I had never been in a community that was so remote

Posted by | April 11, 2013

MIMI CONWAY:

I think we’re talking about when you were in Pulaski County [KY], and you were talking about how it was the year that you learned the most in your life. Did you take notes at the time, some notes?

HARRIETTE ARNOW:

No, I took no notes. I did, to practice writing, write some descriptions of scenes and things. You see, this was a remote place, a log house, and many of the things they used were much like those of the pioneers. For example, I had never seen a watering trough made of the hollowed-out trunk of a poplar tree.

MC:

Oh, wow.

HA:

And other things around. I was especially intrigued by their language. They were as definite as Shakespeare. For example, the children never said “tree”; they named the tree: white oak, black oak, post oak, poplar, they knew them all.

MC:

Now this was in fact a place only fifteen miles from Burnside.

HA:

That is right.

MC:

Was it for you the first close contact you’d had with hill people?

HA:

Well, yes and no. My people were hill people, after a fashion, but I had never been in a community that was so remote. Though Burnside was only fifteen miles away, it was on the railway-this place was not-Burnside had also been served by steamboats since 1833. It was more or less in the world. Like at home, we had a daily newspaper and magazines and books and other things we could buy.

Harriette ArnowMC:

Right. And also you had doctors and dentists, isn’t that right?

HA:

In Burnside, yes, but not these people. Most of them had never been to a physician or a dentist.

MC:

Now when you went to teach in the school in Pulaski County, what was the name of the town or the actual place?

HA:

Well, they called it Possum Trot School. I’ve forgotten if it had a better name; I don’t know.

MC:

Was that also the name of the place, Possum Trot?

HA:

Was it Hargis? No. Perhaps it was Hargis; I’ve forgotten. I should know, because there was a post office there, where the mail came three times each week in saddlebags on a mule. And rarely did one see a wagon, and my schoolchildren, most of them, had never at that time seen an automobile, the road was so rough. Most of the men, however, had. They’d go to Somerset. And they did most of what they called the “trading”: they didn’t use the word “shopping”. They traded. This, I think, arose from the fact that they usually had something to sell. It was too far away for milk and butter, but they could, as I say, trade eggs at a small store across the river. Others dug ginseng-it was about all gone-dried it and sold it to a company in Burnside. Some dug yellow root and May apple root. There were few furbearing animals left, but several of the boys sold raccoon and opossum hides.

MC:

How did these people feel about you coming in? Do you know how they reacted to you? Were you as unusual in your education and in coming from Burnside as if you had come from four or five hundred miles, from outside the whole culture?

HA:

I think they thought I was peculiar. On the other hand, I tried very hard. I stayed over many weekends. When they went to church, I went to church with them. We had a bit of trouble with speech sometimes. Most of the younger children used the word “ungen” for “onion” and other words which I had never heard and didn’t have sense enough to know. I just thought, “Queer!” Like they’d say, “So-and-so carried his wagon to town to the railway,” and it seemed queer to me, and then later I found the word “carry”, meaning to go with or to take, in Shakespeare. Had I had an Oxford English Dictionary, unabridged, with me, I would have understood a great deal more and appreciated a great deal more.

 

Oral History Interview with Harriette Arnow, April, 1976. Interview G-0006.
Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection,
Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

One Response

  • Genevieve says:

    In our area of Christian County, KY, which was quite isolated and insular in earlier times, I have often heard people speak of “carrying” something or someone, in the sense of “taking” or “delivering.” This was an interesting interview. Glad I read it.

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