Mountains

Obi-Wan Cojones

Posted on 2007-03-30. Filed under: Mountains |


I saw this recently and thought it was funny. These are my people!

Fifty-one years ago, Herman James, a North Carolina mountain man, was drafted by the Army. On his first day in basic training, the Army issued him a comb. That afternoon the Army barber sheared off all his hair. On his second day, the Army issued Herman a toothbrush. That afternoon the Army dentist yanked seven of his teeth. On the third day, the Army issued him a jock strap. The Army has been looking for Herman for 51 years.

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The Early Vernacular of the North Carolina Mountains

Posted on 2006-12-28. Filed under: Mountains |


This is a really cool article that I found around 1994 on Nando. You might ask, “What the hell is Nando?” Well, Nando.net was one of the very first portal sites on the Internet and was run by the Raleigh News & Observer right here in North Cackalacky. This is before Google, before MSN, before Excite, even before Yahoo! was really big. If I remember correctly, the two main sites back then were Nando for your portal site and Altavista for your search engine. Nando was shut down in 2003 but I still remember it and I am kinda proud that it came from NC. One of my current clients was associated with it back in the day and that’s kinda cool.

Anyway, this article speaks to the origin of how people talk in the NC mountains. I’ve lived in the NC piedmont for 12 years now. And people around here talk different. They have more of a Southern drawl while we have more of a twang. My mom used to be an operator with Southern Bell and she could always tell when she was speaking with someone from back home. Also, the people around here use different vocabulary than back in the mountains. There’s some vocabulary in the article. Sometimes when I read a Jack Tale to my son, I wonder how anyone who didn’t grow up in the mountains can understand them! 🙂

It makes me sad when I go back home and hear people speak. Everyone speaks like the actors do on TV and in the movies. It’s the same boring language. But, when I was growing up there, there was this great diversity. I watched my home county move from the 50’s to the 60’s to the 70’s to the 80’s and I was only born in the 70’s! It’s because it had a  lot of catching up to do and it did it very quickly in the 70’s and 80’s. I left in the early 90’s – before there was a mass influx of folk from elsewhere like there has been in the last decade. There was still a feeling of uniquity there. Now, you can find it only in places like nursing homes and some of the more remote parts of the county. I’m amazed at how fast things have changed there. And, again, I’m saddened.

——–BEGIN ARTICLE  ——–

The Early Vernacular of the North Carolina Mountains

From the book

NORTH CAROLINA FOLKLORE AND MISCELLANY

BY HORTON COOPER. Johnson Publishing Company of Murfreesboro (1972).

Not all the old-time speech of the early people of North Carolina mountains and their descendants for many decades consisted of held-overs from Chaucer’s and Shakespeare’s days, but much of it did. Some of it was due to mispronunciation, a syntax of non-English origin and a deliberate diction which was meant to fit the culture and environment of the strong and daring people in their splendid isolation. Much of it, however, was the colorful and spicy speech of the Elizabethan era.

The earliest settlers were either people from the English Isles and other Northern European countries or their descendants who had been born in America. Besides the English, there came the Scotch-Irish, the Germans, Dutch, and some Welsh, with those of almost pure Anglo-Saxon blood having predominance in number. They intermarried, flavored their language with the idiom of Chaucer and clung tenaciously to the picturesque language of the days of Good Queen Bess.

It should not be forgotten that the English language itself is an idiom of West Germany.

As time passed and contact with the outside world was lost, the metamorphosis of language gradually continued, as has always been the case when mountain ranges, bodies of water and other natural barriers isolate groups originally speaking a common language. It is a historic fact that the Latinic Languages of Southern Europe derived their strength from the Latin of the old Roman Empire after Rome collapsed and lost contact with its former far-flung provinces, hidden beyond mountain range and river. Doubtless, had progress moved less rapidly, the mountaineers of the Appalachians and Blue Ridge eventually would have had a language not understood by the English-speaking out-landers, but two centuries was too short a period for the completion of the metamorphic process.

Just as Gullah, a dialect along the shore and on the islands off the coast of South Carolina, has lasted more than 250 years, but will soon be a dead language, so is the picturesque speech of the North Carolina mountains rapidly giving way to language uniformity imposed by many factors, including good schools and colleges, an abundance of printed matter, the radio and television and contact with the outside world.

The phraseology and syntax of the early people of North Carolina mountains was doomed around the turn of the century, when the State’s Literary Fund and the treasuries of the mountain counties made a longer school term possible, but for a decade or two the language of the most isolated rural regions was little affected. The slow process of eradication continued with marked success as the years passed and newspapers, magazines and books became more plentiful and high schools were established. Colleges began to dot the area. Those who observed closely knew that the purists of our language and the traits of mankind to conform were winning.

