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by Ida Lee Hansel

regular guest blogger at

I feel blessed in so many different ways because God gave my birth time and place in 1930’s Eastern Kentucky, heart of Appalachia, (to me at least). I would have wanted it no other way. My mother was part Cherokee from Walden’s Ridge, Dayton, TN.  My father was of Irish descent, and between those two grandmothers I was steeped in folk tales growing up. Children were fortunate in that Mothers were hard working, God fearing (most of them), excellent cooks, awesome seamstresses, and knew how to encircle their brood with unconditional love they learned from Bible reading. How many times did I get told to me, “The Bible says, ‘train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it’”  That was the basis of their rearing formula. Oh, it erred that is expected, but for the most part the training they gave, along with the hugs, kisses, and motherly pats, kept this child in tow and it has made for the retelling of many stories to my grandchildren.

Living in Appalachia, I learned as a small child what it meant to toil and labor, for we had a garden, made lye soap, made “lasses”, even homemade wine from grapes they grew. My Irish granny always said that a little wine on getting up and a little wine on lying down would keep the blood flowing. I laughed at that, and they smoked clay pipes, cob pipes, roll your own cigarettes from Bull Durham, Buffalo, and so many others that came in draw string pouches or cans. (They lived to a ripe old age too, or most of them did).

I found out by being born and reared in Appalachia the meaning of the words “unrequited love” and “neighborly”. People loved people; neighbors loved neighbors; doctors loved patients; time was of the essence for most people for they got up at the crack of dawn and went to bed before the sun set; however, if a neighbor needed help, they were there, no questions asked, no procrastination, they were there. Even upon the loss of a loved one, the neighbor women were called in to “lay out” the body and get it ready for burial because there was no means in the early years of my life for a body to be preserved for a “wake” or “sitting up” ritual, that came later in my childhood. All in all, Appalachian women were the backbone of the early American life, they did the work of men, they carried and birthed the babies, they canned food, they made lye soap, heated their water in big wash tubs, washed clothes, hung them out to dry, gathered them, ironed them with irons they heated in the hearth ashes and by hearth flames; they doctored their families, other families; they cooked meals fit for a king, and enough to pass around in the neighborhood, and even for strangers that passed by; yes, when a stranger passed, I never knew of my Appalachian women not asking, “Come in, rest yourself, and let me give you a plate of food and a good glass of cold milk”. I don’t recall it ever being turned down.

Where did all that love and kindness go with the passing of time; unconditional love was cast by the wayside it seems and now one barely has time to pat their youngster on the head or give their wife a smack as they leave out the door. My clothes were homemade, and there was nothing like a flour sack made into cloth, dyed and laundered, lace added, to make one a beautiful dress that could be worn to a ball. I never wore underwear made of sacks though, or I don’t recall anyone that I knew that did.  I got to go to Uncle Garrett’s grist mill and watch while he took our corn and ground it into meal. I loved going in the back of Uncle Noah’s wagon up the “holler” to the “mill”.  It was a good day and I always looked forward to it. I also loved when Uncle Noah would come by in his wagon loaded with veggies from his garden and he would pick me up and let me ride with him as he sold his veggies.  It was a ride worth taking.  Also, we didn’t own a vehicle, walked everywhere, but on Sundays I got to ride to Typo Ky to visit or to Jeff, Ky. To visit, by train; that is a story all in itself, but all in all not having a vehicle, in the grand scheme of things, never harmed me one bit.When I got sick, Mom or Granny also had a remedy, long before the word Homeopathic (sp); whatever ailed me, they had a cure and if they had to call for a doctor, they did, and paid him with taters, onions, veggies, etc. and he went away happy.

Those were the days, and I am afraid those days will never pass my way again and that is what hurts, my children and grandchildren did not get to live the good life, but they surely have heard about it.  We played in the streams and creek beds, free of pollution of any kind and so clear the minnows could be seen playing beneath the water; we roamed the hillsides looking for wildflowers of all different kinds, and made playhouses using moss as a lush green carpet, stones for furniture, and made belts, tiaras from using leaves and stems, interlacing them until it got long as we needed; we were introduced and acquainted with “critters” and taught at a young age to avoid those that were not to be toyed with; we learned to recognize plant life that could be brought out of the mountains and cooked of fried for supper; we learned the difference between good and toxic mushrooms; we were “home schooled” before that word was part of our language as it is today. Not so much in book learning because mothers had to quit school in early grades to help at home, but “common sense” home schooling which has kept me going all these years. Common sense has drifted by the wayside and that is sad.I could go on and on about the awesome life of a young girl given the chance to be born and reared in an Appalachian home with a Godly Mother, and grandmothers who told us stories brought to Appalachia by ancestors long gone before I was born.  Stories were told around the fires, around the quilting frame, in the swing on a wide open porch, or at the knees of the storyteller, very gifted people, who had time to share their thoughts and memories on to me, so that I one day could do the same. I think I did that.  My life as a child growing up in Appalachia resembles much the same as Laura Ingalls growing up on the prairie, just a different geographical area, and we both learned and passed it on.  Mothers, please take time to listen to your young child, they have so much to pass on, even in their language that years from now you will recall.  As the cliché goes, “Take time to stop and smell…” Well, I have it my own way for you, “Take time to stop, rest a spell, smell nature’s essences that abound, listen closely when a child speaks, take advantage of God’s treasures all around you in Appalachia, walk and talk with your child, and then at night, relate to them a story that you know that has been handed down to you; tuck your child in with a hug and kiss, and lay your head down for a much deserved rest.”  You are blessed beyond measure, Appalachian Mothers!


About Me

An Appalachian woman born and raised, mothering two little girls in a place that is non-existent to AT&T or UPS. Happily working toward a sustainable lifestyle and writing on the demand of a loud muse.

June 2009

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