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Here is one from Letcher County native – Lee Sexton.  This is a clip from the documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus.

I truly believe that it is John’s utmost dream to one day play in the band that is fronted by his two little girls.  He is getting them started early, and they are loving every minute of it.  They were born with the music of these hills in their souls.  This is why we love the evenings when Daddy is home.  This is the perfect after bath, before bed activity.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Hear John’s music and the legacy that has been with our people for hundreds of years at www.myspace.com/haywoodbanjo or visit his YouTube channel (Renegade Hillbilly) under the links section in my sidebar.

John has spent much of the day working on his YouTube Channel. He uploaded a new video that Derrick Poore shot a few weeks ago here on the creek. There are also many more videos of friends and acquaintances playing old time mountain music and such. Take a gander here.

If my mother asks for me

Tell her death done summoned me

I’m going to meet her at the station when the train comes along.

– Mike and Peggy Seeger (American Folksongs for Children, Rounder 1977)

A great name in traditional music passed on August 7, 2009.  Mike Seeger was the younger brother of the famous folk icon Pete Seeger, and a founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers.  Though not originally from the mountains of Appalachia, Seeger did a great deal to pass on and preserve the music of our region.  John and I were fortunate enough to visit with him a few times.

We were looking for a traditional music CD for Deladis and found his American Folksongs for Children. It is one of many recording he has done of traditional music for children.  This one he did with Peggy Seeger.  The liner notes are a great primer on appropriate music for children.  Deladis was around eight months old at that time and really responded to a song with the line “Rose, Rose, and up she rises.”  She smiled and squealed, hearing her name in a song, circling our living room floor.

That June at Appalshop’s Seedtime on the Cumberland, Mike Seeger was a special guest.  I took the CD we had bought Deladis in hopes that I could get him to sign it for her.  I am horribly shy when it comes to certain things, and though Mike Seeger was out and about all during the festival mingling with the crowd, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for the autograph.  I got my dad to do it.  He’s not scared of a thing, and doesn’t care a bit to embarrass himself in front of anyone.  He took the CD with that sly smile of his and walked right up to Seeger.  I watched with Deladis in my arms from my little perch behind John’s art tent.  Seeger signed the CD smiling and laughing with my dad.  Then, I saw both men looking around, and my dad motion for me to come over.  It is easier for me to be introduced then for me to introduce myself, so I went on over.  We shook hands, and then, Seeger took Deladis by the big toe and sung to her her song.  She smiled a glistening grin.  My heart was melted.

Earlier this summer, John was contacted by Mike Seeger and company to be a part of some recording they were doing to document old-time mountain banjo music in the mountains of eastern Kentucky for the Smithsonian museum.  George Gibson was their primary focus, and having learned a lot from him, John was added to the list.  Seeger and his wife spent several days on the creek recording John, George and our friends playing banjo tunes in the various Kentucky styles.  Seeger said he remembered singing to Deladis when he met her again running in the yard by the cabin.  We talked a little on organic gardening and carrots, and again they were off to document.

It is a mysterious thing how quickly one can be full of life and then be taken by death.  It is a strong reminder to me that my work on self is so important.  I’m not afraid of death in terms of being taken from earth.  I want to be certain that everyday I have here counts for something.  I’m not a fan of wasted time.  Mike Seeger did very important work here and I’m sure he loved it.  It is so important for us to be passionate about our work.  As I sit now, listening to the CD of folksongs, my heart is light and my work is easy.  God bless Mike Seeger.

Last night, I sat in my living room watching the lightening bugs flicker in the misty twilight filling the hills with flecks of gold through darkened hues of green, brown, gray and black.  I watched the spectacle and thought about those who live away from here.  Sure, every place has beautiful scenes that the world should see, but I’m partial to the Kentucky mountains because they are home to me.  If I had to pick ten things to share with outsiders to help them understand where I come from, these would be them.

