She’s a hefty woman with a poorly done bleach blonde dye job, her darks roots are overgrown and what few teeth she has left are in bad need of a cleaning. Her dirty t-shirt matches her even more stained shorts and her bare feet are covered in mud and her toenails soiled in dirt. There are several ratty children at her feet and she rubs her fingers through their hair with a lit cigarette, high on prescription pain medications. She is Appalachia and in her potential and in the potential of all Appalachians, I believe.
I grew up in a small Eastern Kentucky town which lies in three counties directly on the Northeastern boarder to Tennessee. The landscape of my childhood consisted of spectacular moonlit waterfalls, striking morning scenes with mist rising off the southern Appalachian hills, crystal clear creeks in which one could go crawdad huntin’, and genuine Kentucky bluegrass as it swayed in the breezes of spring and summer. The soundtrack of my upbringing has a track list containing choirs of late night crickets and bullfrogs, my dad’s acoustic guitar pickin’ as it danced out of the living room and down through every corner of our home, and the very distinct vernacular of my grandparents which in a way is a style of singing itself.
My Kentucky Mountain home is one of my great prides in life.
Unfortunately, this picturesque Southern landscape has, over the years, been ornamented with run down trailers, littered highways and country roads, and an overall expression of poverty and depression on the ever aging faces of its people. The sounds of the mountains have also changed from Scotch-Irish ballads to the sonar rings of police sirens as they make yet another drug bust.
I have talked extensively with my mamaw and papaw (my grandparents) who both share my desire, and probably a much stronger one, to see Appalachia and its citizens prosper. I have come to find out that they dedicated most of their lives to the cause of Appalachia. I do not believe there is anyone, nor will there ever be anyone who loves and adores this part of the U.S. more than my papaw, James Boyd Noble. My Papaw spent most of his life in Breathitt County, Kentucky and after failing out of the university that I now attend, only had one option to keep him from returning to the farm life of his home county- he joined the military. The military sent him overseas to England as a dental assistant- he prides himself today on the fact that he once worked on famous German-American scientist Warner Van Braun’s teeth. In England his heart longed for his mountain home and upon returning, he attended Eastern Kentucky University receiving a degree in education and later bought himself a farm steeped in a holler in the very county he left.
He began to work for the county government. His job included laying out plans for new roads; the only problem was the county had no money to build roads. He then made one, of what would turn out to be many trips to Frankfort, the state capitol. He went to Frankfort prepared, bringing along several mason jars full of Eastern Kentucky’s finest moonshine. He simply wrapped the jars in brown paper bags and left one on every desk of every official he knew that could make his road plans possible. Sure enough it was only a matter of weeks before they were laying down blacktop in Breathitt County. The moonshine method became a favorite of his due to its success rate and he soon became a welcomed faced at the capitol.
Later, Papaw decided to run for the office of State representative. He knew representing his community would be one of the best ways to bring about true change to his region and its constituents. However, the corruption in Breathitt County led to the failure of my Papaw’s campaign. He lost the election by just a few hundred votes. Many months after, he was contacted by his opponent who under a guilty conscience, admitted to him that before anyone had even pulled a lever on Election Day, my papaw was already over 1,000 votes behind. His opponent, the incumbent, had paid off several voting officials to secure his return to the capital. Still, even after this disappointing defeat, my papaw maintained a career of service to his community. He later went to work for the social-services office in his county. He took a great interest in the children of his mountain home- making sure they had proper nutrition, clothing, and making sure they were receiving a proper education. He also made sure his door was always open for any child who couldn’t bear another night of destruction at home. My Papaw eventually retired from social work but still to this day does what he can for his community, family, and Appalachia.
Sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee in my grandparents’ humble home, they have instilled a pride in me for the people of the mountains Not all of my Papaw’s dreams for Appalachia came true but I believe in the Appalachian cause and plan to continue to carry out his dream. I believe I am my brother’s keeper and my brother is Appalachia.