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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. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Brent Collinsworth--Appalachian Folk Artist

Brent Collinsworth has been a dedicated and well respected folk artist for more than twenty years after retiring from his first career.  He has lived his entire life on the family farm in Hazel Green, KY, where he spent his summer days as a boy helping to produce corn, hay, hogs, cattle, and tobacco.  Today, he spends his time turning the family farm into a walnut plantation for the future of his three granddaughters and producing works of art which find their way into museums and private collections throughout a wide section of the southeastern United States.  Brent paints and also creates three dimensional works of art using a variety of media.  We invite you to view the photos below of Brent's works.  Most of the works pictured here are for sale.  Contact us by E-mail or via the phone numbers which can be found on this blog.  

Brent Collinsworth & Some Of His Art Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Riverside Street Scene Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Death Rides A White Horse Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Wash Day In The Bottoms Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Evolution Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Detail Of "Evolution" (Above) Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Native Harpooner Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Trump Throwing The First Mexican Over The Wall Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Trump Throwing The First Mexican Over The Wall (Side View) Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Trump/Wall (Detail) Photo By Roger D. Hicks

Tower Of Bable Photo By Roger D. Hicks

All art pictured in this blog post is the sole and original work of Appalachian Folk Artist Brent Collinsworth.  All of this work is for sale on a first come first served basis.  Prices will be quoted on request.  Call Roger D. Hicks or Brent Collinsworth at the following numbers: 606-743-2087 or 812-621-8536. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Loyal Jones' Reflections On "Appalachian Values" Forty Years Later

 Roger D. Hicks and Loyal Jones September 7, 2017-- Photo by Candice Hicks

On September 7, 2017, in addition to touring an art exhibition by Connie West at the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center in Berea, KY, my wife Candice and I had lunch with Loyal Jones at a local restaurant and talked about various aspects of life, Appalachian Studies, and the writings of Loyal Jones.  Loyal brought me a copy of a recent reflection he had written at the request of Berea College on his classic book "Appalachian Values" which I have written about at length and frequently recommend to others who wish to learn about Appalachia.  Over the last couple of years, Loyal Jones and I have become acquaintances, and I hope on some levels, colleagues in the field of Appalachian Studies.  I hope we still have time to become friends.  During our lunch, Loyal suggested that I might also reflect in writing on his recent reconsideration of his classic work.  Yes, I was flattered.  In an E-mail prior to our lunch, he had said the following: 
"I have just run across your review of it again, and I am much obliged, as my father would have said, for your kind words. That book is still being used in a course on cultural diversity here at Berea College, And last year, they asked me if I would like to reflect on the essay after 45 years from when it was first published as an article. I  agreed, and wrote a seven-page reflection, in which I had to admit that all of these values have diminished in the general culture and also in Appalachian culture. If you are interested In reading it, send me your address, and I’ll send you a copy. I want you to know that I greatly appreciate your kind words about Appalachian Values.  It is indeed the most-read thing that I have written."
First of all, let me say that, in my opinion, "Appalachian Values" should clearly be the most-read thing that Loyal Jones ever wrote.  It is a deceptively brilliant piece of work which is often mistaken for a coffee table book because of the beautiful photographs by his collaborator, Berea photographer Warren Bruner.  The ideas which Loyal Jones expressed in that book were precisely on point at the time and most of them still are today.   But, in his recent reflection, Loyal Jones also discussed some areas in which Appalachia has changed significantly from the period in which the book was written and published. In some of those areas, I agree completely with Loyal Jones. In a few, I take slightly different positions.  Let's reflect together on what I see in our culture today in light of Loyal Jones' writing from fort-five years ago.

