Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Nuh wah doe he ya duh" (Peace) -Our Native Heritage

When the Europeans arrived in what was later called "the new world"...when the first "white man" pushed across the Appalachian mountains deep in the heart of the what would be the Carolinas, Viriginia, Kentucky, Tennesee--the land was not empty and void. Not only was it teeming with all manners of wildlife, but it was populated with a variety of people and families. The Cherokee, the Blackfoot, the Mingo, Ottawa, Shawnee, Delaware, Senaca, and many others were already here. Even the name "Appalachian" comes from the Appalachee Indians. Their way of life fully entrenched and an operating society of peoples were living and thriving in the land that was to be known as America.

These people warred with each other over territory and hunting rights. They may have worn breechcloths and mocassins but were far from the "uncivilized savages" that history has often portrayed them to be. They spoke complex languages far different from the "How" and "ugh" that Hollywood has stereotyped. They lived, they worked, they loved, and they prayed ...and in a lot of ways were the same as you and I are today. They just did it in a culture unlike anything the European had previously seen. But it was not because they spoke in strange languages, or wore strange clothes, or even because their skin was brown that the European disregarded their first claim to this land. It was not even for the lofty goals of Christianizing or civilizing these people that the Europeans overran their land. It was, in actuality, the age old motivation of greed -- pure and simple.

The native Americans had something that the Europeans wanted--the land and its bounty. And the Europeans used their advanced weaponry to come in and take what they wanted much like a bully on a schoolyard playground. But what devasted the population of Native Americans more than any gun was the diseases brought by Europeans. The germs that the Europeans carried with them across the Atlantic to an unsuspecting population of Native Americans who had never before been exposed to such and therefore had no resistance, were far deadlier than any gun ever used against them.

Diseases such as small pox wiped out entire villages and peoples. Having no immunity to such, the Native Americans were completely vulnerable to these germs. The diseases had been in Europe for centuries and some natural immunities had developed in the European populations. Not so in the unsuspecting, isolated, native populations living in the new world.

What were not devasted by disease, were rounded up and forced to march hundreds of miles to be "relocated" to reservations. One such march has become known as "the trail of tears". But not every Native American went west. Some stayed and have formed tribes such as the Eastern Band of Cherokees located in North Carolina. Others, such as most of our Appalachian ancestors, went far up in the mountains, innermarried with their Scots-Irish and German neighbors and whenever possible, passed for "white" on the census roles.

Most Appalachians who have definite native American blood in their DNA have no official tribe affiliation. We have long ago lost our culture to a way of life that became our new culture -- that of being Appalachian. Most all of us are aware of our ancestory to some degree and know of a long lost ancestor who was "indian". You have but to look at us to confirm it. But we were robbed of the official tribal designation because of circumstance and necessity to blend in and assimilate.

Still, there remains an affinity for the land and for the place that we call "home". It is said that once an Appalachian..always an Appalachian and it will always be where you call "home" no matter how many houses you own or how far you roam. The deep connection with nature and spirit that our native ancestors possessed still resonates within us today in Appalachia.

Sometimes when I am out walking and catch a breeze upon my face or look out over the mountaintops I can feel it. The spirit of my forefathers who were here long before any European stepped foot upon this soil. That spirit is alive and well within the people of Appalachia, and it comes to us in the quietness to sit upon our shoulder and to call to us from a far off distant place that our mind has forgotten but which is familiar to our soul. And suddenly, for just a moment, we can once again feel it--that deep body and soul connection to the land and our people. And our soul sings once again the ancient songs of our forefathers. Listen and see if you can hear it too:

Cherokee Morning Song:

Above graphic copyright of: The World it's Cities and Peoples.

Soaring with the Eagles...Our Scottish Heritage...

