Sunday, March 19, 2017

On Laundry

My mom has a thing for laundry. It’s something of a holy sacrament to her. When I “moved out” I had never done a load of laundry before in my life. And I wasn’t a 17-year old college bound kid. I lived at home or with my grandmother for all 4 years of undergrad so at nearly 22 years old I got married and moved three hours away without the slightest inclination of how to keep myself in clean clothes.

And before you get the wrong idea, I wasn’t “doless” (a nice Appalachian phrase for someone who “don’t lift a hand at much,” I suppose that’s also Appalachian and not terribly helpful but you get what I’m saying, lazy). I wasn’t given a fair opportunity to learn how to do laundry, I was never taught. As the saying goes, knowledge is power- and mom was keeping that particular power for herself.

And I get it from both sides. When I asked my dad if he did his own laundry growing up, he said granny would never let him near it. Granny still washes her clothes to death and once told me that’s what attracted her to my Pap: “his clothes were always just so clean,” she said.  That’s all it took and she was head over heels.

Perhaps my mom didn’t have the patience to teach us the practice of laundry but I maintain that it was more about her affection for washing clothes. Each of my mom’s sisters shares this same attachment to laundering. The practices of letting things soak, stain removal, hot or warm water and the ever pressing question: when to use bleach are topics they discuss at length. When I was growing up mom would often lift the lid of our washing machine, which sat in the kitchen in our house, to watch the process in action before her very eyes.  

When my mamaw was raising 11 young’uns they had a Wringer washing machine (pictured below next to my papaw on the porch) but by the time the baby-my mama- came along they had built a bathroom where the washer sat while the dryer was housed in the kitchen. My mamaw enjoyed laundry too, she said that seeing all those white diapers hanging out on the clothesline made her happy. Mom said their water pressure was such that they rarely washed much besides under clothes and wash rags. They’d be lucky to get one load done in an evening by the time the washer filled up and didn’t have time to get it dried before papaw went to bed, and the dryer didn’t run when papaw slept.

As mom told me all of this it clicked with her at the same time it did with me: “Maybe that’s why we all love to do laundry now. It’s like a luxury.” So I don’t hold a grudge for my laundry inadequacies.
When I lived with my mamaw in college she would sometimes gather up a few of my things from the floor of my room while I was in class or working. Mostly it was jeans, which I later learned she never actually washed-she would wet the knees and put them in the dryer to make me think that she had washed them. Clever badger. Perhaps her love for laundry took a backseat to her belief that things were not dirty, especially jeans, if they were only worn once.

I called my brother while writing this to ask about his knowledge of laundry to see if at eighteen he was as clueless as my sister and I were when we left home. He is in high school and still at home and I asked him if mom was out of town and he absolutely had to could he do a load of laundry. He gave a confident “Yes!” which surprised me and I asked him to walk me through the process to which he replied, “I’d take whatever I need washed to granny or Wanda.” Problem solved. But I could relate, I would never have dared touch mom’s washing machine when I was at home without her guidance. When she and my dad moved into the home they are in now she only had space for a stackable washer/dryer and to add insult to injury the washer locked while washing, putting days of watching clothes soak and spin in the past.

I cannot say that I share in the enjoyment of washing clothes, although I am firm in the belief that anything can be a spiritual experience if you take joy in it. The being my clothesline, I delight in seeing my clothes drying on the line in the spring and summer months. I think of home and mamaw and mom and their love of it and I feel connected to some small part of their beloved practice of laundry.

Sidenote: my mom’s washers been broken for two weeks now so prayers are appreciated. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Oil Lamp

 sun sets across the mountain
hues of pink and orange
the end of a day’s light
a wick wet with oil
rests between fingers of a golden key
globe black with soot
 eyes squint
match strikes
flame illuminates
 hands grip carrying it nearer
the key rotates, the flame grows
a return to the tedium of a day’s work

still incomplete

Sunday, March 5, 2017

"Ya'll eat yet?" An Appalachian Greeting

Encouraging my teenage students to be in tune with and celebrate their home culture is something akin to what I imagine it’d be like to call up my central Appalachian granny and ask her to adopt a new culture for the rest of her life: worship Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu in place of Jesus, begin making and eating naan instead of biscuits and wear a sari instead of her blue jeans and Keds. In other words many of my teenage students seem terribly intimidated by recognizing their cultural norms and practices.  

My students tend to see culture as far-off exotic celebrations of fantastical clothing, precise rituals, beautiful artistic expressions and strange foods. Nevermind that my students live in one of the most inherently Appalachian culture-oriented towns in our region. I suppose it makes sense that an appreciation for your home culture often comes after you’ve moved on or meet others with different cultures to have a point of comparison. I certainly didn’t consider myself “Appalachian” until college and since then I have introduced myself as nothing else. 

The one thing I often succeed in helping students understand is unique to our culture is our relationship with food. The marriage of growing, cooking, and preserving of sustenance in the mountains is something many of them relate to and appreciate. Food also provides the basis for many conversations.

