When I consider this question, it is this picture that fills my mind. This is my great-great grandmother Arizona, a Cherokee-Appalachian woman. Every time I look at this picture, I think of strength embodied. When I think of strength I think of Appalachian people. Though I never met her in person, I feel like I know her. When I look in the mirror, I see her hairline… the shape of her face, her forehead and broad shoulders.
Appalachian women of her time had strength like I wouldn’t even pretend to know. It was a strength that was bigger than they were, because their faith didn’t stand in their self or their circumstances. It was a faith in what was truth was truth, and what was not would eventually pass away and could be endured as something finite.
Mountain women have lived through hard hands on work, isolation, raising children and food. After a time, they lived through being crowded together in coal camps, black dust flying, covering everything, finding happiness in just seeing the whites of her husband’s eyes on more time. They nursed babies and broken hearts. They fought hard fights physically and mentally. Mountain women bore the iniquities of a whole people on their backs whether the burdens they bore were any fault of theirs or not. They lived by stern principles. They lived by know-how.
I was in a conversation recently with someone who said, “We aren’t really mountain women anymore I don’t guess.” I replied with thought at first. I hadn’t really considered that before. Then, I thought… we haven’t been allowed to be for a long time in some ways. We’ve been told to do things another way. Our way has never been good enough because it isn’t like the way of those outside of these hills. But, look at these hills. They take a different way of life. The city takes a different way of life than the country. Living by the ocean takes different know-how than living on the plains. I can’t pretend to know what is best for those who live in a completely different environment than myself.
It brings things back to the issue of culture. Are we mountain women anymore? Are we really? Or is a commercial culture perpetuated by consumerism and media taking over all the intricate cultures spread throughout our country? I believe there is, but yesterday I was at Burger King to let the girls play in the PlayPlace, and I watched all the mothers. I listened to the phrasing of their words. I saw how they handled their children, set their food before them, helped them put on their coats. I saw mountain women. There is an element there that can not be mistaken. It is born in us. As I am sure women from other states, ethnicities, spritualities, can identify in their common people quirks and authenticities that aren’t apparent to others, I saw them in these women.
We have lost so much over the years as Appalachians. It is obvious there is something missing here that had not always been missing. I think it is the confidence in that we are wonderfully made, and what has been given us through our collective upbringing and experience is good enough. I like to think it is only misplaced and will turn up again. Us Appalachian women will be the first to see it when it does.