  Jessie Wicker Bell was born in Mousie on July 18, 1920, and died in Brown County Ohio on March 20, 2002.  I am also familiar with Brown County Ohio and have some Amish friends in the area.  But the name of Jessie Wicker Bell never crossed my attention span until two months ago when I found her on Find A Grave.  

Now that I have raised your attention level, I will explain why Jessie Wicker Bell, Lady Sheba, a nationally recognized writer from Knott County Kentucky, born, raised, and with her ashes scattered there in the Wicker Family Cemetery, was never mentioned in any discussion in which I ever took part about the literature of Knott County.  Jessie Wicker Bell, Lady Sheba, was a Wiccan, a witch, a writer, in fact the first important writer of Wiccan Literature.  Her book, "The Book Of Shadows", is a classic among the literature of Wiccans.  It is the first major work of Wiccan literature published in America because in the period before Jessie Wicker Bell came to prominence Wiccans passed down all their coven teachings orally.  In fact, Jessie Wicker Bell was ostracized by some Wiccans because she put Wiccan teachings in writing.  In all, she published three books, "The Book Of Shadows", "The Witches Work Book", and "The Grimoire Of Lady Sheba".  It is difficult to see just how many editions of her various books have been published. All of her books appear to be available on a regular basis on most Internet used book sites. If I am in error, please leave a comment with documentation in the comments section.

Now let me address the most likely objection which I will hear about because I wrote this post.  Many of you who subscribe to more traditional religions, whether those religions are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, are likely to object strenuously about this blog post based on your own religious convictions.  You are entitled to believe anything you wish to believe in your own search for religion or spirituality.  So was Jessie Wicker Bell, Lady Sheba, and any other person in America.  The US Constitution guarantees every person in America the right to Freedom Of Religion and further guarantees Separation Of Church And State.  Get used to it!  Support it!.  And, if you cannot accept and support religious freedom and separation of church and state, buy a copy of the US Constitution, read it until you actually understand it, and do not speak out about constitutional issues until you do understand it.  Also, rest assured, I am not a Wiccan.  I am an American Citizen who was raised in a home where the US Constitution was understood and supported.  I hope you were too.

Jessie Wicker Bell, Lady Sheba, claimed that she was the 7th generation of her family to practice witchcraft and that she learned it from her elders.  Today, based on recent research, most of her relatives in the extended family claim to be members of some form of Christian religion, usually Baptist.  Most of them seem dedicated to ignoring the achievements of their relative as a writer.  She also founded the first national organization of practicing Wiccans.  She incorporated the American Order Of The Brotherhood Of Wicca on August 13, 1971.  Her personal achievements both as a writer and a public figure are worthy of recognition.  Knott County, which in recent years has sought every tourism dollar it can grab, is passing up many dollars in Wiccan based tourism arising from the fact that one of the most important figure in Wicca grew up in Knott County.  Her ashes were also scattered, mixed with the ashes of a copy of her "Grimoire" in the Wicker Cemetery in her native Mousie, KY.  If you are a student of the literature of Knott County Kentucky, your study is not complete unless you have read the books written by Lady Sheba.