As I read this article in the Johnson City Press about East Tennessee State University’s Center for Appalachian Studies and Services and The Appalachian Project, I once again thought of Daddy and Mama and how East Tennessee State University weaved its way through their lives and our story.
Daddy and Mama participated in an Appalachian history project as part of the Institute of Continued Learning (ICL) classes they attended together until Daddy’s death, and which Mama continued for several years afterward. I hope some of their stories are a part of this.
I remember a story that Mama told us about the first time she and Daddy drove across Sam’s Gap (old 19-23 route) from North Carolina to northeast Tennessee after their engagement to see Mama’s family. Daddy had never been to Appalachia and he was genuinely surprised at the neat farms and middle-class houses he saw as they made their way across the Smokies. Daddy asked Mama what the owners of those houses did for a living. Mama laughed and said “the same kinds of work everybody else in the United States does.”
One of the most interesting things I’ve learned as I’ve read a lot about the history of the blues (one of my favorite genres of music) is how much influence Appalachia had on the evolution of the sound as blues artists were exposed to Appalachian music (bluegrass, Welsh, traditional country) during the 20th century. BTW, if you ever get a chance to see the movie “Songcatcher” and listen to the soundtrack, it’s well worth your time.
I’ve tried, like East Tennessee State University with these two projects, to capture the true Appalachia I learned about growing up in Fields of Gold: A Love Story and this blog.
Kudos to ETSU!