In Awe and On a Mission

20 04 2009

After witnessing the awe-inspiring epic work that is The Princess Shawl, I have decided that I absolutely must make a shawl now. However, I cannot knit yet, and even if I could… this shawl is above and beyond my skill at pretty much anything. The only way I will EVER obtain one is to either win the lottery and shell out the $6,000 Ravelry claim it’s worth or get equally lucky at a garage sale where no one knows what it is.

In the meantime, I’m also eyeballing a beautiful solid white summer dress at Wal-Mart and awaiting for my size to be restocked. I want this dress to have a beautiful shawl to go with it. I don’t know if I want it to be a white shawl or perhaps a super pale blue. (This dress is secretly my dream beach wedding dress, just fyi)

Right now, I have the pattern for the shawl in “Cool Girl’s Guide to Crochet” Adrielle gave me. I’d originally started doing it in my Squoosh sock yarn, but I’m thinking it’s too dark for such a lovely summer dress.  I have a ton of white baby yarn with some pale yellow and a small ball of pale pink… Yet I’m not sure the white would work. I’m not really big on wearing anything yellow unless it’s the trim or something.  I’m really leaning towards pale blue right now… or maybe white with a blue trim.

Aw, heck… I could make a white one and if it doesn’t work with this particular dress, I could wear it with something else (what, I’m not quite sure, but that’s beside the point right now, lol). Or maybe I’ll make a blue one first… after all, Wal-Mart’s got those HUGE skeins of Bernat Baby in pale blue for like $5. ❤

Yay for yarn-like adventures!





Diverse Children of the Mountains

9 04 2009

I was watching the old video of “The View” concerning Diane Sawyer’s “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountain” and I had some thoughts to share.

First of all, for those who stumble upon this blog, I am Appalachian born and proudly raised. I’ve always lived either in Eastern Kentucky or in other Appalachian regions. I’ve lived in a hollow (or a “holler” as they’re called here) and currently live in the head of one. I’ve met men and women in my community of all walks of life, rich and poor alike. I am a college graduate with a BA in English and a minor in Communication.

Now with introductions out of the way, allow me to continue.

Diane does make some valid observations in this video about Appalachia. At this point in my blog,  I have not seen “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains.” I’m merely going by the above linked video. However, in this video, many true things are noted and pointed out. Poverty is a major issue in Appalachia, especially in these hard economic times when so many people are being laid off. Some families, I’m sad to say, must make choices they wouldn’t otherwise need to.

In my own life, I have been poor. I have had to walk where I needed to go because I did not have a car to take me there. I’ve lived in government housing and had assistance from food stamps. I’m no stranger to the health department because of the lack of health insurance. When I see the men and women in this video struggling, I really empathize with their hardships because I have been there in the past.

However, one thing Diane fails to mention is that not every Appalachian is like this. Currently, I live in the head of a holler, yet you will not see a single house like the ones shown in her video. Here the houses look like any house in Suburbia, whether that be in Harlan, Lexington, Atlanta, or Little Rock. The only difference is the fact we have mountains. Granted, the further up the holler you travel, the less fancy the houses get, but you won’t see ramshackle houses like Diane displays.

Many people in Appalachia seem to do just fine despite the economic hardships and lack of jobs. Times are, in fact, quite difficult, yet not everyone lives in a home with 12 people. People walking where they need to go isn’t always a sign of not being able to afford a car as much as it is the lack to income for two vehicles for a large family, especially if those sharing the car have to work at the same time.

Drugs, however, are an unfortunate shame I must admit is a problem in the mountains. I’ve lived in Harlan, Pikeville, and Painstville where all three places are absolutely overran with drugs. Now, this doesn’t mean they’re all bad places to live. I loved living in Pikeville because it was a lovely town with many wonderful people. However, chances are, the cashier at the grocery store is a cocaine addict or a pill popper. Again, this does not mean all of them were… yet nine times out of ten, you would never have the same cashier twice in the same month due to failed drug tests. Wal-Mart was even worse for having to let employees go due to drug usage.

On the other had, while drugs do seem to be a major problem in some areas, not everyone is affected by this problem. By this I mean that not everyone has been propositioned to try drugs, and if they were, not everyone accepts the offer. Proper anti-drug education from an early age can really make the difference in a child’s future. I would like to thank my school’s DARE officer for teaching me that drugs would only ruin my life, not make it better.