Today one has to travel farther and search more diligently than formerly to hear the old dialect spoken, but a part of it still exists, more or less, in many secluded neighborhoods, remindful of Chaucer’s and Shakespeare’s language.

Any area has its localism and colloquialisms, as well as mispronunciations of many words, but nowhere else in all the world — not even in England — were they blended and mixed so colorfully for so long a time with the spicy diction of the Elizabethans as they were on the tongues and lips of the stalwart men and women of the North Carolina mountains.

Perhaps the many factors, including the work of the purists of our English language, have accomplished less than many persons think.

    Following is a partial glossary of early mountain vernacular:

  • a-childing: gestating; pregnant
  • aingern: onion
  • ain’t losin’ any sleep over hit: not worrying about it
  • a give-out: an announcement
  • air: are
  • appearant: apparant
  • a preach: a sermon
  • arm baby: child small enough to be carried in the arms
  • auger-eyed: sharp eyed
  • atter: after
  • at the getting place: where such things are obtained
  • a whoop and a holler: a considerable distance
  • ain’t had much schoolhousing: hasn’t had much formal education
  • as all get-out: very much so
  • ast, ax: ask
  • a wheel: a silver dollar
  • awnt: want
  • bad off: very ill
  • bald faced whiskey: whiskey fresh from the still
  • bait: a good meal
  • benasty: degrade
  • biddy-peck: to nag mildly
  • bigging and bigging it: exaggerating
  • big room: family room
  • big sight: much or many
  • blamyfied: to eternally blame without reason
  • blockader: a distiller of illicit whiskey
  • breaking: failing by age
  • bodaciously ruint: seriously injured
  • bug days: days which should be avoided when planting potatoes to prevent bugs from destroying the green leaves
  • butter-mouthed: speak flattery
  • buttock down: sit down
  • calm of day: early broad daylight
  • carry: escort
  • carry on: to act foolishly or immorally
  • catawampus: crosswise; big and fine
  • chunk-washer: a heavy rain
  • clim, cloom, clome: climbed
  • coon’s age: a long time
  • coon-along: walk on all fours
  • cooter around: to walk aimlessly or idly
  • corn-fed: husky; strong
  • crack of day: break of day
  • day down: late afternoon
  • doctor-medicine: prescribed by a doctor; not a home or herb remedy
  • doctor-woman: a midwife or female herb doctor
  • don’t dig up old dead cats: don’t recall disagreeable subjects
  • done nothing out of the way: did no wrong or immoral
  • doney-girl: a female sweetheart
  • don’t set well: doesn’t please
  • drave: drove
  • drink some water and suck our thumbs: eat a scant meal
  • drooped up: disappointed in love; ill or indisposed
  • druther: prefer
  • edzact: to reason out
  • et: ate
  • every bit and grain: all, entire
  • everyday gal: steady sweetheart
  • feathered-legged: cowardly
  • feet sot to run: ready to hurry away
  • ferment: opposite
  • fireboard: the mantel
  • fit, fout: fought
  • fleshen up: to put on weight
  • fram: beat
  • fotch: bought
  • fotch on: homemade
  • frayed: fretted and cried, as a baby
  • frazzled: very tired
  • friz: froze
  • funeralize: preach a funeral sermon
  • fur: far
  • fur piece: quite a distance
  • fur side: farther side
  • gap: mountain pass
  • garden sass: vegetables
  • gommed: mess; ruined
  • go-poke: a traveling bag
  • graveyard cough: a tubercular cough
  • greasy doors: doors of a family who have recently slaughtered hogs
  • hant, haint: a ghost that haunts a definite place
  • hell a-hooting: trouble starting; feuds
  • hoofing: walking
  • holp, holped: helped (old English form)
  • home-boys: boys or men of the same neighborhood
  • house plunder: furniture for the home
  • goozle: to speak hoarsely
  • goozler: boy whose voice is changing
  • hot shots: first whiskey that comes from the worm of a still
  • I can’t come it: I can’t eat no more
  • infare: wedding feast given in the groom’s home
  • ill: of explosive temper
  • It don’t please me none: it gives no pleasure
  • heard the wind blow before: heard boasting before; don’t believe it
  • jair: a jar, to jar
  • jairy: nervous
  • Jim-swinger: a frock or long-tailed coat
  • jubus, juberous: dubious; frightened
  • jularker: a male sweetheart
  • kiver: cover
  • knee child: a child small enough to hold on the knee
  • laid by: had intended; cultivated for the last time
  • lap child: a child that could be held in the lap
  • let’s play like: let’s pretend
  • light and hitch: come in and visit
  • light in the breech: frail
  • lit a rag: left hurriedly
  • made the fur fly: work hard; be industrious
  • mealy-mouthed: too timid to speak frankly
  • meeting-house: church
  • middling peart: fair in health
  • might-nigh: almost
  • mincy: finicky
  • mizzle: to rain lightly in small drops
  • nairy: none
  • notorious republican: notary public
  • on the down-go: declining in age or health or economic status
  • outen: to extinguish; put out
  • painter: panther
  • pap: father
  • peart: lively; in good health
  • perzactly: exactly
  • picking down: becoming worse
  • picking up: improving
  • pile up with trash: live with the low class or immoral
  • pimeblank: exactly
  • pooch out: to extend
  • pump knot: knot on the head from a blow
  • pure forgot: entirely forgot
  • quod: quoted
  • right smart: good deal
  • rimtion: a great deal
  • rip and tear: to raise cain
  • riz: arose
  • risin: a boil, carbuncle or stone bruise
  • rooster a gun: cock a gun
  • runction: a quarrel or fight
  • saprising time: youth
  • scrooch up: slump the shoulders; take less room
  • setting rounders: ones sitting near; idlers
  • shagnasty: a low bred person
  • since Heck was a pup: a long while ago
  • shammuck: to walk
  • short talk: quarrelsome talk
  • skun: skinned
  • slaunchways: slanting
  • smackdab: exactly
  • snurl: to curl the lips
  • spang: exactly
  • sparking: courting; wooing
  • splindlingest: slenderest
  • sull-up: pout
  • tater riffle: light bread
  • techious: easily riled
  • to contrary: to vex or anger
  • chance on: happen on
  • tooth-dentist: dentist
  • trade: shop or buy
  • traipse: walk aimlessly or needlessly
  • trees are springing green: trees are leafing
  • turn right-handed: turn right
  • turn left-handed: turn left
  • turkey tails out: spread out
  • ‘twant nothing: amounted to nothing
  • twistification: a dance
  • two curves and a cuss fight: the distance beyond two curves of the road and to the next house
  • using around: dating or courting a sweetheart
  • what will you take for it and not back out?: what is your exact price?
  • whitleather: cured but untanned hide
  • whole lot: a great amount
  • whup: a whip; to whip
  • woodscolt: a child born out of wedlock
  • yan: yonder
  • yan side: the farthest side
  • yearth: earth
  • Exclamations for expressing diverse surprises