Loyal Jones September 7, 2017 Photo by Candice Hicks


First and foremost, Loyal Jones brings up the changing diversity of Appalachia since the original publication of "Appalachian Values".  He is absolutely correct in that statement.  Every state in the region has had an influx of foreign born persons over the last forty years along with significant interstate immigration of native born American citizens.  This changing demographic is also reflected in the religious distribution of both church members and particular types of religions and denominations.  Loyal Jones mentions that "we are far less religious than we were two generations ago,... and we are probably the most tolerant of religious differences." On some levels I agree with Loyal Jones in this area and on some others I must respectfully disagree.  We are seeing the construction, incorporation, and proliferation of mosques, temples, and synagogues all over Appalachia with the influx of Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Taoists, Rastafarians, and Hindus.  However, I must insist that the recent swing in Appalachia toward the extremist politics of Donald Trump and the Right Wing Radical groups and their members who support his extremism is causing a proliferation of verbal, physical, and criminal assaults on these religions, their members, and their places of worship all across the region.  This incredibly dangerous radical shift of opinion in much of the region has been primarily a response to the extremism of Donald Trump.  He has allowed members of the Right Wing Radical coalition which supports him to believe they are free to say or do anything they wish to anyone with whom they disagree.  Hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Traditionalist Workers Party, Aryan Nations, and all stripes of white nationalism are all growing in numbers, openly challenging the civil and religious rights of immigrants, and staging rallies and membership drives in any community which is willing to tolerate them.  This shift in public opinion is, however, not universal and many, including myself, are standing up to and speaking out against their vitriolic, virulent, and violent ideas.  The regular occurrence of hate crimes such as the Mother Emmanuel mass murder just outside the boundaries of Central and Southern Appalachia and the vehicular attack against peaceful protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the heart of Appalachia, is becoming more commonplace.  This is a sad and terrifying aspect of a minority of the people living in Appalachia today which must be confronted, resisted, and stopped in its tracks if we are to remain the socially tolerant and ideologically progressive region we have generally always been.  

Independence, Self-Reliance, and Pride
In his discussion in the manuscript of Independence, Self-Reliance, and Pride, Loyal Jones discusses the recent shift in population dynamics from rural settings to cities and towns and states "Urban life perhaps requires more interaction and cooperation than individualism and self-reliance." On the face of it, this statement is correct.  But I would suggest that the computer age with the proliferation of wireless, hand held devices and social media as the primary focus of the lives of many of our citizens has caused widespread isolation even in congested cities and towns.  Today, we do not converse on street corners and park benches.  We might sit at the same bus stop without ever speaking, with all parties engrossed in their video screens and ear phones.  The rise in incidents of both distracted driving and distracted walking support this contention.  However, this type of self-centered activity does not make its practitioners self-reliant and independent.  It makes them socially isolated living with the illusion (I might say delusion.) that they are a member of a large social group.  But, in my case simply as an example, of my 204 Facebook Friends less than a handful would actually be likely to leave their homes to give me a ride if I called them to say I was stuck on the roadside with a flat tire or an empty gas tank.  I realize that my paltry number of Facebook Friends does not compare to the size of most people's lists on social media platforms but I have recently pruned my list down to eliminate most of those whom I do not actually know on a personal level.  But I insist that the same holds true for nearly every person in Appalachia and the world who uses social media.  If you don't believe me, send them all a message stating one of the above emergencies and see who offers to assist you in your hour of need.  We are a socially isolated population living under the lie that we are incredibly well connected.  In his discussion of Pride, Loyal Jones states his agreement with the writer David Brooks in his book "The Road To Character". In the book, Brooks "...has warned against the modern weakening of humility and modesty in today's society".  I agree with both David Brooks and Loyal Jones and I am, at this moment, awaiting the arrival of Mr. Brooks' book in my mail  box.  

Neighborliness and Hospitality
The Loyal Jones manuscript discusses Neighborliness And Hospitality by saying that "...we have become less trustful of strangers...our manners and customs have changed, so that we may only invite friends and neighbors we already know to meet for a meal."  He also mentions the increase of crime across the region as a factor in these changes.  Loyal Jones is absolutely correct in these statements.  The widespread drug epidemic and related crime wave across Appalachia has made us all afraid, to one degree or another, of anyone we don't know or who might appear to possibly be under the influence of any drug or alcohol.  Home invasions, robberies, burglaries, kidnappings, child murders, and all categories of violent crime are more common in the rural areas of Appalachia today than they were when "Appalachian Values" was first published.  It is far worse than it was even 25 years ago when I was working as a door to door salesman in Southern West Virginia and South Eastern Kentucky. In the late 1980's when I was a salesman, I was regularly invited to eat meals in the homes of total strangers in the region. Two of my most precious memories involve such meals. I cannot imagine what it would be like to spend a day knocking on doors in those regions today, meeting total strangers in their homes, and attempting to gain entrance to those homes to conduct a sales presentation.  That would be a tough proposition today even if one was working on what are known as qualified leads, calls to people who want to see your product and know you are coming or to whom you have been referred by family or friends.