What I’d Love to Share with You…

  1. An evening of just listening… Sitting on an old timer’s porch swing just as it starts to turn off dark, we would listen to their tales of “making do”, playing in the mountains, courting their sweetheart, and working their fingers to the bone because that’s what you do.  We’d listen and learn that there is more to life than celebrity, money, what you have and what you can buy, and whether or not you live within a short driving distance of a strip mall with a Super Wal-Mart.
  2. The view from the mountain in front of my cabin...  We’d hike the steep hillside in front of our cabin until we reached the large rocks placed on the mountaintop by movement of earth and time.  It would be early fall and we’d be quiet there letting the strong breeze work its way through our bodies with a sweet purity that fills us up with serenity and appreciation.  We’d learn that yes, there is something bigger than all of us, that made us a small part of this beautiful creation.
  3. Bad Branch Falls I’d love to take you up Pine Mountain by Wiley’s Last Resort and on down to Bad Branch Falls.  The small falls is a local respected landmark that is a public park that in many ways still feels like you are the first person to see it.  We’d let the falls rinse us clean and play with our children in the little pools of fresh mountain water.
  4. A morning on George Gibson’s porch listening to his banjo ring… After a “full” breakfast, we’d walk down the holler a piece to visit George Gibson at his cabin.  He’d play his banjo for us in the old-time Knott County way (that isn’t Bluegrass which was created by the likes of Bill Monroe in the 40s).  I’d have to ask him to play “Jubilee” because it hits you in the chest and makes it unnecessary to breathe.  The music breathes for you.
  5. A dinner of Appalachian soupbeans, cornbread, kraut, fried potatoes and onions, pork tenderloin, and fresh sliced tomato and cucumber… The meal of all meals that makes you wiggle while you eat.  All of it will be cooked in cast iron with bacon fat.
  6. Scare the pants off you with a bobcat hollering in the night… Sounds like a woman screaming for her life.  A banshee woman.  It’ll scare the bejezus out of you for a few minutes until you realize (only because someone’s told you) it was only a bobcat.
  7. A mountain church service… You’d have to stay two Sundays because I’d want to share with you both the Old Regular Baptist and Pentecostal traditional services.  I’d want you to hear the mournful sounds of the Old Regular’s lining out their hymns (you will cry whether you want to or not) and the soul catching sounds of a Pentecostal band with all the instruments playing in such a way that draws you up out of the depths and makes you dance with joy and praise.  Oh, and then dinner on the grounds. 😉
  8. Experiencing mountain hospitality… You’ll never go hungry or lack for a place to lay your head.  We’ll be waved at by those in passing cars.  We’ll pull off the side of the road for funeral processions.  We’ll always have time for a few words with a neighbor.  If the car breaks down, we won’t be long or scared on the side of the road.
  9. Carcassonne Square Dance We’ll go to a real mountain square dance called and played by some great folks.  We’ll dance ’til our legs give out and then we’ll dance some more.
  10. Coal Mining… I’d share with you both a mountain top removal (strip mine) site and an underground mine.  There is great dualities in this issue.  On one side coal is the largest employer in the mountains, but on the other side strip mines are ruining our mountain landscape and causing havoc in the balance of things.  I’d want you to understand the sacrifices our people make in bringing you your electricity.  I’d want you to understand that when you turn on the light that you are using an non-renewable resource that comes from a real place and is pulled out of the mountains by real people.  Our miners deserve respect as do the people living in coal producing mountains.  It is my personal belief that most coal companies have placed us in a situation of indentured servitude and they abuse our people and our homeplace.  Solutions have to be found so that mountaintop removal becomes unnecessary, and our people can still be gainfully employed.

I believe there is magic in these hills.  Sure, we are a clannish bunch, but for those who take the time to listen and pay attention you’ll find a place.

Even living in rural Appalachia, we get comments about choosing to live where we have.  Some folks seem impressed, some think we are weird or crazy, others worry about us.  But, we have found home.  It is here off-grid, in solitude.  It is near to perfect.

My mother’s and step-father’s preacher worries about us up here.  He wonders if I will be happy, or stay happy.  My mother worries about the boogey man.  I do sometimes half expect to look out my picture window and see Bigfoot, but it wouldn’t shock me at all.  That would be great.  I am more likely to see a deer or some other wild animal roaming in our yard than another human.  Animals don’t scare me.

John’s parents don’t like the road.  We don’t either really, but it is what it is.  It is not a permanent situation us driving in the creek.  Hopefully, by next winter we’ll have a better way.  If not, we’ll survive it.  My Dad says we’ve got the best place in the world for Armageddon, or when our country falls to anarchy, socialism, or whatever else he might equate with chaos.  He says we can sit up in here and”pick ’em off” as they come up the holler.  Leave it too a dad to find good his daughter’s decisions when no one else does.  He’s right.  It is a pretty cool place to be and I feel very safe.  I feel safer in God’s creation than in man’s.

A man from the gas company came to check on a gas leak a few days ago.  He said, “I don’t reckon many girls would live up in here.”  I said, “I really like it.”  “It’s nice here, peaceful,” he said.  I’ve never been like many other girls.  John played a show last night here in Knott County.  A man asked where he lived, said he was glad someone who could play the banjo like he could lived in the old homeplace.  That made John proud.

Our cabin was built in 1900 by a man named Uncle Ed Thomas.  I believe you can find mention of him in the Foxfire books and there may be a picture of him.  He was a dulcimer maker.  He put some fancy into this little place, as you can see in the work over the front porch.  I love a house with history.  There are several other older cabins on the property, but only 2 are finished enough to live in.

Our Cabin - Winterized front porch's is my husband's winter studio.  Talk about dedication!

Our Cabin - Winterized front porch's is my husband's winter studio. Talk about dedication!

We don’t own this property, but I hope we are here a good long time.  Moving off-grid is something I feel good about.  Being in my mountains is like nothing else.

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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.

December 2021
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