  • For goodness’ sake!
  • For heaven’ sake!
  • For the Land’s sake!
  • Good gracious alive!
  • Go on!
  • Did you ever!
  • Did you ever hear the like!
  • Great day in the morning!
  • I’ll swan!
  • I’ll be John Browned!
  • Mercy me!
  • Not since Heck was a pup!
  • My goodness!
  • My stars!
  • Sakes alive!
  • Shut your mouth!
  • I wish I might drop dead!
  • Holy Moses!
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Tall Tales of Appalachia

Posted on 2006-12-28. Filed under: Mountains |


Here’s a great article published in the New York Times on May 10, 2003. While it’s not specifically about my corner of Appalachia, it’s still speaks thoughts that are on my mind. In terms of regional identification, I’ve always identified myself first as an Appalachian boy, even before Southerner, North Carolinian or even American. The mountains are a place all their own.

———–BEGIN ARTICLE ———–

Tall Tales of Appalachia
By JOHN O’BRIEN

REEN BANK, W.Va.
CBS is developing a reality TV series modeled after “The Beverly Hillbillies,” the 60’s sitcom. A poor family from a remote corner of southern Appalachia will be transported to a California mansion, the ensuing comic antics shown to America.

Well, as a West Virginia farmer might say, that’s a load of fertilizer. Having spent virtually my entire life in West Virginia, I can say with some authority that the strange, woebegone place called Appalachia and the hillbillies who inhabit it are a myth — one devised a century ago to justify outsiders’ condescension and exploitation.

In the 1870’s, there was no “Appalachia.” At that time, this mountainous stretch of the country from West Virginia to northern Georgia was one of the most prosperous agricultural areas in America. The people here drew upon their English, German and Scotch-Irish roots to create a variety of vibrant, peaceful cultures.

But in the 1880’s that started to change. Outsiders came, ones who didn’t care about the thriving farms. They wanted raw materials for their factories, and the mountains had them. Our mountains were covered with the largest and oldest hardwood forest that people had ever seen. The coal deposits were the richest in the world. Industrialization came here like a cyclone roaring through the mountains. People like my ancestors were bullied, threatened and cheated out of their land. By 1920, timber companies had cut the entire forest. Most of the profits left the state along with the timber and coal.

