The Day Appalachia Came to School

I’ve never thought of myself as a product of Appalachia. I knew it was down the road of course, but “up there” and “over yonder,” never the particular section of the Appalachians we were living in at any particular time, and we lived at various points in The Great Smokies (NC,) The Foothills (GA,) and The Upstate (SC.)

But, low and behold, a quick Google search burdens all of those places with the unwanted monicker.

There were indicators, I guess, especially in North Carolina where the mountains are high, the dirt roads dusty and winding.

Being constantly asked, “Who’s your pappy?” by friends’ parents and the occasional stranger might be one. This is just an effort at placing you in the community pecking order. Just a name would suffice if your family is from there. Mine wasn’t. I’d have to explain that my Daddy was the preacher at such-and-such, which would label me as both “outsider” and “temporary.” We moved there when I was four, but even at that age I felt the sting of being an outsider.

At school, we knew who the “mountain people” were. They said “yunz” instead of “y’all,” tended to be blonde and dirty, didn’t do their homework, rode on certain school buses, ate breakfast at school, went to church and talked in tongues. There were rumors of snake handling, but those were either untrue or the Mountain Kids were better at keeping secrets than the rest of us.

Did we look down on them? Yes and no, I guess. But we never thought of them as Deliverance style Hillbilies.

Especially after the day Appalachia came to school.

There were a bunch of them, actually, four or five kids from a community that had been recently “discovered.” Someone said their family had been outlaws, but that could have meant anything from being tax evading yankee sympathizers to throat slitting swashbuckers from a kid’s point of view.

The one who joined my class was Cammie. She was thirteen and didn’t know her ABCs from chicken scratchings, but she was placed in the fourth grade.

She stood out because of her size, her homemade clothes, and her accent. The “yunz” bit we were all used to, but she said “bar” for bear and “thar” for there. She was smart, too, but hardly ever at school.

She had to stay home to help when “Ma” got sick; she’d missed the bus tending to an animal in labor; sometimes she didn’t bother with an excuse. She told me her dad said school wasn’t important, especially for a girl, and when she was tired or just didn’t feel like it she didn’t have to go.

That was a big shocker for me. At my house unless you were gushing blood or dying of fever you were damn well going to school.

“But education is important!” I protested.

“Not for us,” she’d replied.

I wasn’t sure who “us” was, just that I wasn’t a part of it.

Eventually Cammie quit coming to school. I asked the teacher about her, but got a vague answer and a “that’s enough now” look, so I don’t know what happened to her.

A few weeks later we moved to Georgia. Or perhaps I should say back to Georgia, since that’s where my grandpa was from. Instead of “Who’s your pappy?” we were asked “Where’re your people?”

I heard my dad say “Screvin County” (up until then he’d always said “Miami”) and just like that, we were native sons. Didn’t matter much that great grandpa had lost the farm during the depression and all ten of his kids trickled down to Florida. You might move from Georgia, but you never really leave.

So anyway

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
The details might be different, but I was a kid and limited in my understanding.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. illahee
    Jun 08, 2012 @ 18:59:25

    since no one has left a comment on this post, i will. i’ve never been to appalachia, but i have (been) driven through those states, and perhaps have seen the mountains. lovely area.

    anyway, i wanted to comment because i LOVE your writing in this post. excellent. so, i am looking forward to your (eventual) book!

    Reply

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