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

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Recounting High Humor of the Hills

Some of the stories were written down in a century-old ledger book that belonged to James Harry Turner's grandfather, James Lon Turner (2-21-1875 - 5-5-1972). On the unused pages of the old ledger book, Harry began to record humorous stories, many of which had been told and passed down by generations of his mountain ancestors.

Harry Turner (1928-2005) added to these as long as he was able, collecting choice anecdotes that dated back to Revolutionary War times and reached down to the present. He always intended to publish them, but feared that he might somehow offend someone still living who might recognize familiar stories as being part and parcel of their family folklore. And so it was, after Dr. James Harry Turner's death in 2005, his son, Dr. Joseph Blair Turner, assumed the cloak of storyteller, compiling his father's tales and adding some of his own to form a delightful compendium with the signal title of High Humor of the Hills. It has both Drs. Turner as joint authors and was published by Nathan House Books, Oakwood, Georgia, 2006.

The book is a valuable addition to our mountain literature and lore on several levels.

The first level is given in the title. It is a book of "High Humor," coming from our mountain folk for many generations, kept alive by repetition, and serving to add a bit of levity to what was often a "hard road in a rough land."

Dr. Joe Turner has done an exceptional job editing the stories and arranging them by eras. If you want a tale from the Revolutionary period, "How Skinflint Won the Race" will pit the frontiersman against a "Virginia Dandy" in a bare-foot race (only the story says they were "bar-foot").

The Civil War era brought forth such tales as old Ben Nix and "The Mule Shoe Dentist" when a blacksmith doubled as the community's tooth-puller. Through various decades, the true tales of humor represent a people, humble and unpretentious, who found entertainment by listening and telling events, often with themselves as the subjects. Neighbors had time to exchange stories, share laughs, lift each other's burdens.

Altogether, the book contains 200 stories and 139 pages of delightful vignettes. The reader will enjoy the volume as a straight read-through, but will return again and again to reread and learn the variable shades of humor certain favorite tales convey.

So on the level of historical reference book, this volume has merit.

Another level of the book's value is in the language. A five-page "Appalachian Glossary," alphabetized and with meanings of now almost obsolete mountain words and phrases is a reference not only for the vernacular of the stories but for a language that is rapidly passing away. It has been said that the Appalachian people, especially those of previous generations before the media rendered a "standard English" language for us all, was one of the truest Scots-Irish and Elizabethan English tongues still practiced. Dr. Joseph Blair Turner writes in his foreword: "I have attempted to capture the more folksy expressions. If it seems different, remember that socio-linguistically there are no right or wrong accents or dialects, only some people who do not appreciate the beauty of folk-tendered expression, preserved by the folk themselves. This culture is vanishing. I am thankful I was there, warmed by its fading rays" (page xv).

High Humor of the Hills will bring laughs. But, further, it will bring understanding. The storytellers who people its pages are real, proud of their heritage, unafraid of hard toil and life's knocks, able to pick up and move forward, always keenly compassionate and ready to lend a helping hand. As both Harry Turner and Joe Turner state: "These are my people. I am one of them." And those of us born and reared in the Appalachian region-or Union County, Georgia, in particular- can relate to the tales, to the thread of hope that lies beyond the pranks, to the people seeking some respite from grueling work and sometimes drab life. As Dr. Harry Turner states in "The Prologue":

"You wouldn't dare call them 'hillbilly.' They aren't. Just real honest- to-goodness folk, getting more of life's blessings than you might be, dear reader." They care not for aberration nor embellishment, but life as it comes." (page xii).

Many of the stories show strong faith held by Appalachian people. Even though these stories deal with faith laced with humor, that faith is, nevertheless, an unswerving dependence on God. Harry Turner expressed this faith of the people well: "Neither are they complacent in their fear of God—their Divine Master. They are His stewards of the soil. They toil and grow strong on it. They laugh deep and long there in the valleys, next to Heaven's crests, heeding the only call that counts to them: God's." (page xiii).

The author who first started recording the stories, Harry, son of a dirt farmer, and the author himself a longtime agricultural agent in the mountain counties of Georgia, knew first-hand of the strong affinity between the land and the people. High Humor of the Hills will provide amusement while teaching the reader many valuable lessons he will remember.

For purchasing information, see the website at I think you (as am I) will be glad to have your own copy for $12.95 (price includes shipping). If you do not have internet, you may order from Nathan House Publishers, P. O. Box 1696, Oakwood, GA 30566.

I personally congratulate Dr. Joseph Blair Turner for completing this book. He invites readers to contribute their own stories of true mountain humor. In the future there very likely will be a Volume II of High Humor of the Hills. But first, I highly recommend that you get Volume I of this brand new publication for yourself or for a gift. And if you hear of a book signing at a book store near you, I recommend that you go to meet compiler Dr. Joseph Blair Turner who felt it his mission to complete the work his father had begun.

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 14, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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