Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mountain folk – the way we are

Those of us born and reared in the Appalachian Mountains have certain distinctive characteristics. (Note: education tells us to call our up-bringing "reared"; the mountain vernacular is "born and raised," and some astute persons might say, "‘raised’ several times in the woodshed if we disobeyed parents or were disrespectful of elders.” )

Characteristics of mountain people are noticeable in personality, work ethic, lifestyle and language. Although we have changed somewhat through education, exposure to a world beyond the mountains, and those "levelers" of cultures, the availability of television, radio and other forms of media, the solid characteristics of our forebears are still evidenced in many mountain natives into the twenty-first century.

The mountains are now populated with persons from many places. But to find a native mountaineer is almost a guarantee of encountering persons who bear noble and notable characteristics.

In personality, mountain folk are slow to accept change. Cogitative in nature, the native of the mountains weighs issues, considers alternatives, and acts on conclusions. He holds dear the methods of his forebears, and seeks to follow them.

He may reason, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" Good enough may be a standard for quality, and "making-do" is often a way of life.

Another maxim to which the mountaineer holds is, "If it was good enough for Pa, it's good enough for me." With antipathy toward change ingrained in the mountain mind, natives are extremely dubious of imposed and legislated changes. Evidences of this mindset were seen in the days of school consolidation when each community wanted to hold onto its local school, even though advantages were to be had through bus transportation to a more modern and better staffed and equipped school. Many argued and put up strong opposition to selling land for rights-of-way for building new highways or developments. The land is a part of the native mountaineers' ways, dear to them.

There are not as many farmers now, but in the era when my father was a farmer in Union County, he often resented being told how many acres he could cultivate in certain crops. After all, did the land not belong to the farmer, to plant as he desired? Cooperatives and agricultural agendas finally broke through some of the personality barriers of the mountain farmer. But that's not to say he always liked the new ways.

Another facet of the mountain native's nature is perseverance. His word is his bond. Honesty and integrity are earmarks of his character. Regardless of how hard the task or how remote the goal, a dogged persistence marks the true mountain man's temperament. This characteristic, no doubt, was ingrained from the pioneer forebears who overcame great odds to find their way into the mountains through virgin forests and unmapped lands. Their tenacity in conquering the wilderness, clearing farmland and building homes left a heritage of resolution and endurance. Independence was a feature of their persevering spirit. Passing the traits on to subsequent generations of mountain folk, the early settlers left us with a stick-to-it-ive-ness that is deeply ingrained.

The mountain work ethic is another noteworthy transfer from hardy ancestors. Hard toil was necessary to bring the mountain land from wilderness status to productive farms and family businesses. The early years of settlement in the mountains saw many entrepreneurs forming a self-sufficient enterprise along mountain streams. Water wheels turned turbines that ran mills to grind corn and wheat. Sawmills shaped tall timbers into lumber for houses and industries.

Barter made yield of farm, forest and mountain a means of trading goods not produced in the hills.

Industrious housewives knew how to card, spin, weave and sew. Scarcity became the impetus for making-do. But whatever the enterprise, hard work was required. A day's labor was given for a day's labor in return as neighbor helped neighbor.

Consequently, this work ethic confirmed the idea that the laborer, indeed, is worthy of his hire. Shoddy work reflects indelibly on one's character. "He or she is a good worker," was a compliment desired and well-earned.

Many in other areas of the country consider the mountaineer's lifestyle as slow and unhampered, even today in this fast-paced age. It is true that the mountaineer desires and usually makes time to be friendly with neighbors, to pass the time of day with those we meet, to take time "to smell the roses," to inhale the pure air and appreciate it, watch glorious sunrises and sunsets over the mountains.

Tied with our mountain characteristics is the ability to meet eventualities head-on.

We are not always as leisurely and slow-paced as our personalities indicate. We have learned to rush with the rest of the world. A main difference lies in the way we set our pace. By knowing that certain jobs need to be done and forming a timetable for doing them, the mountaineer moves purposefully, deliberately and efficiently. "By this time next week," the mountain farmer says, "this field will be harvested." And he sets the pace required to do it.

We don't waste much time on regrets or non-achievements. Some things are meant to be, the mountaineer reasons, and why opine that it be otherwise? From this mindset comes a certain assurance and satisfaction reflected in a lifestyle of peace and oneness with self, with nature, with people and with God.

Then there is the mountain language. I, personally, regret that it is fading away. But we hear echoes of it even now, "I reckon," or that inevitable dropping of the "ing" to just "in." Takes a fur less time t' talk that away!

If you have doubts that these distinctive characteristics are true of mountain folk, just talk to a native who has reached fourscore and ten years. Or, better still, if you are a mountaineer yourself, reflect on your heritage, your "raisin'." You may reach the same conclusion about the way we are.

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 21, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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