I read an article in the Sunday Courier-Journal newspaper today that was hard to read; but I made myself read it, all the way to the end. It took more time than it should have, partly because of frequent stops to go back and reread sections that were especially compelling. I have a feeling that I will return to read it again.
(And, yes, I do, in fact, receive and actually read an honest-to-goodness-printed-on-paper newspaper every day. For you youngsters who don’t know what that is, I’ll have to explain another time.)
“Knowing Eastern Kentucky Statistics Can’t Tell the Story of a People, a Culture, a History” is the title.
It was reprinted from a blog called “A Country Boy Can Surmise” by author Silas House who is from Rockhouse Creek in Leslie County, Kentucky. He is also the NEH Chair in Appalachian Studies at Berea College. (I’ll share a link to the complete article in his blog for those who wish to read it. It’s rather long, but well worth the reading. I recommend it.)
I like to think of myself a writer, of sorts, and I derive a great deal of pleasure from writing, mostly about my people and my family history. That’s the rationale for the contributions I make to this blog, though much too infrequently, I must admit.
I also admire and immensely enjoy reading authors who know how to write about home and family; authors like Jesse Stuart, James Still, and Gurney Norman. I haven’t yet read any other writing by Silas House — among his works are six novels and three plays — but that is an oversight I will soon remedy.
Some might know that I was born in Grundy, Virginia, just across the line from Pike County, Kentucky. Though I spent much of my growing up time in Floyd County, Kentucky, I have lived in Ohio, where my brothers and sister were born.
I graduated from high school in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Really. We migrated to New Jersey when there was no coal mining work for Dad, but Floyd County will always be home.
Fair warning: if the area that Silas House writes about is your home, what he says has power to evoke such sadness and longing, as it did in me, that it may move you to tears. You may sense such a loss of time and place here, as I have, that you want to weep in mourning for it.
Some people might find many of the author’s words insulting and/or embarrassing, touching a raw nerve that makes you resent him for drawing attention to these things, just as I did, at first. His frankness and lack of subtleness of expression may even make you extremely defensive and rouse you to anger, just as I was.
However, let me be clear. In my mind, there is no doubt. This absolutely needed to be said; and Silas House says it very well, indeed.
Silas House is from a coal mining family, but he says: “Because of my outspokenness on the problems created by Big Coal I’ve been called a traitor to my own people.”
If you allow yourself to read what he has to say with a clear eye and open mind, you’ll see the honesty; and you will know that all of what he describes is true and real.
The uninformed and, it must be said, the ignorant, may look down upon and scorn our way of life, but this is our culture and this is our history. This is our home and these are our people. It is where we are from; it is who we are.
If we love our home and our people as much as we proclaim to so often, then, at minimum, we should acknowledge it, if not accept it, as well — all of it.
Truth be told, I am a bit envious. Silas House has put into words what has been on my mind and in my heart for some time now. If I had written this, only Rock Fork and Floyd County would be substituted for Rockhouse Creek and Leslie County.
I wish that I had written it; that I had been able to find the words (and the courage) to express such sentiments.
The full blog article is posted separately on my Facebook page. Here’s an excerpt that I like:
“I went down home last night for a funeral. I live less than an hour north of my home county in a wonderful town, but it’s not down home. Down Home is where I’m from. Down Home is my people.
Down Home is where my accent doesn’t announce me as an outsider, where gas stations offer soup beans and corn bread for sale, where folks sit in a circle in plastic lawn chairs to watch the cool of the day roll in after a long day of work.
[Down Home is] the place where coal trucks control the roads, where coal companies hand out coloring books to elementary students, where doctors push pills on people in pain, where high schools refuse to allow students to have gay-straight alliances or Young Democrats Clubs, where a small town passes a fairness ordinance to protect all people from discrimination, where most folks have the dry county blues, where hundreds of people work quietly for change.
Down Home is a contradiction and a secret and a history waiting to be read.
Down Home is a wound and a joy and a poem, a knot of complication that scholars and reporters have the audacity to assume they know with a little bit of research.
But you cannot know a place without loving it and hating it and feeling everything in between. You cannot understand a complex people by only looking at data—something inside you has to crack to let in the light so your eyes and brain and heart can adjust properly.
So I went back home, alone, on a summer’s evening cooled by a hurricane sliding up the Eastern seaboard. I drove the parkway with my windows down and the mouth-watering smell of kudzu grapes trembling on the air. There was also the scent of coal (it’s inescapable: scattered along the side of the road from the constant coal trucks, dripping from the cliffs lining the highway, seeping its aroma out onto this world from so many hidden caves and graves and the air itself) and of grills in front yards, loaded down with pork chops or burgers, of the sandy creek-banks touched by cold water washing out of the mountains.”
Excerpted from the blog “A Country Boy Can Surmise” by Silas House at http://www.silashouseblog.blogspot.com/
The author’s full blog post “The Matter Is You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About” can be found here: