Living in the Appalachian Mountains

Courtesy of Jonathan Bowling

Elk captured on our son, Jonathan Bowling’s, trail camera behind our house. @copyright Healthier Me Simple and Clean.

Many people believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have been overheard many times making this statement when referring to the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. I am also a believer that not only is beauty found within the eye of the beholder, but also that success lies within the desire of the believer.

Recently I read an article about life in the Appalachian Mountains that lingered in my thoughts, with a mix of emotions hovering over and within me. Life in Appalachia was portrayed with gloom and despair, thus leaving the reader with a feeling of hopelessness. The article implied that people who were born into poverty didn’t have a choice to live otherwise. The picture that was painted was a stereotypical view of Appalachia that many have and continue to exploit to gain popularity whether it be an audience for their blog, for social media publicity, money, or their name in lights. What the author of this very derogatory article neglected to divulge were the joys of growing up in the Appalachian Mountains.

Over the years authors, filmmakers, and actors in Hollywood have profited through exploitation of Appalachia choosing to focus on what small towns “don’t” have. Films have been made with careful selection of the poorest part of towns carefully and intentionally divulging only dilapidated buildings, rather than new structures, or renovated buildings that houses independent thriving businesses. Many times the focus is often on poor housing in small towns rather than homes that proudly stand boasting beautiful manicured lawns, hardy vegetable gardens, luscious rolling green mountains, blooming flowers, and carefully trimmed hedges and trees. When the media chooses to focus on the negative aspects, or poverty, which by the way exists in all towns whether they’re large or small…the reader is left with a gloomy feeling of sorrow, despair and almost a feeling of doom.

Appalachian people are often-times portrayed as being illiterate, undereducated, and ignorant people who are less fortunate than those living elsewhere. Manchester, located in Clay County, is a small town in Appalachia where I grew up, raised my family, and still reside today has been recently been accused of being one of the hardest places to grow up in the United States, as well as being a community where citizens are expected to have a shorter lifespan than those living elsewhere. I find both of these statements to be misleading, offensive, and also stereotypical. I find myself smiling when I reflect on my childhood. I don’t recall life being a hardship, doom, gloomy, unhappy time in my life. Today, I enjoy sharing my memories of growing up in Kentucky through stories, both oral and written.

My memories are filled with fun escapades of playing outside, working in the garden, helping can fruits and vegetables, listening to countless stories told to me by my grandparents, afternoons sitting in the shade with family just enjoying the serenity of the mountains, playing with cousins, enjoying wonderful cooked meals from the vegetables that we raised, and learning wonderful skills from my mother and grandmother. We didn’t live within city limits, and still do not. We were raised in a rural community that enjoyed farming. My grandparents had a small store that was often referred to as the heart of our little community. Many of my family members still reside in this same neighborhood. I was raised to know that I had choices, and also to believe that I could be anything that I wanted to be. I was encouraged to always try to better myself by reading, learning, working hard, and also by believing in myself.

I was raised in one of the poorest parts of the state of Kentucky. What? We grew up poor! No one told me that! I wasn’t aware that we grew up in a poverty-stricken area. No, again, I was raised to dream and dream big! I could be anything that I wanted to be. I could be a mother, I could be a Christian, I could be a teacher, I could be an author, I could be whatever I chose to be! I was taught good moral values, about Jesus, how to work the land to feed my family, how to always believe in myself, to be proud of my heritage, to have a plan for my future, and if I got knocked down…get back up!  Instead of profiting from negative doom, gloom, and despair…I prefer to divulge the wonders of the Appalachian Mountains, the joys, the beauty, the opportunities, growth, success, and the wonderful mountains that I am proud to call home.

Again, I was never told that we were poor, or that we lived in an impoverished area, and never told that I couldn’t better myself. As a public school teacher, I always passed this same advice to my students. I always encouraged my students year after year that they could be anything that they wanted to be, to reach for the stars, to believe in themselves as I too believed in them. Today, as a college professor, I am still relaying that same positive message.

Many might say that small Appalachian towns have nothing to offer. I disagree. So, what does our small county of Clay have to offer? The beauty of the mountains, rich farm soil, beautiful pastures for livestock to graze, farm fresh eggs, distinguished schools, top-rated teachers, private Christian schools, a multitude of welcoming churches, book clubs, a well stocked public library, quilting clubs, pumpkin patches, ATV rides, elk hunts, successful local authors, artists, parks, employment at the federal prison, kayaking, fishing, local shopping, home cooked meals at locally owned restaurants, farmers’ markets, Main Street markets, grass-fed beef, fresh venison, beautiful walking trails, beautiful homes, friendly people, smiles, and a welcoming environment. One valuable opportunity that goes unmentioned in many articles about our small town of Manchester is the opportunity to complete a college degree at Eastern Kentucky University, which is located within city limits. These are only a few things that residents and visitors have to enjoy. Again, beauty lies within the eye of the beholder, happiness with the heart of the dreamer, and success within the heart and desire of the believer.

I have been asked many times over the years why I haven’t moved…but my answer is and will always remain the same…”I can’t imagine growing up or living anywhere else than in the beautiful Kentucky mountains. As the title of my first book states, Kentucky is…The Mountains I Call Home.”

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Quiet Mornings in the Mountains

Good morning from the mountains of Kentucky! The day that thousands of children have awaited for months to arrive…has finally arrived…it’s Christmas Eve! With our children now married and spending quality time with their families today, I find myself busy this morning baking and preparing for tomorrow’s much awaited family Christmas dinner/breakfast. A few years ago we started a new tradition of breakfast for Christmas. It’s a delicious change from the traditional turkey and dressing. Although, we still prepare a turkey and dressing for those who like to indulge in the traditional Christmas dinner there’s plenty of delicious breakfast items on the menu as well.

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Our Nativity Scene that adorns our mantle every year. 

With the aroma of cornbread baking in the oven, banana bread cooling on the cooking rack, light rain tapping on the roof, and the tree brightly lit…I find myself recalling our family Christmas traditions from years gone by. 

I recall how much we loved watching the much awaited Christmas cartoons each year. When I was growing up cartoons  were not as convenient as they are today. Saturday was considered cartoon day! Cartoon channels didn’t exist at that time, at least not in the mountains. The Internet was obsolete, and only seven channels graced our black and white television, while four of those channels were not always available. Much of the television reception depended on the line that protruded from our television and made its way up the mountain. If a branch fell on the line or the wind blew the cable over…it meant little to no television reception. So, with excitement in our eyes and voices we would gather around the small television hoping for a clear picture while indulging in a pan of homemade caramel corn ready to watch Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, and many other wonderful cartoons that are now referred to as classics. These were simple times, but very happy times.

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Cornbread baking for the dressing and clean banana bread for a sweet treat. While I bake I am enjoying one of my favorite childhood cartoons! 

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Bedtime came early for my brother, sister and myself. Even though we retired early sleep didn’t come easy for us. We were far too excited to sleep thinking about the gifts under the tree. We had high hopes of receiving that one toy that we had dreamed of for weeks. The toy that we circled countless times in the Sears Wish Book. The toy that our mother worked hard to make sure she could afford for us. We knew that we could always depend on a couple new outfits of stylish clothing, and that one desired gift that we had dreamed all year about. When sleep finally arrived it felt like we had only been asleep for a short time when one or the other of us was waking the rest, and urging each other to get up with shouts that it was time to open our presents!

While still in our pajamas we would eagerly run to the tree where mommy would be awaiting us with her coffee in hand. As a child, I often wondered if she ever slept. It seemed that no matter what time we woke up for whatever reason she was already awake and either sewing, humming, drinking coffee, or all of the above. These were wonderful simple days that have come and gone. All too often these cherished simple times are now replaced with glitzy glamorous thematically decorated trees, elaborate gifts, stress from shopping, and often times lack of appreciation. My heart aches as I recall the days of my youth, family times, simple days, and our family traditions. These memories help me to strive and work hard to keep them alive in our family year after year while we continue to build new memories.

The simple family traditions that I grew up with have been revised with many new traditions. The wonderful traditions that I grew up with haven’t been forgotten. I reflect on them often. Over the course of thirty-seven years our family has created many new memories, traditions, recipes and more that will be passed down to our grandchildren. These are years that I will never forget sharing with our children, and now with our grandchildren. Even though time marches on…we can still indulge and enjoy delving into our memories and into own Christmas traditions each year. So, this morning finds me a bit saddened by the sweet memories of the past…but anticipating and excited for the new memories to be made this weekend! I would love to hear from you and hear all about your family traditions. Just a few thoughts from the mountains of Kentucky this blessed Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas from our family to yours! 