So many people from Appalachia share a similar heritage. Both my husband and myself, along with many others from this area are primarily of Scottish, Irish, German and Native American descent. My husband's ancestory includes French and English as well. But looking at him, you can't deny the Scottish/Irish heritage that is there. It is said that three Coleman brothers came into Appalachia orginally and helped settle and progeninate the entire Coleman population here. If that is so, they surely took well the job of extending the Coleman name, because you can't throw a rock around here and not hit a Coleman. Once, while waiting to be seated at a local restaurant, the hostess called three parties of Colemans before it was actually our turn. I think I heard two more being called while we were dining. They seem to be everywhere!
This is an ode to the heart and spirit of our Scots/Irish Ancestors. This is an ode to my husband, a strong man of faith and family who loves adventure just like his ancestors. He plays hard, loves strong, and prays daily. There is no denying the Scottish blood that runs in his veins. This is for him. But it is truly the story of all of us here in Appalachia. If you are Appalachian...this is YOUR story too...

Our Scottish ancestors were what became known as "Ulster Scots"...those who relocated from Scotland to Ulster in Northern Ireland and then intermarried with the Irish and later came to America. We are also referred to as "Scots-Irish".

We came over the Atlantic before the Declaration of Independence was even thought of. We left our homes and our families. Said goodbye to parents we would never see again. Left a land that was all we knew. We were adventurers. We faced the unknown for a dream that we held in our hearts. For us, the end of the rainbow was always just over the next hill. We were instrumental in carving a new nation out of the rock and unforgiving landscapes we found.

We landed on the shores of North Carolina and spread out across the land and spilled over the mountains of Virginia into the Shenandoah Valley and pushed on westward into the Appalachian mountains of what would become West Virginia and Kentucky. I imagine that seeing the Appalachian mountains for the first time may have faintly reminded us of our highland homes across the sea. We married native indian daughters and together, our families helped build the roads, the towns the forts, and the railroads that would forge a new nation. We are your presidents, your statesmen, your war heros, your wagon builders, your blacksmiths, your teachers, ...your friends. We are Scotsmen.

To begin to understand the trek of the Scotsman from his homeland in Ulster, Ireland to
what would become America, please take about ten minutes to enjoy this video on Ulster Scotts, set to music. You won't regret it, I promise.

To view the link: Click on the link to open. Or, open a new browser window and Cut and paste into your browser:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The way I see it...


Part of understanding others
is having an appreciation
of their particular way of life and surroundings. This is a view from my window where I live and love and raise my family in the Appalachian mountains of Eastern Kentucky. It's very different from the surburban view from my sister's home or her urban cityscape from her office. I know, because I lived for six years in the million plus populated city where she lives and raises her family. And neither place is better than the other. Both have their pros and cons. They are simply different.

Some people may not think this view pretty. I think it is beautiful. Serene and quiet, it is where I watch the squirrels play and the occasional deer visit from my office window. I remember so many years spent in an office in which I was so busy trying to advance corporate America that I hardly had time to notice if the sun was even shining. Having the opportunity to write from my home office and look out over our backyard property and watch the leaves as they change color and fall to the ground is a welcome respite indeed.

And should I feel the need for more excitement, I can get in our pickup truck and head up to Walmart where there's always something going on. (smile). There's some fifty thousand people in this town and my husband and I think all of them go to Walmart on Friday evenings. On my way home, I can stop by Applebees and pick up a couple chicken pecan salads for our dinner if my husband's not in the mood to cook. (He's the chef extrordinare' in our house). We can sit out on our deck overlooking the water and talk about the day while I sip my Diet Coke with a lemon wedge. Later, he can unwind from a long day of meetings and seeing patients with some silly movie on our big screen tv. I walk our white pekingese and light the candles in our family room fireplace. I work out the college visitation schedule with our youngest son while he calls to check on our other three and our grandchildren.

Any evening in which we can find the time, we will jump in the Dodge 4WD truck and head out for a country drive. We don't have to go's all country around here. Sometimes we drive to the Breaks Interstate Park in Virginia. Sometimes we just tour the beautiful mountains and hills right here in Pike County. We always take our camera. We both love pictures and my husband is an excellent photographer. Our walls at home are lined with his work. If I can talk him into it, we stop for ice cream on the way home from our drives.

Our autumn weekends are often spent traveling to our grandson's latest cross country meets. Lean and handsome, our thirteen year old grandson is following in his father's footsteps and is quite the athlete and runner. Winter weekends find us on a bleacher at some middle school basketball game watching our beautiful twelve year old Anna cheering for her team. Our youngest granddaughter, Sophie, has just announced she will be joining a dance team and needs ballet shoes. She's four and the light of our lives.

