A newcomer from North Carolina who lives on U.S. Route 52 near Johnny Cake doesn’t visit the long-time occupants who reside in his vicinity. One neighbor of the man intensified this dissociation further, saying “He doesn’t want to have anything to do with us.”
Although most acknowledge that some newcomers are nice, only Iris Finch—who married a Pennsylvania back-to-the-lander—stated that once you get to know outsiders, they really are nice. Even so, the consensus in her community is that outsiders are manipulative and unwanted in the region.
Since World War II, mountain people have migrated to urban areas because they needed the work. Migrants often lose contact with their former neighbors and family members and resolve not to teach future generation’s any basic aspects of mountain culture.
Like the former mountain children in The Doll maker who mock a comic strip granny woman on a mule, urban migrants may degrade their former lifestyle. As Paula Whittington says, “Once our people move, they lose their personal connections to the mountains.”
Those left behind are upset, but with daily responsibilities, they eventually forget about it.
Only one Whittington family member, an in-law at that, has lived outside of the mountains, although a few adults have considered the possibility of moving away. Few want to leave “the only place we know.”
The several reasons offered for remaining among the hills and winding thoroughfares revolve around three central themes: preference for rural areas, distaste of non-Appalachian culture, and lack of motivation.
Informants disagree whether or not people changed dress, speech, and behavior once they migrated. Some shrugged, “Not really.”
John Mills of Shady Spring maintained, however, “People change after they leave” and offered some examples, including his eldest daughter who talks with a different parlance after attending one year of college outside the area.
Another fellow who moved to Roanoke recently says he wouldn’t come back because there’s nothing to do; he had grown accustomed to clubs and night life in Virginia.
Leaving the mountains again is out of the question for Juanita Frances Cline. Living in McDowell County constituted the “most miserable days of my life,” she said.
At age sixteen she lives with her married sister, who relocated with a group of mountaineers who once resided in the same southern McDowell County backwoods neighborhood. “The streets were filled with dope pushers and other hateful types,” she said, noting that she is no longer allowed to roam outside the house after dark.
Even so, most Appalachians have not assimilated well intheir travels and new beginnings, although they tried, according to Cline. All their attempts generally were unsuccessful.
During the first few months of Cline’s move, everything seemed OK. At first, she visited her family and friends back home regularly but as they continued to remain in McDowell County, the frequency lessened.
Purchasing items beyond their means and no longer talking about home, the migrants became
“high class and snobby,” according to Willard Hopson of Ghent.
And though his maternal grandmother believes she is more outgoing due to the experience of living for a while in another state, she does not want her own son to leave the mountains.
As for those who wish to leave but have not, their dreams are only a vague idea. One woman’s dream of leaving the area has not materialized. She wants to “see the world,” but which new places she cannot say.
Iris Finch, 36, of Crab Orchard, on the other hand, planned to enlist in the military upon high school graduation “to get away from this place.”
But because her father prevented it, she is resigned to remaining in the county and now contentedly lives on her family’s property. In fact, she practices “Mama’s ways,” such as canning vegetables and home doctoring with herbs and ointments.
Now, a new concern has arisen. As the children have become better educated and acculturated to outside life through television and the internet, they desire employment and an environment different than what is available in their ancestral home.
None of the older teens in the Finch family, Nora, Mark, and Kelli, want to live in Appalachia after graduating from college. All allude to the lack of job opportunities (according to Mark, the only jobs are for preachers, warehouse and garage workers, and farmers) and the narrow-mindedness of residents.
Even twenty-seven-year-old Hank Blevins, who plans to “learn (his son) David to milk cows, run a tractor, ride an unbroken horse, and not be scared of hard work,” is saving money for a college fund because he realizes his three-year-old son’s future lies outside the mountains.
The relevance of the “old timey” ways is lost to ourteenagers, in part due to the lack of direct instruction and total immersion within the culture.
Sixteen-year-old Jenny Mullens said that although people, like her great aunt Mattie, assumes she knows about otherpeople and places. With access to television, radio, and the Internet, they recognize other ways of life and their own does not appear to be as interesting or as glamourous.
Considering themselves to be “alternative,” the teenagers do not feel as if they fit into the culture among the mountains.
Change in lifestyle and the increase of in-migration of outsiders and out-migration of locals alters the community chemistry. The Snyder family represents one segment of Appalachian society which dislikes the shift away from the old values.
While Snyder’s appear stymied as to how to hamper or thwart complete cultural change, some members attempt to perpetuate aspects of their culture by participating in activities passed down by their parents and grandparents.
Unfortunately, unless economic opportunities increase, the youth probably will leave the region during their adult life.
Ironically, economic development may be at the root of the diminished cultural identity and subsequent cultural abandonment.
More research needs to be done on a larger scale to determine this and how best mountain (and other rural) communities may integrate newcomers into their area with the least alteration of mountain values and culture.
Much discussion exists regarding the proper terms to describe those who originated in the Appalachian region. While most scholars commonly refer to inhabitants as “Appalachians” or
“mountaineers” for conciseness, the people themselves appear to prefer “mountain people” or, if in a jocular mood, “hillbillies.”
In fact, one of my informants asked what “Appalachian” meant.
Other regional family members consider mountain people to be persons who live fully independent and self-sufficient lifestyles with few, if any, modern amenities. As Iris Finch stated earlier, “I’m just a person. The real mountain people are gone. They farmed to feed themselves. Now people are weenies.”
Some believe that today’s youth lack identification with their culture is a result of their easy modern way of life. As Johnny Walker says, the “mountain ways have disappeared because the hardships are gone.”
In his essay “The Passing of Provincialism,” one Mountain State author evaluated the Appalachian people’s concentration of four value dimensions—individualism and self-reliance, traditionalism, fatalism, and religious fundamentalism—in order to determine whether Appalachian residents’ values differed from other segments of American society. He maintained that mountain values basically still are consistent with those of mainstream America.
Top o’ the morning!