Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- DIVAN

My aunts and my mom

 Whether you call it a DIVAN (pronounced DYE-VAN, with a flat “i” sound, couch, sofa, or even davenport, this week’s word is the center of an Appalachian family.

It’s where people meet, eat, talk, watch TV, nap, or fight.

Also, when you grow up and leave your mountain home, it’s where you sleep when you come back for a visit. That could be a contributing factor why your visits are short and far between.

After years of service to the family and friends as the main piece of furniture in the living room, the divan then often gets relegated to the front porch for its second life.

Granny's siblings
As the divan ages, it often gets covered with a quilt or a crocheted afghan whipped up by Mama or Granny. It may or may not contain the same colors as the original fabric on the DIVAN. At least it covers up the now threadbare spots and stains of spilled food and coal dust that have made the original fabric unsightly.

No matter how old, uncomfortable, or downright ugly your DIVAN became, it meant home to your family. It’s where you learned to walk by holding on. It’s also where you first went sparkin’ when you were a teen. You also held your first baby on that DIVAN.

Mom and my niece at Easter
At my age, I tend to sink into the DIVAN and need a bit of assistance getting pulled out of the drooping cushions.

What did your family call the DIVAN? Do you have any special – or hilarious – memories of yours?

Here are some more photos of DIVANs through my family's history.

Mom and nephew ready for Halloween

My first birthday

My uncle's wife on their fancy DIVAN

Mom, not looking thrilled to have her photo taken

Me, being comforted by a friend's friends

An old family photo

Son taking a nap

Some things never change

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- WHATTY-NOTTIES

Whether you call them WHATTY-NOTTIES or whatnots, trinkets, collectibles or even chachkies, every Appalachian home seems to have a generous supply.

A WHATTY-NOTTY is any item you stick on a shelf, in a cabinet, in the corner, on a table, or anywhere else you can find a spot large enough to stuff it and it has no purpose than to sit there and collect dust.

I will never forget my mother getting out on Friday and Saturday mornings to scrounge up and down the hollers to find yard sales so she could acquire more of her precious WHATTY-NOTTIES. No stop was complete unless she found a new treasure. The good news is that they rarely cost more than 25 cents. Although, I did see her spending much more for a particularly fabulous find. Fabulous in her eyes, that is.

One of the benefits of always having a huge supply of WHATTY-NOTTIES is that you have available pickings for a quick gift for a friend or relative.

Whenever we visited Great Aunt Mamie in Lafollette, Tennessee, Mom had to work her way through the house searching for just the right WHATTY-NOTTY to take to her as a gift. From the looks of Aunt Mamie’s house, she had a lot of visitors.

In Mom’s latter years, she attempted to filter out some of the less loved WHATTY-NOTTIES from her minuscule apartment. Problem is, just as she gifted twenty or thirty WHATTY-NOTTIES to friends, or took them to the senior center to be used as Bingo prizes, she would have the opportunity to visit a yard sale or flea market and the shelves would bulge again.

I don’t know if it’s a regional thing that Appalachian women must fill their homes with items most people consider ugly, senseless, and worthless or if it’s a result of being in an economically depressed area. Of course, it could be because women need “things” to feel worthwhile.

Whatever the reason, WHATTY-NOTTIES are here to stay.

Including the WHATTY-NOTTIES we think will increase in value some day...

Why, even some of our favorite restaurants decorate every available spot with WHATTY-NOTTIES, too.

Cracker Barrel

The Bubble Room on Sanibel Island

The Bubble Room on Sanibel Island

I hate to admit it, but I have a “few” WHATTY-NOTTIES in my house as well. However, I have a rule. It only stays if I can sell it to buy food or if I love it so much it makes me smile when I look at it.

So, how many WHATTY-NOTTIES have taken over your house? What’s your favorite? And which one is so ugly you don’t know why you haven’t thrown it away. I would love to see your photos!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- CRAWDAD HOLE

This week's word is CRAWDAD HOLE. If you grew up in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky, you probably know what a crawdad is. You also know about crawdad holes.

Photo courtesy of my friend, Corinne Milwee Farley


Crawdad Hole

CRAWDAD HOLES can be dangerous as you walk around. At least they are surrounded by mounds of mud balls to warn you. But, they certainly make the yard look unsightly. That's why my dad was constantly warring with the CRAWDADS.

He poured carbide into the holes and added hot water. It worked for a while. As the carbide started bubbling, the CRAWDAD would fly out of the hole to escape. However, Dad was waiting for them with his hoe. That CRAWDAD was no longer a problem.

I wrote a story about a CRAWDAD HOLE incident when I was a kid. I'll share it with you now.


            I closed my eyes and screamed until my four-year-old voice bounced off the mountains. In mere seconds, my mom, still in her robe and with pin curls crowning her head, and my dad, his face partially covered in fluffy mounds of shaving cream and with a razor in his hand flung open the screen door and ran across the porch. My mom twirled me around. I suppose she expected to find blood spilling onto the steps. Finding none, they shouted in unison, “What’s wrong?”

            “A snake!” I pointed at the concrete step just below where I stood and squeezed my eyes shut, perhaps thinking it couldn’t see me if I couldn’t see it.