Spring finds us overwhelmed with a packed baseball schedule that our youngest son handles with relative ease. He's a senior in high school and a six-foot five inch varsity baseball pitcher for the Bulldogs. Thirty-two games later we are all tired, sunburned, and ready for a vacation...but happy to see how well he is doing.

My husband works two jobs ... one with the school system working with children who have language difficulties and one in the evenings with stroke victims and such who have speech impairments. Right now, my job is to take care of him when he finally gets home, and to be mama to our boys. It's a position I love, and one that leaves me time to visit my 84 year young mom who lives an hour away. I'll drive down for a couple of days and the two of us go out for lunch to her favorite little restaurant (The Front Porch)...where we'll share soup and a sandwich and the latest news and a bunch of smiles and silly jokes and memories. I cannot tell you how precious this time is for me. While I'm down there, I try to squeeze in a breakfast or lunch with my good friend, Marla. We'll meet over coffee (she drinks hers hot, I drink mine cold) and discuss the kids and the state of education and the fact that our husbands work too hard. (Her husband is an anesthesiologist).

So while my life here in Appalachia is nothing like yours in the big is a good life. A rich and full life, peppered with the things I love. And it is this life that colors the way I think and the way that I believe. Will I ever go back to the city? Possibly. My husband and I love the city..the lights, the bustle, the activities. We take off to the city several times a year and just enjoy the cultural offerings and activity and dining. We may even move to the city when he retires. But for now, Appalachia is where we were born, it's where we live, and where we'll stay. Blessings to you.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ode to the Appalachian Coal Miner...

There are so many talented people here in Appalachia. For every person you have heard of from this neck of the woods who can play and sing, there are many more playing in small venues, who's names are known by few but who are every bit as talented as the biggest star who ever graced the stage. One might say that there is as much unmined talent in these parts as there is unmined coal. One such talent that I stumbled upon quite by accident while researching music and/or videos to share with you regarding the people of Appalachia is one Alan Johnston or "cathead 77" as he calls himself on the YouTube videos that he posts. If you have never heard Mr. Johnston, or his daughters Stacy Grubb or Jessi owe it to yourself to find one of their CDs. Cathead is a rare and wonderful talent with a Waylon Jennings like voice. Raw and natural. Truly. As real as it gets -and in every way Appalachian. It is his rendition of Sweet Appalachia (and that of his band, "South 52) that I chose to represent the spirit of my entire blog.

The link for the song "Sweet Appalachia", performed by Mr. Johnston, is posted above--directly under the cover picture. To hear this anthem for what it is to be Appalachian, just click on the words "Sweet Appalachia". I believe that this song was also recorded by the great bluegrass legend, Del McCoury as well, but quite honestly, for this particular song, I prefer the raw and unembellished voice of "Cathead" to that of Del. Maybe it's because I know Mr. Johnston is living the life he's singing about. He is a resident of West Virginia and has been most of his life, so far as I know.

I do not know Mr. Johnston's heritage but, judging strictly from his soulful, beautiful voice, and his remarkable ability to put feelings into words through the songs that he writes, I would venture to guess that he is of the Scotch-Irish desent like so many in Appalachia are. Mr. Johnston, if I am wrong, my humble apologies to you sir. But your music so touched a chord within me that I wanted to share it and give you your proper due here in this, my own humble forum.

The fact is, like so many talented Appalachians, Mr. Johnston has many songs, most of which you probably have never heard before. Many tell a story of an actual event that happened in Appalachia or speak to ongoing events that affect this region. All resonate with his deep and abiding faith. I chose one here for this purpose to share with you because it is a tribute to the Appalachian coal miner, a profession shared by so many here in Eastern Kentucky and all through Appalachia. The song is entitled "Sky of Stone" and the accompanying pictures that Mr. Johnston uses with his song are from a world that was exactly like that of my daddy's coal mining days. My daddy's work was before the big machines and the mountain top removal methods used today. Daddy and his fellow mine brothers worked with pic axe and shovel, often on their hands and knees for eight hour shifts, forcing the earth to give up her bounty. For this they received what, for the time, might have been an honest days wage, but also an old man's lungs by the time they were thirty.
Just as today, the coal companies back then got rich off the backs of these Appalachian men.--while Appalachian families struggled to make ends meet. I'm not anti-coal production by any means, but it has always been the case that the coal companies made the money while the people and the land of Appalachia were used so long as they had something to give and then left behind when they had "give out".

