Have you ever read the “Foxfire” books?
They started out as a periodical in the late 1960s and by the early 1970s, the articles were compiled into books, as more and more information was gathered.
This all came to be as a private high school in Georgia decided to send/take their students out to the mountains to speak with the folks far removed from their own lives. The school staff realized that the students would learn much about life and how other live, and they also realized that the skills, wisdom and lore of those who struggled and lived in the Appalachians was soon to die out.
They were right; I am glad that they did this research before all the boon of life-improving modernizations hit most of the area and much was lost, and before the social ills that are plaguing society now destroyed even more.
I have to admit that I have learned a few things which I have applied in my life, but for the most part, no. I will never shoe a horse, I will not make soap, for instance, nor build a log house. I am in no position to ever need to do any of those, but if nothing else, to see how these people struggled for so many generations is amazing, and to read what they learned is fascinating.
The faculty of the school sought out those with real skills and those just with a few stories to tell, and were willing to share them.
It is all engrossing, with, I believe, something for everyone. If you are not fascinated by their lives, their skills, knowledge and ingenuity of the folk, maybe their knowledge of the flora and fauna of the area, and how they knew it, would be of interest to you. Then you have the folktales, the incredible tales, the spooky tales, and tales of healers, which are more than beguiling.
What bothered me was when the people themselves would wonder how their families got to Appalachia, and even asked the likes of, “How hard could life have been where they lived that they would have come to a hardscrabble place like this?”
No one answered their questions.
I wish I could have been part of their conversations.
When the first settlers reached Virginia, (and soon afterward, Carolina and northern Georgia), they were comprised of a few monied people, but mostly second, third and on down-the-line sons of lords and landowners, never to have their own land, plus others who were fortune-seekers and adventurers. When Walter Raleigh and the like got their hands on titles to land, they needed to populate the place. They needed workers and just a lot of folk to drive the Indians away, (How dare they want to keep their land! Don’t get me started.)
They tried to get enough people together to come, but once families heard about the people who disappeared in Roanoke colony, well, they were rightfully spooked. The English rounded up people on the street. Orphans, pick-pockets, thieves, and prostitutes were all send to populate the colonies.
They also let criminals out of jail to ship them over, much like they did in Australia. (Again, don’t get me started.)
So here were city dwellers, thrown into (beyond) rural situations they never would have encountered. They were literally in the middle of nowhere, unskilled in just about everything that they would need to know to thrive. There was nothing to thieve, and pockets were too empty to pick and since that was the case, well, the ‘girls’ could also no longer ply their trade to any advantage, (except trading for protection, I suppose). I don’t approve of theft or prostitution, (as unpolitically-correct as that is), but these were, as I said, unskilled, desperate people who survived as they could in terrible situations in London and other English cities, only to be thrown into another situation where they learned to survive as they could where they were, as they were.
This is often how the families of the folk there started, and which would explain a lot of the problems that often stayed with them through the generations, but would also explain their coping skills.
If you read the books, you will love some of the people and admire them, or if you are like me, you may have to close the books for a while and when you see certain names come up again, just skip the part with those you would never care to know.
I have read many of the books; I own several. I don’t know why I have not picked up all that I have run across. I admit that they are all a mixed bag, wavering between interesting and, well disturbing at times, at least for me, a born-an-bred suburbanite who has been thrown into a rural situation, (but not Appalachia). However, I started reading these more than thirty years ago while in a western suburb, and I do enjoy learning.
Pick one up and try it. I would recommend the first, which I still think is the best. The first few have a great deal. Although subsequent volumes have more and often different information, they can also be repetitive.
Nevertheless, if you are the curious type, take a look into the Foxfire books.
I was a fan of the first few Foxfire compilations that I first noticed in the late 1970s. I really liked the content, but it bothered me that it was not very easy (or handy) when you wanted to search for particular articles. I think they later published indices to some — maybe all — of the volumes… but I was never satisfied with the “retrieval” aspect when I went looking for something in particular.
Oh, you have that right! I desperately was looking for something some years ago and I skimmed through I don’t know how many tines and found that I by-passed it several times.
I remember the Foxfire books! They were fascinating. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
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I may reread the ones that I have. They are a blast.
My sister loved the Foxfire books. She collected every one of them. I didn’t read them all, but what I did read was fascinating.