As for “toothlessness,” or “Mountain Dew Mouth” as Diane called it… Most of the people I know who lost their teeth to tooth decay lost them due to poor hygiene and not to Mountain Dew. Others lost them because dental insurance is a luxury many of us will probably never know. We will either save up for our dental visits or we go without. I know one poor girl who hasn’t seen a dentist in about 12 years now, not because she’s uneducated about hygiene, but because she can’t afford to go to a dentist for every little ache or cavity. Sadly, this applies to many children as well, and yes, soda in sippy cups or bottles is an embarrassing occurrence happening far more often than I would like to admit.

One thing Whoopi mentioned was welfare for the poor. Clearly, Diane either did not spend enough time with Appalachians or she just didn’t bring it up. Welfare is a very sensitive topic in Appalachia. So many people abuse the system that people who truly need the help look at is as a shameful thing. If you receive anything other than food stamps, you may as well be a single mother of ten kids without a job who sells drugs out her back door. If a respectable person who has never been inside a jail house, never smoked a cigarette (let alone marijuana), and has never consumed a beverage stronger than a Pepsi says he’s on welfare, his reputation no longer matters. He’s one of those people now.

I know a woman who abused the welfare system for years. She was a young, single mother who had two kids. She received food stamps, money for her electric, vouchers for her gas/heating bill all winter, money for her college education, money to drive to school, and money to put her daughter in daycare. She had medical cards for her kids and herself.  She did not work at all, not even work-study. She took all her classes online in the comfort of her living room while her kids were in daycare some 20 minutes away. She spent well over 5 years living like this while attending a 2-year college.

This woman drew more money in welfare than my boyfriend (who works a very nice job) and myself (who was working three part-time jobs at the time) put together.

This is why people are ashamed to be on welfare. People like this woman suck the system dry so they don’t have to work and give government assistance a bad name. Good, respectable people who do need the help do not want to be associated with what is truly the trash that litters our mountains. We are proud people, there is no denying that.

Having viewed the original show–or at least, what I can find of it–I would like to comment on further comments made by Diane.

Both in this video and in her interview on The View, she mentions Appalachians being wary of outsiders. I wonder if she has any idea what it is like to be an Appalachian. She claims to be from Kentucky/West Virginia/Virginia, but was she simply born here and raised elsewhere? To be born and raised here is entirely different from simply being born here.

You may notice that the media does not represent Appalachians or Southerners in general in a good light. We are seen as uneducated, inbred, bigots, unsanitary, and worse. We are called “rednecks” and “hillbillies” in reference to these terms. Cartoons depict us as wearing overals and flannel shirts with big straw hats and no shoes. Many assume we eat possum on a regular basis and are uncultured in the finer things in life such as computers, telivision, and indoor plumbing.

Growing up, I’ve ventured outside the security of the mountains on numerous ocassions, whether it be on mission trips with a church, choir tours, family vacations, or the like. I have encountered countless men, women, and children who genuinely believe that I only wear my shoes to church or when I visit new places outside the mountains. Children younger than me questioned whether or not I could really read. Grown men inquired if my mother was also my aunt or if my father was also my grandfather.

However, the worst of my ridicule came when I moved to Pennsylvania to work at a job in a town that shall remain nameless. My coworkers that took such pride in teamwork between them that made the place so wonderful to work in suddenly turned against me. I was subjected to constant ridicule as my education, my family tree, my cleanliness, and my dietary habits were under constant scrutiny. Even strangers in the store would mock me if they heard my Southern accent.

Four months after leaving the mountains for bigger and better things, I returned home to the safety of the land and culture I knew would accept me without question. Sadly, I am not the first who as ventured out only to return due to social rejection from the outside world. I will certianly not be the last.

That is why we are wary. We know how cruel those outside the mountains can be. We want to know if you will treat us as people or if you will treat us as sideshow freaks from Comedy Central.

The children interviewed(1) are extreme cases found in Appalachia and should not be taken as representations for all children here. The boy named Shawn is a sad example of being the first in his family to graduate high school. However, in my own graduating class in Harlan county some years ago, only two or three graduates at most were the first in their families to graduate high school. Many were second generation graduates.

The poor child Erica is another extreme case. Even growing up in a place like Harlan (often mentioned in the documentary for its drug problems), I never knew a child who had to take care of their own parent. The ones I did know with drug addicted parents did not take care of them. Instead, they became self-sufficient at an early age as many tended to younger siblings.

