I am a Southern Appalachian Mountain Man from the hills of East Tennessee. East, of course, is capitalized. I would like to develop my introduction by telling you something about the people of my origins.
The Mountain People are noted for certain strong personality characteristics, which include: resourcefulness, problem solving, a lust for freedom, and a concomitant independence of mind (or just plain cussedness) which can be the source of a great variety of problems until it becomes matured and refined.
Evidence of this independence can be seen in the fact that during the Civil War these mountain people had great difficulty placing their loyalties, and, in fact, many of them remained independent of the strife. In the end their loyalties were assigned more on the basis of commitment to the mountains than logic.
These people were great problem solvers, and the economic necessities of daily life just brought out the best in them. They always seemed to be able to turn adversity into adventure and challenge. For instance, I was raised by my grandparents, who, like many other people in our hollow, had developed their few scrubby acres of mountain soil into a virtual paradise where we enjoyed several varieties of grapes, cherries, and other fruits. Persimmons grew wild, as did walnuts, blackberries, and raspberries. Among other delights, we grew apples for eating, cooking, and winter storage. All of these resources were the raw materials for an endless stream of jams, jellies, pies, and cakes. We ate like kings.
Also, we kept one or two milk cows, which not only provided the dairy products needed by our family, but also was the basis of my first commercial enterprise which began at the age of six as I delivered milk and butter to customers throughout the community. These cows also taught me a great deal about sensitivity to others. I still have vivid memories of being kicked across the milk stall when my approach to my bovine friend was less than tender.
My grandfather was a master of resourcefulness and by working with him I learned to use a great variety of tools. We plowed the land, raised gardens, and grew tobacco. We built and remodeled houses, did electrical wiring and plumbing. We turned our hand to every need.
Using home brew as anesthesia, my grandfather even pulled teeth. My grandmother cured the sick, man or beast, and when necessary sewed up open wounds. Grandfather’s grist mill provided daily bread for the living, and when members of the community departed this life he built the casket for their final journey. From this man I learned to use the hammer and saw, and I learned what to say to relieve the pain when I missed the nail and hit my thumb.
In some ways, we were a poor family. I thought I was poor. We didn’t have many of the things that money could buy. However, I suppose that, in part, is what drove me to pursue my education to such absurd lengths when reading and writing would have been enough. Now that I have what money can buy, I find that I still cannot afford the luxurious lifestyle, the independence of mind, and the freedom of the Mountain Man.
The central theme in the life of my mountain people was God. We lived every day with God, and God provided all that was good for those who worked. He also taught us what sin was. So, we lived under the shadow of Sinai and the Laws of God. We heard God’s voice in the thunder, and we lived with guilt when we sinned. Guilt, I found, was a most useful device for keeping people moving toward a goal then and a device that could greatly improve human performance today.
Southern Appalachian Mountain Men were noted for their practical, no-nonsense approach to day-to-day survival. Once a Yankee visiting the mountains noted that mountain people when lacking money would just pick up and move to a new piece of cheap land. When he asked one old timer if it wasn’t a lot of trouble to move the mountain man replied, “Nope. All I have to do is put out the fire and call the dog!”
So, in summing up- though I hate to think it can be summed up in one line, even though others have done it in less- one might say that I am basically a Mountain Man—a hard worker and a God-fearing man who loves his life and loves his fellow man.