In his modern discussion of Familism, Loyal Jones states simply that "...the modern family is different from the old, rural, close-knit family."  Once again, Loyal Jones is absolutely correct.  Familism still exists today in Appalachia.  To a degree, native Appalachians do maintain strong family ties and will assist family members more than some other cultures.  But the degree of contact is more limited.  The levels of support freely given are far more restricted.  The willingness to travel back up US23, US52, or US421 to grandma's house on a holiday weekend is weakened.  To put all these statements in older, more easily understood terms, I would surely hate to have to call any of my cousins to go my bail for a misdemeanor in today's world in Appalachia.  You can rest assured that none of them bring me or mail me fruit cakes and pies for Christmas anymore.  

In his recent discussion of Personalism in the manuscript, Loyal Jones discusses at length the changes in attitudes of strangers on the streets of his wonderful, beautiful, and broadly diverse hometown of Berea, KY.  He bemoans the fact that Berea College students rarely speak to him on the streets and are absorbed in their hand held devices.  He writes about not knowing many of the people in his small town today, a town that is often spoken of as an exemplar of all of Appalachia.  To some degree, that same shift in attitudes has occurred in my own hometown of West Liberty, KY.  However, five years ago in West Liberty we had the good fortune, relatively speaking, to be struck by a devastating tornado which both destroyed much of our community and bound us more tightly together in our mutual effort to save our beloved community.  In that respect, we are much luckier and more Personalistic than Berea and the rest of Appalachia.  Just before finishing this paragraph, I walked through the 2017 Sorghum Festival in West Liberty to buy a funnel cake and an apple dumpling from two churches and was spoken to by name on two occasions.  The seller of the funnel cake and I had a personal, joking interchange.  But West Liberty is an exception in these times primarily due to the closeness the tornado forced on us.

Love Of Place
Loyal Jones concludes his discussion of Love Of Place in the manuscript with the following cogent sentence: "We may encounter the value of home and place only at bluegrass festivals where musicians express their desire to return to the old homestead."  As Jones notes, we are more mobile.  We move away more freely and do so without that lingering glance in the rear view mirror which almost leaves us driving into Old Homeplace Creek instead of off to the industrial north.   Holiday weekends no longer see the long streams of cars returning to Raleigh, Knott, Sullivan, Dickenson, or Yancey Counties.  Distant aunts, uncles, cousins, and even grandparents are often buried today without the attendance of a single representative of the displaced extended family who drove off northward to work years ago.  Nowadays, there are even occasions when those relatives who did die in the industrial north and wished for their remains to be brought "back home" have made advance arrangements for those remains to be cremated in the north and mailed to a local representative or undertaker who scatters them among the briers on the old family graveyard or in the yard of the now collapsed home place.  To misquote the classic song "South Of Cincinnati" by my friend Morgan County Kentucky Native and Bluegrass songwriter Clarence Kelly "now there is [no] slow train moving south through Cincinnati".  

In his discussion of Modesty, Loyal Jones states that now the lesson "not to put ourselves above others...has been lost in much of our modern political and capitalistic culture".  The first related story that pops into my head about this loss of modesty in Appalachia involves an elected county official who had no police powers but recently followed an attractive young woman in his vehicle for several miles and approached her on foot when she finally stopped in a public institution's parking lot whereupon he attempted to use his influence as a county official in a crude attempt to intimidate her for gains which we can only imagine.  That official, without a shred of modesty, claimed innocence when she had him arrested and took the case to trial where he was convicted on only one of several charges.  I would offer that Modesty meant less not only to that official but also to the members of the jury, the judge, the prosecutor, and the entire community which has allowed him to remain in office to this very day.