This song, so beautifully and hauntingly sung (and written) by Mr. Johnston, along with his video, tells the story of yesterday's Appalachian coal miner. It is the lives of our fathers, and grandfathers in pictures set to music. It is their story, and it deserves to be told and no one tells it better than cathead in this song. No words that I could write would give you a deeper understanding of the conditions in which these men lived and died. Enjoy-- and if it moves you as it does me...perhaps you could drop Cathead a note and tell him you enjoyed his music. Oh, and his lovely, and oh so talented daughter, Stacy, is the voice you hear singing backup on this.

Daddy, I know that no one loved or missed coal mining any more than you did and if God allows, I know you're listening tonight in heaven as Cathead sings this tribute song to you and your many fellow miners and their families of Appalachia.

Joe France, Jr.-- 1921-1995 --beloved husband, father, grandfather, and Appalachian miner, I dedicate this song to you.
--To hear Cathead's song "Sky of Stone" , click on this link:
Note: Photograph above is called: "Coal Miner Teach Slone" I do not own the rights to this photograph. It is part of the Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond Virginia and can be viewed at the Library of Virginia website. All rights and priviledges for this photograph belong to them.

A Beautiful Soul

The year was 1926. To the world, she was just one more child born in the heart of the poorest of Appalachia. So what, you may ask, was special about the third of eleven children born to a mountain family who could barely feed them? This child just happened to be my mother. And like the beautiful stone for which she is named, my mom, Opal Virginia Lee France, has proven to be stronger than the circumstances from which she came, with a fire and beauty that is unique to her.

From the time that she was a small child, all she wanted to do was attend school. When she was three years old, she "slipped off" from her grandfather, Hiram Martin, to follow her two older sisters across a mountain to the school. Grandpa Hiram or "Harm" as he was called, brought her back and told her she would have to wait for her turn to go to school, but her love of learning had already been ignited. Sadly, however, education was not easy to come by in the mountains and time in which she grew up. Even when it was finally "her turn" she was only allowed to go to the eighth grade before she was required to stay home and care for her younger siblings (who later themselves went on to high school and some to college). But the dream of an education would not die and years later she returned to the mountain "David" school to finish her high school education and to watch her children go on to college and lucrative careers. By example, she taught that education was the one thing people can not take from you. And because education was so prized by our mother and father, we children came to know and understand its value.

But even when she was going to school, things were not easy. She only had two dresses. One to wear, while the other was being washed. She also had very little food to take in her "dinner bucket". At recess and lunch she would stand and watch the other little girls eat their fried apple pies with the delicate crispy curst and sweetened apple filling. Once, she even ventured to ask them for a bite, only to be turned down and laughed at. Most days, her bucket held only cornbread and beans and that was only when her mother had enough to spare for lunch.

As a young woman, she desparately wanted to join the women's Air Corp but her father strictly forbid it, and so she had to content herself with watching after her older sister's children. It was while she was at her sister's house that she met a hard-working, self-made, handsome, dark-skinned man of the community and married him after three months of "courtship". She was 23 years old and 87 pounds of pure determination and spunk, tempered by sweetness of spirit.

Two children later, her husband, a hard-working Applachian coal miner, became disabled through no fault of his own and would never be able to work again. She would go on to be the strong woman that she is and for the next forty years, she cared for him and their four chidlren until the day he died. She lead by example in her quiet, dignified way. She was stubborn but she had to be. She was steadfast and resolved. Yet, the unjust situation to which she had been born and the unfortunate circumstances in which life had placed her and her family never touched her heart nor made her the least bit bitter. Her countenance remained as sweet and as beautiful as the flowers that still grow on the mountainsides of her childhood home.

Now, 84 years young, Opal Virginia Lee France has raised four children, each a success in their own right, loved one man for 45 years 'til the day he died and has went on loving him since. She remains true to her God and her community and still works a four-day week at the local community center.

