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About Your Storyteller

I’ve been thinking about creating this blog for several years, but each time I typed a sentence I became self-conscious and deleted it. What could I possibly say here that hasn’t been said by someone else? Not only that, but it has often been said with grace, beauty and conviction. Well, maybe that is my purpose … or part of it anyway. I believe I need to pay tribute to all of the folks in Appalachia who have defined this region with integrity and authenticity. I am talking about the novelists, musicians, poets and essayists who create images, characters and sounds that resonate in my heart. Maybe I can render a valuable service by inscribing their names and commenting on their creations. That is one of my objectives, anyway. One other thing. If my language sounds pretentious and/or pompous, bear with me. I think I’ll eventually get over it.

Growing up in an isolated cove, I became dependent on radio, comic books and the Ritz Theater. Like most kids of my generation, I sat transfixed in front of the old Silvertone each afternoon, listing to the Lone Ranger, Sargent Preston of the Royal Mounties and Jack Strong, the all-American boy. I collected Captain Marvel Comics, Superman, the Green Lantern and
Plastic Man. At night, I listened to Suspense, Inner Sanctum, the Shadow and Escape! Each Saturday, I sat in the front row of the Ritz, watching heroes like “Wild Bill” Elliott, Sunset Carson, Whip Wilson and Lash LaRue.

In time, I would graduate to E. C. Comics (Tales of the Crypt, the Vault of Terror, Two-Fisted Tales, etc.) and a steady diet of film noir “B” movies with Robert Mitchum, James Cagney,
Allan Ladd, Jane Russell, Barbara Stanwyck. In time, the comics lost their charm – especially after Dr. Frederick Wertham managed to halt publication of my beloved E. C.s. I was reading
Lassie, Come Home; My Friend, Flicka; Bob, Son of Battle. But the dogs and horses eventually gave way to stuff like I, the Jury; God’s Little Acre; and a steamy little novel called Alabam that was passed around in my 9th grade study hall.

All of this was typical for a kid that grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, regardless of where he lived.
However, there was a difference in Appalachia. At the same time I was ordering my “secret decoder ring” and collecting Captain Marvel Comics, I was listening to my great-grandmother tell stories, hoeing corn, milking cows and acquiring the dialect and traditions of a “southern highlander.” In time, I would learn that I was irrevocably “different” from my counterparts in Chicago or New York. When I ventured out of Rhodes Cove to attend Western Carolina Teacher’s College in 1953 (seven miles away), my grandmother told me to be forewarned. “When you meet people from other places,” she said, “you are going to find yourself weighed and found wanting.”

She was right, of course. My instructor in Speech 101 told me that my mountain dialect caused him to “shudder,” and he gave me phonics tapes which were supposed to render my “lazy “i’s” and “e’s” acceptable. Later, when I taught in schools out of my region, my lapses into my
“natural mountain speech” caused my fellow teachers to become distant and reserved. As a consequence, I learned to mentally “edit” my speech before I said anything. My conversation was no longer spontaneous since I “reviewed” my comments before I said anything.

There have been a number of times in my life when I encountered others who had learned to do the same thing I was doing. “It is like you have to learn proper English as a second language,” one teacher told me. “I’ve learned to speak one language at work and another one when I am home.” The poet, Jim Wayne Miller told me once that he thought he took a college degree in German because he could speak in class without being self-conscious. “No one could tell that I was Appalachian,” he said.

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