Sense Of Humor
Loyal Jones, in the unpublished manuscript, discusses the success of four books of Appalachian Humor which he wrote with his friend and colleague Billy Ed Wheeler as an indicator that "Appalachian humor is still being enjoyed here and throughout the country."  On a superficial level I agree with this assessment but on deeper levels I tend to doubt it.  I regularly listen to WSGS Radio FM 101.1 in Hazard, KY, which is owned by the descendants of Ernest Sparkman and I have written about WSGS on this blog On WSGS for many years, Ernest Sparkman played an Appalachian character known as Greasy Creek Bill who regularly delivered 15 second to 1 minute one liners of Appalachian humor on the station.  Today, Faron Sparkman, Ernest Sparkman's son who runs the family group of radio stations, regularly plays the sound bites of his father's humor more than seven years after his death.  Faron Sparkman has also for many years done a morning radio show with several co-hosts over the years which plays classic country music four days a week and devotes Friday morning to "Crazy Friday".  "Crazy Friday" is comprised of random humorous sound bites and country music humor by artists such as Jerry Clower, Jerry Reed, The Moron Brothers, String Bean, and Wendy Bagwell.  I should note for the record that all these performers are not native Appalachians. But it is pertinent that WSGS is a 100,000 watt super station with a transmission tower situated on one of the highest mountains in Kentucky.  Its signal blasts out over a region which covers the eastern half of Kentucky, and chunks of East Tennessee, Southern West Virginia, Western Virginia, and Western North Carolina along with occasional reports from listeners in Southern Ohio.  There is no more Appalachian radio station in the country when examined by the demographics of its listeners.

Both Loyal Jones and I have always been followers of Appalachian Humor and I would contend that we both understand it better than the average person who is not performing as a humorist full time.  I should also note that for a long period Loyal Jones was regularly hired as a humorous after dinner speaker all across the southeastern United States and has co-authored four books of Appalachian Humor. In my work as an auctioneer, I use a lot of spontaneous one-liners to hold the attention of my crowds. I grew up listening to comedians like Grandpa Jones, Bashful Brother Oswald, Wendy Bagwell, Speck Rhodes, String Bean, and the Duke of Paducah.  I still listen to their work today and frequently watch reruns of "Hee Haw" and "The Porter Wagoner Show" on RFD-TV.  But I note for the record that most of the writers on "Hee Haw" were Canadians which probably comes as a surprise to many of my readers. While Appalachian Humor survives today in limited enclaves, I do not believe that it is as strong today as it was when "Appalachian Values" was first published.   I cannot name a single Appalachian comedian under the age of twenty-five or thirty who is making a regular living on a full time basis as a humorist.  Most country music television shows of recent production do not bother to use a comedian in a regular slot. The RFD-TV show "Larry's Country Diner"does have a regular cast member who is a female working as a comedian known as "Nadine Nadine, The Church Lady".  Her website does not give any accurate biographical information as to her birthplace or home.  Her comedy is stilted, shop worn, and generally of poor quality.   "The Moron Brothers, a Bluegrass comedy band from Kentucky, are the only regularly working full time comedy music act to my knowledge.  I would also state that most of the so-called Appalachian Humor I hear today is actually hillbilly jokes which are not humor to me anymore than Black Face Comedy is humor.  The word "hillbilly" is an ethnic and cultural epithet which is personally offensive to me and, in my opinion, should be offensive to any native of the Appalachians or Ozarks. I consider the word "hillbilly" to be just as offensive as the "n" word, the "q" word, the "k" word, or the "f" word.   I must say that, in my opinion, Appalachian Humor is fading unless Loyal Jones and I are having lunch together.

In his manuscript reflecting on "Appalachian Values", Loyal Jones reminds us of the incredibly high numbers of native Appalachians who have joined the military, fought in our wars, and continue to do so.  He states correctly that about 8% of American military personnel have consistently been Appalachian but they have received "18% of the Medals Of Honor in Korea, and 13% in Viet Nam".  He also reminds his readers of research which has shown that "...if you were an Appalachian soldier in Viet Nam, you were 50% more likely to be killed than your comrades from elsewhere."  In my blog post on Patriotism, I also published very similar statistics about volunteerism, casualty rates, and rates of combat awards involving native Appalachian personnel. These statistics have been amazingly similar in war after war and, in my opinion, there are several reasons for that in addition to a natural proclivity for patriotism in Appalachian people.  Most of the Appalachian states and counties have had exorbitantly high rates of unemployment, under employment, and poverty over the last 100 years which always results in higher volunteerism simply to seek a steady paycheck.  There is also a link between deeply held religious beliefs and patriotism.  Religious people are more likely to seek to defend their country.  People who have grown up on stories about David and Goliath or  Joshua and the Battle of Jericho are more likely to emulate those heroes. Appalachia has produced numerous heroes in our wars such as Sgt. York, Jessica Lynch, Chuck Yeager, John Bob Elwell, and William Barber from my hometown of West Liberty.  It is highly likely that whatever, wherever, and when ever America fights its next war Appalachians will be on the front lines whether those lines are in a armed combat setting or on computer screens in hidden bunkers.

