Lyn Ford, a nationally recognized Affrilachian storyteller, has a remedy to transcend such rifts between us. Through African-influenced stories and folktales from Appalachia, she reminds us of our common humanity: for “when [we] share one another’s stories, [we] can’t stay enemies.” Ford recently published her second book of tales, Beyond the Briar Patch, in which she intimately retells her own interpretations of what she refers to as ‘home-fried’ tales from her childhood.
Home-fried tales are organic, from the grit of our familial habitation: “from childhood summers shared with storytelling with my father…and my maternal grandfather, Pop-Pop[s]…and bedtime-story readings with my mother….” They are stewed in the pot of hardscrabble living—its humor, its wit, its cleverness, its lessons, its trickeries and its sophistications. Home-fried tales are from the thorny briar patch, the dense and tangled thicket of life many are born into. These tales are informed from all aspects of culture: life, history, racial tensions, romance, music, food, laughter, death and so much more. Most importantly, they are universal tales with full-bodied flavors that all of us are familiar with no matter where we call home.
Dad grew from child to adolescent while living in Draper. These were the years of the Great Depression (though Dad’s running joke was “I never could figure out what was so great about it!”). The Depression years were hard for Dad. He would often say, “The Democrats blamed Hoover and the Republicans blamed Roosevelt. I don’t know who it was, but somebody liked to starved me to death!”
3D Book Cover-Virtue
Necessity brought creativity, and Dad found a way to get a little money in his pocket while a Depression-era boy in Draper. A neighbor woman would frequently give Dad money to go to the store and buy her fifty cents worth of new potatoes. Dad would pocket the fifty cents and go to a nearby potato patch a man owned and stealthily dig up roughly fifty cents worth of new potatoes.
He would clean them good, put them in a “poke” and take them to the neighbor, fifty cents the richer!
She got very excited then, and said “CHILD, Cecil had AnnaBelle in a bear hug behind da stove, gitting it ON!”
Thea-Thea said, “Oh Lawd!”
Aunt Cellie flopped down in a kitchen chair and said disgustedly, “He gotta have a burn on his ass, cause he fell back on da stovepipe, as he bent over to pull up his pants!” Thea-Thea covered her mouth and groaned as Aunt Cellie continued.
“AnnaBelle was hysterical. I was apologizing dat I hadn’t knocked ‘stead of busting in,” Aunt Cellie screeched. “But then I got mad—I mean I was ticked! The of ‘em standing there looking like they had done been caught wit they hand in da cookie jar.
“I started in on Cecil. ‘YOU!’ I screamed.
“He ran like a scaled dog. AnnaBelle was standing there trembling…like a wilted flower, begging and pleading for me not to tell, saying she needed to buy some food, and Cecil was her undercover sugar daddy, and he was da way dat she had extra money to buy groceries.
I did not know much about Tandy. In fact, I really knew only one piece of information my grandmother had told me. He was a railroad section master for Norfolk & Western in Thaxton, whatever that meant. Little did I know that Tandy’s chosen occupation would lead me to spend the better part of two years researching and writing Lost at Thaxton.
It started one summer evening in 2011 while on a beach trip with family. The discussion turned to history, as it often does when I get a chance to steer it that way, and at some point someone mentioned a terrible train wreck at Thaxton. Tandy was in charge of the section of rail where the accident took place, but I had never heard any mention of the wreck in my lifetime. I wanted to know more about the story.
As I began to dig into the history of the wreck, I was surprised to find that there was significant loss of life, and the details of the accident were unbelievably terrifying and heartbreaking. Yet there seemed to be no particular memorializing of the wreck or of those who lost their lives that night in 1889. The wreck of passenger train Number Two at Thaxton seemed to slip away completely from the pages of history.
As a professional writer and personal biographer, I had the idea to write a social history of my childhood home. I originally intended to write about other women, not myself. I planned to interview older women about their lives on mountain farms, about gardening and canning and cooking, about raising children and playing music and “living out” in mountain hollers—to capture a way of life and a body of knowledge that had pretty much disappeared in a single generation. I did some interviews, and I did a lot of reading about West Virginia history.
Then I started to write. And a different story began to tell itself. I found I kept writing about my own life and family and how my experiences in Elkins shaped the independent woman I became. I also wrote about my best friend, Lisa, whose family had lived in West Virginia for centuries before she moved away after college. I wrote scenes from our high school years and present-day stories about our work lives and love lives and trips back home to drive the mountain roads and eat beans and cornbread.