Gone is the smooth skin that once housed her smile. Faded is the rich chestnut hair that once framed the face of a hopeful young girl. But replacing that superficial and fleeting beauty is a beauty of another kind...a lasting beauty with the hallmarks of a heart having been through the fire of life and having remained ever young. To my mother on this mother's day...May I be half the woman that you are. How very blessed all have been who have known you. All my love, your daughter-- Geneva. P.S. I think I know where we can get some homemade fried apple pies and coffee...and this can have all you want. I love you, Mom. Thank you for your influence in making me the woman I am today.

Opal Virginia Lee France at 85 years young in 2011.

Note: Photograph above is copyright GenColeman2010 and may not be used without permission.

See With Your Heart

May, 2010

Dear Daddy,

The flowers are blooming again this year. I know how you love them so. Thank you for always taking the time to stop and admire them and for teaching me to do the same. I can still see your weathered, calloused, hands, slightly shaking, as they reached out to carefully cup the soft petals of a rose in bloom. I can still see the smile on your face as you bent your leather-brown cheek down to drink in the softness and fragrance. They were the tough, work-worn and weary hands of an Applachian coal miner, and yet still sensitive, patient, and wise enough to teach me to truly see the beauty that nature had to offer. Was it your Native American ancestry that made you so able to appreciate the earth an all its wonders or was it your strong Christian faith that made you realize that God is at work in everthing around us?

That first year after you left us was so very difficult, Daddy. I didn't want to see the flowers bloom. I didn't think it was fair that the world could go on without your being here. But it did go on. The blooms exploded with color that year and I was angry. They were here but you were not. I was so sad, Daddy. I couldn't sleep. Every song that I heard made me cry. I thought I would never smile again. But the flowers...they kept coming. Year after year. Right on time they would show up, bloom upon bloom. Gradually, I once more welcomed their coming. Gradually, I allowed God to show me that life, like our flowers, is supposed to go on. Gradually.,the flowers began to remind me of your life -- and not of my loss. Eventually I found myself thinking of every new bloom as a smile from you because I could remember how happy you always were to see them.

The flowers are blooming again, Daddy. The world is once again renewing itself. God's handiwork is painting our Applachian hillsides with brushstrokes only He could make. The pink azaleas, the purple rhododendrons, the round fluffy dahliahs, the delicate petals of the wild rose, the tall proud irises -- they're all here again. Life renewed. Straining toward the sun and heaven, they testify to our Creator with their quiet, colorful wisdom. And in doing so, they remind me of a lesson taught by you through the way you lived -- that our God will not forsake us and will always be there to take care of us. Now, each time I see a bright, radiant bloom, I feel your smile upon me. And each time the breeze rustles the stems in the wind, I hear you whisper to me. I'm so glad that I learned to smile again. And, I'm smiling today because the flowers are blooming again, Daddy -- and once more, you are right here with me.

Love, Sissy.


Matthew 6:28-29 "And why take you thought for raiment. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, how they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet i say unto you, not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these."
Note: Photograph above is copyright gencoleman2010; sketch above was done by Geneva Coleman and is copyright gencoleman2010. Neither may be used without permission.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Appalachians -- who we are...and more importantly...who we are not.

Appalachia. When I was a little girl growing up in Eastern Kentucky, I had no idea that I lived in what most regarded as a culture unto itself. I had no idea that books had been written and continued to be written about what others called "our way of life." I just assumed that my way of life was THE way of life. I did not know I was isolated or backward or ignorant. We listened to the same top 40 pop music hits along with the rest of the country. We tried to emulate the same styles we saw in the fashion magazines. We watched the same television programs as did the rest of the world, albeit some of us on black and white sets with tv antennas that had aluminum foil wrapped around them. In truth, I never understood that I was, in any way, different from the rest of America until I grew up and the world told me so.