These are the steps where I saw the snake

            Heaving a sigh and shaking his head, Dad said, “There’s no snake there.”

            Opening one eye, I gasped in disbelief. There was no snake. I looked at each of the eight steps and then into the yard beyond and could see no snake. “It was there. I saw it. It was all curled up in a pile.

            Mom said, “Ehhhh, It was probably a worm,” and turned to go back inside the house.

            “No, it wasn’t a worm. It was sticking its tongue out at me. Worms don’t have tongues.” I placed one hand on my hip and tilted my chin in the air, sure of my superior knowledge.
            “Ehhhhh, if there was one, it’s gone now.” Shaving cream dripped off Dad’s chin and plopped on the floorboards.

            “What if it bites me?”

            Dad sighed and walked down the steps, dressed in his shorts, wife-beater t-shirt, and bare flat feet to check it out. He knew I would never step into the yard if there was a possibility of a snake lying in wait. I stood on the steps and watched as he looked behind the concrete stoop and then peered into the crawdad holes that flanked the homemade flagstone walkway. Crawdads were a constant nuisance in our yard. Heaping piles of mud balls surrounded each hole that made them unsightly as well as a danger for anyone walking across the yard. The prescribed remedy was to drop some carbide rocks into each hole and follow that with boiling water. When it started bubbling up, the crawdad would either come out of the hole or die inside.

            “Well, Gert, just to make sure, why don’t you go put a pot of water on to boil and we’ll pour some down these crawdad holes. It coulda gone down one of them. What’d that snake look like, Karen?”

            “It was big and black and yellow stripied and was all curled up and sticking its pink tongue out at me.”

            “Sounds like a garter snake.”

            I stood on the porch and kept my eyes peeled for the snake as Dad went inside to finish shaving his face and Mom boiled some water. I didn’t want it coming after me, but I sure wanted to prove to Mom and Dad that I really saw a snake. It didn’t matter what kind of snake—it was a snake.

            Mom finally pushed open the screen door with her rump and maneuvered the oversized pot she used for canning, steaming with hot water, across the porch and down the steps.

            “Get out of the way, Karen. Don’t trip me with this water.” My petite mother grunted as she poured a little water into each hole. She stood back and looked at each one to see if a snake came out. Nothing happened. She was about to give up when my dad came back outside and suggested she pour the rest of it into the biggest hole right next to the bottom step. She leaned her five-foot-tall body nearly down to the hole and poured.

She was right about in the same spot when she poured the hot water into the CRAWDAD HOLE

            Just as the final dregs flowed into the hole, and her face was about twelve inches from it, the snake flew straight up out of the hole and into her face. She screamed as she jumped backward and flung the pot across the yard. Actually, we all screamed. I’m not quite sure what happened after that. There was a lot of screaming and confusion as that big pot continued to bounce across the yard and mom jumped up and down flailing. Dad grabbed the hoe leaning up against the porch and ran after the snake, chopping it into tiny pieces. I guess he wanted to make sure that little worm was dead.

Did you grow up with CRAWDAD HOLES in your yard? Ever find any snakes inside?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week – SLOP JAR

Last week I shared my experiences with the OUTHOUSE in my childhood home of Harlan County, Kentucky. This week I’ll share my acquaintance with the SLOP JAR.

During my visits to relatives’ homes where indoor plumbing had not been introduced yet, the only choices for relieving yourself were visiting the outhouse or the SLOP JAR. The SLOP JAR was preferred by young children and the infirmed. Of course, adults sometimes preferred the SLOP JAR on severe weather days or at night. Outhouses were not a pleasant place to visit in the dark. Actually, they weren’t pleasant to visit on a lovely, sunny day either.

My grandmothers provided a white granite enamelware stock pot for their SLOP JAR.

Some fancier households provided a more decorative CHAMBER POT for their household. No matter what they called it or how pretty it looked, it smelled the same.

Whichever type of SLOP JAR your hostess offered, it was not a fun experience.

I will never forget the cold winter nights when I stayed at my Granny’s house. Since she only had a fire going in the pot-bellied stove in the front room, the heat didn’t make it back to the bedrooms. I climbed into the cold bed and Granny piled quilt after quilt on top of me to keep me warm.

Those quilts were so heavy I couldn’t move at all. In the middle of the night, when nature called, I had to get desperate before I would attempt to slide out from under those quilts and run to the SLOP JAR.

Man, oh man, those ceramic metal pots were COLD! I hurried as fast as possible and then started the process of trying to slide myself back under those quilts. At least I worked up a sweat in the process.

These days, as an old woman with mobility issues, I would never be able to adequately utilize the SLOP JAR. Even if I got down to it, I would never get up again. Today, I would have to have a SLOP JAR CHAIR.

Funny, but it sort of resembles the chair I had parked next to my hospital bed when I was hooked up to monitors for heart failure and they gave me huge doses of diuretics to remove the fluid around my heart.

We definitely have it good these days with indoor plumbing, electricity, and heat. There’s always something to be thankful for and to be joyful about.

Have you ever had to use a SLOP JAR? What were your experiences? I’d love to hear your stories.