• Shae Bryant

Why Write About Appalachia?

When someone mentions West Virginia, most folks think of banjoes playing in a holler nestled deep in the Appalachian mountains. Or, they think of moonshiners, bootleggers, slack-jawed hillbillies, log cabins, and old grain siloes sticking up out of a field. Not many folks think about a rich history when they think of West Virginia. The history is there, and much of it comes from first-hand accounts.

Go to any small town in West Virginia, and you will find people who have lived there for generations. They will happily stand on a sidewalk or sit on their porch while they tell you the stories of their Grandparents or Great-Grandparents. While they talk, they will point to an empty field, and paint an animated picture of the cabin that once stood there.

I may have been born and raised in Florida, but I am related to those people. I have spent many hours listening to those stories, looking at their pictures, and taking in the paintings they created with words. Some of the stories seemed like a bunch of tall tales. Many of them weren't.

Some stories came straight from the mouths of family members. Great Aunt/Great Grandma so-and-so was rumored to be "full blooded Cherokee." Of course, that story was proven to be a load of bull shit. Many families in that area claim Native heritage, and it's almost always some ridiculous story that never amounts to anything.

Other stories turned out to be true. Great Grandma "always said we're related to the Hatfields." Genealogy research did prove that my Great Grandfather was indeed a cousin to the infamous Hatfields. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised considering my family is also from Logan, West Virginia. (Before you ask, no, I do not know a single Hatfield. It was my Great Grandfather who had a blood relation. My generation would be something like a 5th cousin twice removed. That doesn't exactly warrant an invitation to a family reunion.)

The story of a Great-Great Grandparent being a moonshiner was proven when I saw the photo of him grinning from ear to ear next to a moonshine still with a glass jug in his hand. The tale of a biological kept secret seemed stranger than fiction. Once I saw the tin photo for myself and started to look through public records, his life unfolded in front of me.

There is a history in Appalachia that's close to my heart. It isn't full of grand stories with romance, intrigue and mystery. It is stories passed down for generations. Stories of hardships, survival and beating the odds in a wild land shaped by those same people. Few people talk about Appalachia in that light.

Not many can say, "I came from a long line of coal miners, farmers, moonshiners, and bootleggers." I can. I want to tell their stories. That's why I write about folks from deep Appalachia. Photo credit: Mobilus In Mobili via Flickr