As the mountains were denuded, the industrialists portrayed the families they were robbing as “backward people” and themselves as the prophets of progress. The missionaries who often accepted large donations from the industrialists exaggerated the “otherness” of these strange people. “Local color” writers made brief visits to the mountains, then wrote fanciful books about the queer, violent mountain folk. As realistic as Harlequin romances, local-color books like Mary Murfree’s “In the `Stranger People’s’ Country” were read and reviewed as journalistic accounts.

College professors began to use them as textbooks in sociology classes. The news media took its part with the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud in the 1880’s and 1890’s — a conflict that as Altina L. Waller wrote in her book “Feud,” was not really a family feud, but a war between coal mining interests and local interests. Corrupt politicians took isolated incidents and described them as a hillbilly feud.

Reporters from the big cities wrote about “white savages” and “West Virginia barbarians.” (The New York Times, for example, said of people in eastern Kentucky: “They are remarkably good shots and effective assassins,” adding that they “are so accustomed to murder that they do not look upon it with the horror with which it is regarded in civilized communities.”) Then, in 1897, the president of Berea College in Kentucky, William Goodell Frost, desperately trying to raise money for his failing institution, created a fund-raising campaign based on the idea of saving the people in the Appalachians from themselves. In an Atlantic Monthly article, Frost described the southern Appalachians as our “contemporary ancestors” waking up from a Rip van Winkle-type sleep and in need of help in joining modern America. Frost’s article made mythic Appalachia and its backward hillbillies a permanent fixture in America’s imaginary landscape.

Many in the southern Appalachians are certainly poor, but the poverty grew out of the vagaries of the coal market and outsiders’ control of resources. Industrialists and others, however, blamed the people for their own poverty, and this myth continues because it is entertaining to the Americans beyond the mountains. Some of the region’s middle-class writers continue to churn out Gothic hillbilly tales, the descendants of local-color stories.

This mythology has even been accepted by the people living here. Not long ago, one of the student counselors at West Virginia University told me that the most persistent problem she encounters is a lack of self-esteem. Bright, capable, young men and women do not think they belong in college because they are hillbillies. I have taught at a small private college in West Virginia. Ninety percent of the students were from out of state. The few West Virginians on campus huddled together in their own corner of the student union. They had become marginal people in their own state.

My own father spent his life backing up, apologizing for the space he took up in the world. He took the hillbilly stereotype to heart and all of his life believed that he was backward and inferior — a despair I, too, have been trying to escape all of my life.

The reality show that CBS is considering not only exploits my part of the world, it also separates struggling Appalachians from the rest of the American poor. If a television network proposed a “real life” show treating poor African-Americans, Latinos, American Indians, Asians or Jews as curiosities, they, and all Americans of good will, would be justifiably outraged.

Many of us in the southern Appalachians are outraged too. That’s why coal miners from the southern Appalachians plan to protest “The Real Beverly Hillbillies” outside the shareholders’ meeting on May 21 of CBS’s parent, Viacom. It’s time the people of the southern Appalachians stood up for themselves.

John O’Brien is the author of “At Home in the Heart of Appalachia,” a memoir and social history.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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Our mountain heritage

Posted on 2006-12-28. Filed under: Mountains |


I read this article today. It’s from the Charlotte Observer. It’s a great article and inspired me to create a Mountains category to which I’ll post some things that remind me of home and the heritage there.

———–BEGIN ARTICLE ———–

Their names take us on a trip through our history, our geography and our relationship with the land.

Coon Mountain … Onion Knob … Hog Hill … Never Mountain… Winding Stair Knob … and the stately Grandfather that looks down on all the rest.

Nearly 200 mountains rise above the Catawba Valley, most in western Burke and Caldwell counties. Catawba County has the least, with just a few isolated peaks breaking through the gently rolling ground.

Each mountain belongs to the Brushy, South or Blue Ridge chain. The valley straddles the Piedmont and mountain regions, with Catawba and Alexander counties and the eastern parts of Burke and Caldwell in the Piedmont, and the northwest sections of Burke and Caldwell in the mountains.

Sometimes we take our mountains for granted because they have always stood here, for us and our ancestors. We’re used to a three-dimensional world that makes us feel closer to the earth.

But then we round a curve to face a mountain, and the ordinary is again extraordinary.

These hills inevitably formed us and the way we have lived. Music, traditions, personality, crime, the way we spend our time — mountains made their mark on all.