However, Erica’s mother’s tale is all to familiar. Pills are a problem in Eastern Kentucky, and I’m very sad to say that it is a lot easier than it should be to acquire medication that can be sold. The process is so simple, even a person who has never even seen a Xanax or Lortabs can instruct you on how to acquire them. And unfortunately for you, my readers, no such instructions will ever appear in this blog. I do not condone the illegal use or selling of prescription drugs, nor will I ever assist in the search for easier ways to acquire such drugs.

Operation UNITE(2) has been a godsend to the region. They educate schools, investigate tips, uncover drug dealers, and even provide help for those who wish to recover from substance abuse. They have provided so much for the region, helping law enforcements bring down the blemish on our beautiful culture. If you are able to help UNITE in any way, please do not hesitate to do so. They are a genuinely amazing group making a difference every single day.

The young girl named Angel who lives with 11 other people in her grandparents’  home is another example of extreme poverty in Appalachia. Family ties are very strong in most parts of Appalachia. When a family is in need, they band together and help one another, often long before they will rely on any government assistance. Unfortunately for Angel’s family, they most likely only qualify for around $400 a month in food stamps (this is ONLY a guess, as I do not work for the food stamp office nor do I know this family). This much money might feed a family of 4-6 for an entire month if shopping were done at a discount grocer and meals were carefully planned. A family of 12 would struggle very hard with such a small amount.

Why don’t Angel and her mother or her other relatives find shelter in government housing? It brings me back to my point about Appalachian pride and how welfare people are perceived. Angel’s mother is struggling to escape her past of alcohol and drug abuse.  Perhaps she no longer wishes to be associated with the welfare stereotype, or doesn’t wish to be in government housing where she might be tempted back to her old ways.

However, not all residents of government housing are alcoholics and drug dealers. I have a very dear friend who lived in government housing for a large duration of our friendship. She has never used illegal drugs nor has she consumed alcohol. She is a few weeks shy of her college degree and plans to further her education. Another friend also grew up in “the projects” with her single mother. She, too, grew up and went to college, where she hopes to make a good life for herself someday. Countless other men, women, and children have done the same.

Jeremy’s story, however, is one I know all too well. My mother’s family is a coal family, as is my stepfather’s family. They along with countless aunts, uncles, cousins, and myself have watched the men of the family follow their fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and childhood friends into the underground mines of Appalachia. We have all sat up countless hours, waiting for our third shift loved ones to return to us safely and prayed with our fellow mining family friends for the safety of those trapped inside after a cave-in. Many loved ones have been injured, disabled, maimed, and even killed due to mining accidents. Others lived to see retirement, only to die a slow and painful death at the cruel hand of  black lung.

Yet if our family is so familiar with the dangers of coal mining, why do my kinsmen line up at the mines as soon as they turn 18? For many, it’s the only income they know will be waiting for them right out of high school and keep them close to home so they can support their families. With wages like $20 an hour, it’s hard to imagine going to college for four years and not even know if you’ll get a job when you’re done that will repay your student loans, let alone support your widowed mother and your younger siblings.

As the generations continue, however, many of my family members have gone on to further their education while still returning to  the coal mines. Two of my uncles now work on coal mining equipment rather than mining for coal like their father. One cousin dreams of going to college so he can one day work in a coal lab. Other family members have also branched out into other fields, such as my brother, the future doctor, or my cousin who chose the military life rather than that of a coal miner.

And yet once again, Diane’s picture has been painted to the extreme. While my family is a coal family, very few of my friends have coal mining family members. Many of their parents are teachers, restaurant workers, homemakers, farmers, carpenters, secretaries, nurses, and so many other jobs.

That, my dear readers, is exactly my point. Appalachia is made up of so many different people. Yes, we do have terrible cases of poverty here. Drugs are a problem in many areas. Children are sometimes forced to grow up too quickly. Yet there are more people here than just the coal miner’s daughters, the kids of drug dealers and users, and all these other pictures Diane Sawyer paints for the outside world. There are wonderfully intelligent people here, from Phd. to the herb gathering grandmothers, people who are rolling in wealth to those who barely survive from paycheck to paycheck.

Appalachia has been painted out as nothing less than a third world country for so long, the rest of the nation has no idea what the real Eastern Kentucky is really like.  All regions have their problems, yet Kentucky is regularly exploited as the worst place of all for these issues. It is time for Appalachians to stand up to this long encouraged stereotype and show ourselves for who we really are. We are a strong and proud culture that has survived through times of poverty and times of wealth. We are so much more than the world makes us out to be. Come and see for yourself.

~Janne

Links that were not automatically linked:

1) http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Story?id=6865077&page=2

2) http://www.operationunite.org/