We Appalachians worry ourselves to death over whether or not each other has eaten. And we don’t go to visit friends or family without calling ahead first to see what they could use from our garden or pantry. My go-to wedding gift to friends and family is something we’ve canned. And I’ve traveled to the Pound many a time with rhubarb stalks, jars of moonshine, pickled peppers and more cukes than I could count. And come back with zucchini bread, canned beans, kraut, and slicing tomatoes.

And as soon as we arrive we can barely get in the door before being asked if we’re ready to eat. And even if the truth is that we ate on the road, we lie. Because they already have chicken fried or scratch-made biscuits in the oven. It’s our answer to any problem (much like the Golden Girls and cheesecake) except ours might just be a sliced cucumber which in my experience is just as effective as cheesecake.

 We attended a wedding this weekend and when I finally got a chance to hug the bride at the reception before I could stop it I heard myself ask, “Did ya’ll get to eat yet?” I guess it’s also Appalachian for congratulations. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Day of Menial Accomplishments or Bryce's First Birthday

With hair like mine, I didn’t wash it myself until I was nearing adulthood. Hence, the scene: a head full of shampooed curls and my mother leaning over me in the bathtub breaking her back to complete a task most children my age had accomplished years before. With mom and I occupied by the nest atop my head, the task of keeping an eye on my baby brother fell to my younger sister. If you knew my sister you’d know that this plan was set up to fail from the beginning. My sister, even now as an adult, cannot be relied upon for the most basic tasks because of her propensity for distraction. And at six years old with Rugrats on TV, she was doomed. My mom had poured exactly 1 plastic cup of water onto my head when catastrophe struck (catastrophe in this instance is relative to a mother on her son’s first birthday).

Mom jumped up and ran to assess the situation while I sat watching my feet shrivel in the chilly bath water. I heard plenty of banging and yelling followed soon by my sister appearing in the bathroom informing me that she had allowed our brother to pull his birthday cake off of the table. He had proceeded to play in it and while already in his birthday outfit leaving both the cake and his clothes ruined. All of this occurred while she stood inches from the TV laughing at Tommy Pickles get into a fun kind of TV trouble unaware that she would soon be facing the kind of trouble they do not show on Nickelodeon. Furthermore she informed me that mom was after her, I believe she even uttered the phrase “help me.”

Children who live in solidarity with their siblings have always been heroes to me because in that moment I knew which side I wanted to be on and it was not the losing side of my poor sister. So, because I am my mother’s daughter I called upon a look of disgust and shook my head at her while rolling my eyes to ensure she understood what a disappointment she was not only to mom but to all of us.

Seeing she would receive no sympathy from her big sister, she retreated to her room. In the meantime I was left to rinse my own hair for the first time in my life, my brother still managed to turn 1 despite the lack of cake and my mother’s wrath grew less intense after she threw a chair across the kitchen that day. The mystery of whether the chair was thrown at someone is still heavily debated each holiday when we are together. But overall, that was a day of accomplishments: hair-washing, birthday party, and self-reflection. However, the guilty party accomplished nothing and she will still ignore your every word if there is television anywhere near her. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A conversation with Granny pt. 1

A while back I got to sit down and record a conversation with my granny. I'm so lucky to still have her to tell her stories to me. There's quite a bit of transcript I'm still working through but this is one of my favorite parts. I've left in her dialect because it's authentically granny. 

Meg: What do you remember your daddy doing most?

Granny: Well he farmed. I guess he enjoyed it that's all he done. They worked hard. Daddy worked hard but Daddy used to be a drinker now he loved moonshine.

Meg: Did he make it?

Granny: Yeah. He just never did get caught but he made it. He sold it. And Mom sold whiskey till she said they was coming across, they carried it outta Boggs Creek. They'd have to go up there and get it and carry it out. And she said one time her and Estel was carrying a load out to sell for the next day you know and it was dark. And said they set down to rest and said Estel was always the type of person that never said any bad words they set down and he never had anything bad to say about anybody. She said they sat down on that log and he said "mom, don't you think there's another way that we could make a living besides this." And she said, "well Estel we'll try it." And she said she never sold another bit after that... 

But that's all they had to do, I mean they had to do something to even survive. And I know she said the ones that used to buy the whiskey from her, I think one of the men was ***** ******** and people like that but anyway said they come to buy some day or two after she said she wasn't selling no more and said he said "Well Pearlie I guess you think you're too damn good to sell whiskey." And she said no I'm not too good but I can make a living another way and she said that right there was the turning point, said she never did sell no more. But my daddy sure did drink it. She used to go up there at the barn and unscrew the cap on the whiskey and let it leak out so he wouldn't drink it. Cause he was the hatefulest man ever lived when he was drunk. God, I was scared to death of him. But then when he wasn't drinking he was a good person. That's just the way they lived.