Sense Of Beauty

In his reflections on "Appalachian Values", Loyal Jones speaks about his appreciation for Appalachian artists and performers such as Chet Adkins and Doc Watson while he has also benefited from performances from others who were recognized world wide as great performers or artists.  I can say the same thing.  I have admired multiple works by the Appalachian wood carver Edgar Tolson covering an entire wall in the Milwaukee Art Museum and I know that he has works in the Smithsonian even though I have never seen them.  Another famous Appalachian Folk Artist and acquaintance of mine, Minnie Adkins from Sandy Hook, KY, has received the Award of Distinction from the Folk Art Society of America in 1993.  Several of her works also adorn museums nation wide.  The Bristol Recording Sessions in Bristol, TN/VA, in 1927 laid the ground work for Country Music in America.  Nearly every time I am in the University of Kentucky Hospital or the Kentucky Clinic in Lexington, KY, I slow down to enjoy the dozens of works by native Appalachian Folk Artists hanging on their walls.  A sense of beauty rooted in the mountains, streams, and wild flowers of Appalachia permeates our people and they carry that sense of beauty all over the world.  I have written at length about the Big Sandy River Valley stretching from Ashland, KY, to Elkhorn City on the Virginia border and how it has produced an astounding number of famous musicians, actors, and public figures.  And now I must admit that the blog post to which I just provided you the link is already out of date.  Another famous musician has sprung up out of that valley to world wide fame.  In the time since I wrote that post, Chris Stapleton has burst out of Paintsville, KY, and won awards from the Grammy's, Country Music Association, and the Academy of Country Music.  In that same time frame, Pauletta Hansel, from Breathitt County Kentucky has been named the Poet Laureate of Cincinnati, Ohio.  My old friend and mentor, P. J. Laska, was a National Book Award Finalist in 1974. It is also pertinent to mention that both Pauletta Hansel and I attended Antioch Appalachia in Beckley, WV, where P. J. Laska, Robert "Bob" Snyder (Billy Greenhorn), Don West, Tom Woodruff, William "Bill" Blizzard, Jr., and Rod Harless were all faculty members.  The student body also included other published writers in addition to Pauletta Hansel and myself: Gail Amburgey, Joseph "Joe" Barrett, and Robert "Bob" Baber.  Shall I go on?  

I do not believe based on our writings and our conversations that either Loyal Jones or I would make any blanket statements that Appalachian Culture is alive and well at the level it was in the early 1970's when he first wrote and published "Appalachian Values".  Acculturation and deterioration of native culture is occurring every day in the region.  The long term effects of interstate highways and outward migration are taking a toll on our language, our native arts, and our culture as a whole.  Yes, we are benefiting from the inward migrations of several thousand people of widely diverse backgrounds such as Mexicans, Indians, Syrians, Japanese, and Americans from the other forty or so states which lie outside Central and Southern Appalachia.  But that also comes with a cost.  Appalachian Culture is being diluted and not enough native Appalachians are working to keep it alive.  I spent this past Sunday, September 24, 2017, with my wife at a Memorial Meeting on the grounds of the Elijah Smith Cemetery at Dingus, KY, in Morgan County.  The service was conducted by ministers of the Enterprise Association Of Regular Baptists.  About forty people attended and several commented that the crowd was "smaller than it used to be".  Such services are becoming more and more rare today in Appalachia.  Our music, once rooted in the glens of Scotland and Ireland, is being diluted by an influx of reggae, rap, and opera. Our manners, hospitality, and openness are being destroyed by the digital equipment to which so many of our people are now addicted.  There are fewer and fewer young men and women in Appalachia who know how to make chicken and dumplings and include the egg bag of the hen they killed to make them, invite the neighbors and an occasional stranger to come in and help eat them, and then to carry the left overs down the hollow to the sick old woman who used to stand in her yard and wave at every passing car whether she knew you or not.