I’ve prayed for straight hair—or hair of a different color.

Posted by | August 8, 2016

If you’ve never been to Plum Grove then you wouldn’t know about that road. It’s an awful road, with big ruts and mudholes where the coal wagons with them nar-rimmed wheels cut down. There is a lot of haw bushes along this road. It goes up and down two yaller banks. From Lima Whitehall’s house in the gap it’s every bit of a mile and a half to Plum Grove. We live just across the hill from Lima’s house. I used to go up to her house and get with her folks and we would walk over to Plum Grove to church.

Head of one of the Dioscuri (# Y1988-10) in the Princeton University Art Museum

Head of one of the Dioscuri (# Y1988-10) in the Princeton University Art Museum

Lima Whitehall just went with one boy. I tried to court her a little, but she wouldn’t look at me. One night I goes up to her and I takes off my hat and says: “Lima, how about seeing you home?” And Lima says: “Not long as Rister is livin.’” Lord, but she loved Rister James. You ought to see Rister James—tall with a warty face and ferret eyes, but he had the prettiest head of black curly hair you ever saw on a boy’s head.

I’ve heard the girls say: “Wish I had Rister’s hair. Shame such an ugly boy has to have that pretty head of hair and a girl ain’t got it. Have to curl my hair with a hot poker. Burnt it up about, already. Shame a girl don’t have that head of hair.”

Well, they don’t say that about my hair. My hair is just so curly I don’t know which end of it grows in my head until I comb it. I’ve prayed for straight hair—or hair of a different color. But it don’t do no good to pray. My hair ain’t that pretty gold hair, or light gold hair. It’s just about the color of a weaned jersey calf’s hair. I’ll swear it is. People even call me Jersey.

There was a widder down in the Hollow and she loved Rister. Was a time, thought, when she wouldn’t look at him. She was from one of those proud families. You’ve seen them. Think they’re better’n everybody else in the whole wide world—have to watch about getting rain in their noses. That’s the kind of people they were in that family. And when a poor boy marries one of them girls he’s got to step.

So Rister James went with the woman I loved, Lima Whitehall, when he could have gone with Widder Ollie Spriggs. Widder Ollie wasn’t but seventeen years old and just had one baby. Rister was nineteen and I was eighteen. Lima was seventeen. If Rister would have gone with Widder Ollie it would have made things come out right for me. God knows I didn’t want Widder Ollie and she didn’t want me. I wanted Lima. I told her I did. She wanted Rister. She told me she did.

Intro to ‘Hair,’ from Jesse Stuart short story collection “Men of the Mountains”

Jesse Hilton Stuart was born on August 8, 1906, in northeastern Kentucky’s Greenup County, where his parents, Mitchell and Martha (Hilton) Stuart, were tenant farmers.

Mitchell Stuart could neither read nor write, and Martha had only a second-grade education, but they taught their two sons and three daughters to value education.

Jesse graduated from Greenup High School in 1926 and from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, in 1929. He then returned to Greenup County to teach. By the end of the 1930s, Stuart had served as a teacher in Greenup County’s one-room schools and as high school principal and county school superintendent. These experiences served as the basis for his autobiographical book, The Thread That Runs So True (1949).

Stuart began writing stories and poems about the hill people of his section of Kentucky while still a college student. He met Donald Davidson, a poet who was one of his professors, during a year of graduate study at Vanderbilt University in Nashville in 1931-32. Davidson was instrumental in encouraging Stuart to continue writing.

Following the private publication of Stuart’s Harvest of Youth (poems) in 1930, Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow, poems that celebrate his people and the natural world, appeared in 1934 and was widely praised.

His autobiography, Beyond Dark Hills, was published in 1938 and his first novel, Trees of Heaven, in 1940. His first short story collection was Head O’ W-Hollow (1936), followed by Men of the Mountains (1941) and by more than a dozen other collections in Stuart’s lifetime. His published stories-in magazines and in book form-number more than a dozen novels and autobiographical works.

Taps For Private Tussie (1943) is an award-winning satirical look at New Deal relief and its effect on man’s self-reliance, and God’s Oddling (1960) is a biography of Stuart’s father. Stuart’s books of poetry also include Album of Destiny (1944) and Kentucky Is My Land (1952). He was designated as a poet laureate of Kentucky in 1954.

Stuart also lectured widely for many years, particularly on the subject of education and its value, and wrote a number of highly regarded books for children and youth.

Prominent among the latter are The Beatinest Boy (1953) and A Penny’s Worth of Character (1954). Hie to the Hunters, a novel published in 1950, is a celebration of rural life that has been popular with high school readers.

Stuart suffered a major heart attack in 1954. During his convalescence, he produced daily journals that were the basis for The Year of My Rebirth (I956), a book recording his rediscovery of the joy of life.

He returned to the school environment as a high school principal in 1956-57, taught at the University of Nevada in Reno in the 1958 summer term, and served on the faculty of the American University of Cairo in 1960-61.

The Academy of American Poets made Stuart a fellow in 1961.

Stuart established the Jesse Stuart Foundation in 1979, whose mission is to preserve his literary legacy while fostering appreciation of the Appalachian way of life through book publishing and ‘other activities.’ Jesse Stuart died on February 17, 1984, and was buried in Plum Grove Cemetery in Greenup County.

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