I could never even hear the "accent" that some find so fascinating and others find so repulsive. Even the people on television (with the possible exceptions of "Laverne and Shirley" and "Archie and Edith Bunker")...did not sound "different" to my ears than the way that I spoke myself. Oh, I knew that my parents used words that the television did not. Words like "reckon" and "d'rectly". I also knew that they used phrases that I had never heard used anywhere else. Phrases such as my daddy telling a neighbor that he had a "cow coming fresh" meaning that she was about to give birth. But I still never thought of myself as different. My sister and I lined our walls with the pictures of Tigerbeat magazine just like every other teen and we listened to 45 rpms of Donnie Osmond singing "Puppy Love". We begged for bell-bottoms and platform shoes for our back-to-school outfits just like the rest of our generation.

So imagine my surprise to grow up and learn that I am from a strange and somewhat backward civilization that the rest of the world seems to think needs saving from itself. Now that I have been "enlightened" as to how we all are in these parts, I sometimes smile at the "do gooders" who pour in ever so often to try to "save" us. If they truly understood the Appalachian, they would realize just how futile their efforts usually are.

First of all, one must consider who the modern Appalachian is. And more importantly who they are not. We are not so similiar that we can be stereotyped easily. Oh, I know, you think you know us because of President Kennedy's "war on poverty" images. And you think you know us from having seen Diane Sawyer's recent documentary. Well if that is all you know of Appalachia, your education is sadly lacking. And just because you are familiar with country music stars who talk with funny twangs such as Billy Ray Cyrus or Naomi Judd? You don't know us. Not really.

The most important thing that I can tell you about the people of Appalachia is that they are as diverse in character, spirit, actions and beliefs as they are in looks. And Appalachians are truly a melting pot of different looks. Consider my family for instance. My sister carries the beautiful blue eyes, fair skin and fair hair of our German ancestry as do some of the fifty-one first cousins on my mother's side. My brother and I, however, inherited the darker skin, hair and eyes that marked my father's Native American ancestry. This area is teeming with those on the dark side of the spectrum like myself and those on the fair side like my sister. And then, in between, there are the fair skinned, auburn haired beauties who echo the rich Scotch-Irish heritage that runs deep here as well. Like most here, I am a product of all those ancestries. It just happened that my particular look runs more toward my dad's side while my sister looks more like our mother's people.

And yes, most of us here share the same ethnic melting pot background. However, contrary to what you may have heard, we do not all marry our cousins...although that claim is not entirely off the mark. My husband says that if your family has been in Eastern Kentucky for more than a century then you are most likely related in some way to everyone. Both my family and his were here well before the ink was even made with which Thomas Jefferson began drafting the Declaration of Independence. And yes, his last name is Coleman. And yes, my grandmother's maiden name was Coleman. And my grandfather's grandmother was also a Coleman. Are we related? Possibly some place a long, long way back but not enough to count. But before you begin to wrinkle your nose in disdain, consider this... if your ancestry includes any blue-bloods from European royalty; or any debutantes from the old South, chances are you may have a few crossed cousins thrice removed as well. Marrying distant relations is not relegated to was a common practice to keep wealth in the family in the houses of royalty for centuries. And if you are a Christian believer then you know that the Bible tells us that we are all descended from Noah and his family after the put your disdain back in its box.

If you have ever visited Appalachia and had the time and nerve to venture off the recent pretty, smooth, four-lane highways and out into the byways where the heart of Appalachia truly is then you know that Appalachia is not an easy place to navigate. And it was even more difficult a few hundred years ago when my ancestors first arrived via the Atlantic and crossed from North Carolina into Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley and later pushed on into the mountains and hills of what was to become West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. And of course, many of my ancestors and those of most Appalachian people were already here -- the Native Americans who called these mountains home and hunting grounds before any European set eyes upon them. There were no hiking trails then. There were no roads through the thick forest and brush. There were no man made paths for ATVs or logging roads. There was just nature and plenty of it. Some of our ancestors arrived about the time Daniel Boone was still cutting his trail. So suffice it to say ...the going was rough. So yes, we are isolated. We always have been. The land is savagely beautiful but it can be unforgiving as well. Although we are blessed with much rich, fertile, bottom land, a greater portion of our land is mountainous and hillside and not given to easy farming.