 

Feeling Nostalgic

Good morning from the mountains of Kentucky. It’s a cold and clear morning in the heart of the Appalachia Mountains. As I enjoy the warmth of my home, hot coffee, and a sense of satisfaction knowing that my Christmas shopping is finished, presents are wrapped, the turkey and ham are in the fridge, and ingredients for Christmas candy and cookies fill the pantry. However, a little twinge of sadness fills my being this morning as I browse the many cherished ornaments that grace our tree given to us by our children, grandchildren, students, and friends. I find myself missing days gone by. I miss reading the letters to Santa each year that our children would carefully plan, write with excitement, filled with anticipation, and above all their honest and sincerity. I miss baking cookies to leave beside tree, and miss eating them as well. I especially miss the sounds of our children rising before daylight eager to open gifts. There was no other feeling quite like watching the excitement in their faces as they stood before the tree admiring all the presents and a full stocking that had somehow magically appeared during the night. I say that to say this, cherish each day that you are given. As we all know, time is one thing that we cannot get back. However, I was reminded yesterday that we can enjoy and cherish past memories time and time again, and that we can also enjoy making new memories each and every day. Just because we cannot turn back time and relive those wonderful days gone by…we can envelop the present and create a new and lasting memory each and every day.

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A locally owned gift shop filled with wonderful gifts and warm smiles.

I love to reflect on the days of shopping in our small town. The streets were always lit up and busy, the store windows were decorated with beautiful Christmas scenery, and people were bustling about looking for that special gift for that special someone. Smiles adorned the people’s faces as they shopped and greeted each other with Christmas sentiments. It was a more personable time. Neighbors knew each other and above all cared about each other. The fear of a catastrophe happening in a crowded area never entered the minds of the happy shoppers. The true reason and meaning of Christmas was evident in the decor that filled the little shops windows. There was an excitement in the air…not the dread of overspending, finding the best or newest tablet or smart phone for children too young to even own a phone. The competitive spirit that seems to fill far too many today was not evident in this simpler time. A level of mutual respect was obvious between parents and children. Yes, it sounds like a scene from a Christmas movie, but it was actually a selfless place and a time that I grew up enjoying. However, it is also a time that I have sadly witnessed slowly dissipating and evolving into a totally different time.

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The Makery…A locally owned shop filled with handmade gifts, warm smiles, and unique items as well as Christmas cheer.

Have you ever experienced dejavu? It is often defined as an overwhelming sense of familiarity. I think we’ve all had this experience at one time or another and to be quite honest, it’s can be a little creepy when it happens. However, yesterday I found myself enjoying the moments of familiarity and was pleasantly reminded of the wonderful days of shopping in a small town.

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Happily Ever After Boutique…another locally owned shop filled with beautiful gifts, clothes, and friendly faces.

My daughter and I decided to finish the last of our Christmas shopping yesterday. Like most people, we automatically drove to the local department store. The parking lot was crowded, the isles were even more crowded, the merchandise was in a disarray and picked over, people were rushing, complaining, and scampering to finish what appeared to be a dreaded chore. We left the store with a few items and a bit discouraged as we were still in need of a couple of gifts that we couldn’t find in the chaotic and crowded store. We decided to turn our search in the direction of local shops. I must admit that I often forget about these wonderfully local owned shops as they are not in “the shopping” center. It was a wonderful feeling to be met with a warm and sincere greeting from the shop owner in each store. It was nice to be asked if they could help us find what we were in search of. Christmas music filled the buildings as did Christmas decorations that weren’t as elaborate but were more sincere. It was sense of family, friends, neighbors, and a nostalgic feeling. With each purchase I was reminded that we cannot truly turn back time…but we can create new memories that are truly meaningful while also supporting locally owned small businesses. No, it wasn’t exactly like the days gone by, but it was a day of shopping in beautiful small shops that will be a new cherished memory to reflect on in days to come as well as a new Christmas tradition. Just a few nostalgic thoughts from mountains of Kentucky this beautiful December morning.

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The Axis…a locally owned coffee shop is a great place to get a delicious cup coffee and sweet treat or a bite of lunch with friends.

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A locally owned small business filled with wonderful gift ideas.


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A locally owned shop where you are greeted with a warm smile and can receive a great message.