Music old and new

Of course, they inspired music, and people have written countless songs in their honor. In turn, the mountains held onto the old music styles longer than other parts of the state, due in part to the isolating geography.’Mountains inspired a sense of awe and kind of connected musicians to something greater than themselves,’ said Wayne Martin, folklife director for the N.C. Arts Council who has studied traditional music for 30 years. ‘It’s a very romantic place.’

By the 1940s, other parts of the state started to let go of old-time string-band music in a movement away from things rural, replacing it with swing, jazz and later rock ‘n’ roll, Martin said. Though mountain people also embraced those new forms, even incorporated them into the old music, they never let go of the traditional sounds.

Mountain music blends styles from Scotland, England and Ireland with the black American banjo and blues, said Joe Newberry, N.C. Department of Cultural Resources spokesman.

‘I like to call old-time music like a melting pot of American music,’ Newberry said. ‘It forms something that hits straight to the heart, and, above all, it’s dance music.’

Mountain people still recite the traditional ballads that forebears inherited from their British homelands — songs that originated in the Elizabethan period, said George Holt, performing arts director at the N.C. Museum of Art.

‘They were sung even on the Outer Banks 200 years ago,’ he said. ‘That has completely died off, yet it’s a viable tradition in Western North Carolina.’

On their own

To say that mountain people are independent is like saying Americans cherish their freedom.

‘There’s that story, I think it was Daniel Boone — he woke up one morning and saw smoke from somebody else’s chimney and said, `Rebecca, it’s time to move,’ ‘ said Terrell Finley, administrator of the Mountain Gateway Museum and Heritage Center in Old Fort.

The mountains made their own world for people who lived here before reliable roads and the telephone and television connected them to other places.

Because the mountains had less of a stake in the old South’s economy than other parts of North Carolina, many mountaineers opposed the Confederacy, said Dan Morrill, a UNC Charlotte history professor. Their land didn’t lend itself to growing cotton and other crops dependent on slave labor, and many people had no money for slaves.

‘The place that’s least oriented to the Confederacy in Catawba County was the area around Anderson Mountain,’ said Gary Freeze, who wrote two volumes of Catawba history. ‘It had the fewest enlistments.’

Mountaineers mostly stuck out lean times on their own.

‘I remember my father-in-law say, `We heard there was a Depression. But we grew everything we needed,’ ‘ Finley said. ‘It hurt them some but not like other places that depended on industry. … That independence helped them survive.’

Perhaps the mountains’ distance from the state’s centers of power compounded the isolation.

‘Some people feel the mountains didn’t get their just due from Raleigh,’ Finley said. ‘I remember when we were kids, they’d say all politicians think the world drops off west of Winston-Salem.’

Running whiskey

The mountains’ relationship with illegal whiskey is well-known.Other areas of the state produced moonshine, but illegal alcohol distilled from corn mash seems forever associated with the hills.

‘The thing that caused moonshiners was poverty,’ Morrill said. ‘I don’t think it was exclusively a mountain thing at all, but there was more poverty in the mountains and therefore more moonshining.’

‘Farmers used excess corn to make money,’ Finley said. ‘It was hard to haul enough corn out to sell, but they could load enough whiskey in a wagon to make it worthwhile. They could sell whiskey at a higher price.’

Also well documented is how the moonshine trade spawned stock-car racing.

In the 1930s and ’40s, moonshine runners raced in cow pastures on Sunday afternoons in the souped-up cars they used to escape the law. Stock-car racing graduated to formal dirt tracks in the 1940s.

Hickory became the hub of public races. At first, drivers competed at what is now the Catawba County fairgrounds. Then Hickory Motor Speedway opened in 1951 and hosted racers who became NASCAR legends, including Junior Johnson, who started out running moonshine in Wilkes County.

Gold fever

The South Mountains in southwest Burke County supplied the product that spurred what’s known as the Brindletown gold rush.

Weathering of the mountains in the Brindletown community freed gold from host rock and sent it into creeks, where miners panned for it, said Chris Tacker, curator of geology at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

That gold mining, which started in about 1828, predated the Gold Rush that led people to California.

‘Stuff in the paper played it up like gold was laying around in the street,’ Tacker said. ‘People from the eastern part of the state started looking farther afield and discovered there was gold in those valleys.’

The rush eventually died out, but people still pan for gold here.

Mountain people, perhaps more than people from other geographic areas, seem inextricably tied to the place that birthed and raised them.

The ‘hollers’ and hilltops they live in influence so much of who they become, whether they realize it or not.

And these mountains will be here long after they’re gone.

Copyright © 2006 The Charlotte Observer, All Rights Reserved.

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