Daylight comes late and leaves early due to the towering fortress of hills that surround us on every side. On the positive side however, if you grow up here, you almost don't realize it but the hills form sort of a feeling of "protection" around you. I still remember the first time that I traveled outside the hills here. We went to Ohio and we traveled at night such that I could not get a full grasp on the changing landscape. In the morning when I awoke and walked outside the house I was startled by the sheer vastness and feeling of vulnerability of being on "flat land" for the first time. I remember looking all around me and marveling at the distance that I could see in every direction. But this ability to see to the horizon for the first time only served to make me feel small and insignificant. I remember distinctly thinking that it made me feel somehow as vulnerable as if I had been standing there naked in front of the world.

Along with the diverse look of the people comes a melting pot of DNA and ancestry that gives birth to some interesting personalities. One such interesting thing you will find in Appalachia that I am not sure is as prevelant in other pockets of the country is the uncanny instinct of the people. Whether it comes from the "fey' of the Irish, or the intuitive mind/body connection of the native Americans, I do not know. But the fact is there are many people here who have a certain "knowing" instinct about them. I am not one for flights of fancy but I have witnessed this first hand and know it to be real and true. If you are a Christian you might prefer to say that many Appalachian people have the gift of the spirit called "discernment". Whatever you call it, it remains that many people I know here are often times able to foretell events through dreams or visions or just instinct. This is not a crystal ball, psychic hotline type of thing. And this is not an occult thing. There is a strong faith/spirit connection that goes with this. The understanding of just how this works is as mysterious as the mountains look when they rise up out of the morning fog. I don't know what it is. I just know that it is there.

For all our shared ancestory and surnames, Appalachian people are individuals. This may be the single most important thing you need to learn about this area and the people who call it home. We are not ones to follow a crowd. We don't care how you do things. We don't care how it's done somewhere else. We will smile and be polite and thank you for your kindess and then when you have bid us good day we will go right back to doing things the way we have always done them -- our way. That rugged individualism is no surprise and it follows naturally that the people who settled this rugged terrain and managed to make it a home in the most isolated conditions one can imagine would be the kind of people who would not take kindly to others telling them how to do things. Even if it is for their own good. Especially if it is for their own good. And one must remember how many people have come and gone in an effort to change us...and yet the Appalachian life marches on, basically unabated.

Another important thought along the same lines is to never, ever, confuse us with the funny paper stereotypes. We are not what Hollywood portrays us to be. Oh yes, you can find cardboard cutouts of those cartoon figures if you look. And yes, there are those here who make the rest of us native Appalachians cringe to see how closely they resemble what the world thinks of us. But the Appalachia that I know..the one in which I grew up is as much a mixing bowl of smart, funny, enormously talented, stubborn, cantankours, generous, spiritual, loving people as you will ever meet. All of whom just happen to drawl their speech in the similiar slow manner in which I do. It has always been my thought that to speak with an "Appalachian" accent, one must be smiling. You can't be frowning and flatten out those sounds like that.
Now that I'm an adult, I realize that I did grow up in a place that was, in my ways, unique. I realize that in some ways we were "different". In some ways we were "untouched" by much of the outside world. But "progress" has a price and the uniqueness and untouched quality of Appalachia is disappearing Our kids all have i-phones and facebook accounts just like everyone else. The internet and new public school curriculums and cable reality shows bring the outside right in to our doorstep and influence and shape our perceptions of life and ourselves. No longer are we an isolated people. It's as if a hundred years passed us by with little change and then a few decades ago, this region was "rediscovered" and with the advent of technology our world exploded with change and Appalachia and the outside world, for the most part, have now merged. It is at least correct to say that the lines between the two are are blurring with every generation.
It would be nostalgic and poetic to say that the unique Appalachian way of life will continue forever but the truth is -- the Appalachian way of life now looks very much like middle America's way of life. We care about and complain about the same things you do... God, our children, taxes and politics. We struggle with the same problems that plaque your cities. Drugs, unemployment, etc. Yet there remains a bit of the mysterious and old in the culture and people here. A faint refrain from years gone by still echoes in these majestic hills. God Bless you as you come back to discover the real Appalachia of today.
Note: Photograph above was taken at the airport overlook in Pikeville, Kentucky, Pike County, Kentucky, October, 2010 and is the sole property of and copyright by paulmichaelcoleman2010 and may not be used without permission. Photographer: Paul Michael Coleman