When you get into your head to go sparking, go over the mountain

Posted by | October 26, 2016

Appalachian writer James Still (1906-2001) moved to Kentucky after he was grown, and stayed, finally living in Hindman but keeping his original cabin, located between the waters of Wolfpen Creek and Dead Mare Branch, on Little Carr Creek, where he wrote most of his books, poems, and articles.

For 40 years Still gathered sayings from the local people, which he almost did not allow to be published— he said it is hard to show in writings “changing inflections on one syllable to give [a sentence] two radically different endings.”

Finally he did allow them to be published. His comments from the preface may give us some idea why:

“The first notebook entry was recorded some forty five years ago. Most of the participants are dead. Save for their gravestones, this is the only record for some that they lived and laughed and wept and had opinions like the rest of us. I have long tried to speak for them. Here they are speaking for themselves.”

“I don’t want or expect Appalachian speech to be like any other. It has its own individuality, its own syntax. To be unlettered is not necessarily to be unintelligent. It’s a rare day when I’m out and about that I fail to hear something linguistically interesting.”

The Wolfpen Notebooks by James StillThere are 23 Wolfpen notebooks, 6×4 inches wire hinged.

“I can’t name the exact year I started jotting down things they said in notebooks. I did it only for my own eyes. You might say they were written to inform stories and poems to come, yet I never thumbed through looking for an idea or a quotation. The purpose of the notebooks was to cover every facet of life in my community as well as all of the county and the counties adjoining.

“The period covered is roughly 1931 to 1965. The setting-down, I mean. I did come to believe they might in future be of interest to folklorists and social historians.”

From “The Wolfpen Notebooks,” by James Still—

“I want everybody to stop calling me ‘Little Old Nasty Thing.'” Judy Gibson (age 4)

“These shoes I’m wearing were so tight when I first bought them I had to wear them a while before I could put them on.” Willie Stewart

“If you see some pore little underly children, give to’em, do for’em.” Martha Burns

“I paid Huck Francis a dime to see his picture show. Huh. It wasn’t nothing but shadows on the wall.” Uncle George Childers

“My Daddy, when he died, I couldn’t hardly give him up. We used to hunt together and fish together and work in the fields together. My brothers, they went to school and became doctors and teachers and made something of themselves. I didn’t know what an education was. Now my brothers are shut up in schoolhouses and offices while I’m out here in the sun where I want to be.” Okla Thornsberry

“Yeah, bless your soul, sure as Sunday morning. I’m scared to death of dying. We all dread that stinking death.” Frank Hicks

“Do you remember the little Bosley girl in last year’s first grade? Had long yellow hair, never smiled. Well, she died last summer. She started bleeding and nobody could stop it. There was no funeral and no casket. They just wrapped her in a quilt and buried her.” Edith Orick

“Death is not a strange thing amongst the people.” Preacher ‘Tater Bill’ Smith

“Some years back when I was the nurse at the Knott County Health Office I accompanied Dr. John Wes Duke in his visits to schools and assisted him in inoculating students against typhoid fever. I recall one school up in the head of a long hollow where he said everybody was akin to everybody else. When we had finished he spoke to them, ‘Children, I have something to talk to you about. All of you look like a bunch of dried apples. Your stock is running out. Now here is my advice. When you grow up, and get into your head to go sparking, don’t go up the creek, and don’t go down the creek, go over the mountain.'” Sylvia Auxier

sources: www.kentuckystewarts.com/RowanCounty/JamesStillAppalachianwriterdies.htm
The Wolfpen Notebooks: A Record of Appalachian Life, by James Still, University Press of Kentucky, 1991

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