Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 17A: Publications – Publicity and Fundraising
Dear Friend Letter 1926
DEAR FRIEND LETTER 1926 May
TAGS: Anecdotes about Pine Mountain young people,special difficulties as mountain children,reasons for lack of a social code, signs of improvements in students’ outlook,use of midwife and charm doctor
GALLERY: Dear Friend Letter 1926 May, Pages 1-2
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My Dear Friend:
What can a few pages of a letter do to make alive for you our Pine Mountain young people, gathered in from betwixt the waters of Hell-for-Certain and Kingdom Come, growing here through the ordinary difficulties of adolescent youth and the special ones that are their heritage as mountain children? To be understood in their true meaning, the incidents I tell you must stand against a background of thousands of miles of shut-away mountains, 18th Century pioneer housekeeping and sanitary standards, inherited lore in ballads, folk-dances, dye recipes and weaving patterns, a medieval faith and ignorance.
Figure to yourself the consequences of several generations of homes, inconceivably isolated, with life depending on everyone’s working for a crop. “Paw owned 2100 acres of land here. Hit was all woods. We tended corn in all the best hollers, way off from home, some of ’em, where the b’ars bothered the crop mightily.” When one’s life is spent almost exclusively in a family group, inevitably the virtues, charms, faults of an individualist develop. A social code can no more be inherited at the head of a hollow than a fine French accent. Group ethics and standards of honor cannot possibly come into being apart from close daily contact with neighbors. It is not only an ordeal for our young people to adapt themselves to a school routine and to conform to our rules, it is their first chance to learn the ways of community living — good sportsmanship in all their affairs, respect for others’ property, self-control and courtesy towards people they dislike, thoughtfulness of other people.
As you imagine the mountain family, mother and baby included, getting out at daylight to build fences, fell trees, hoe corn, subdue the wilderness till the sun-ball drops, you understand the need we see here for teaching housekeeping, personal cleanliness, order. How huge a lesson this is, you may guess from the fact that we must list nightgowns and extra stockings in “clothing required,” to insure a…
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…child’s coming to school with them. Twenty-one-year-old Sal, who never heard of darning stockings, spends all her leisure time in making beautiful darns, she is so in love with her new-found skill. She can scarcely wait for vacation to come, so she can go home and darn her beloved father’s stockings. “He’s never had any darned in his life,” she says, “And I’ll be the first one to do it for him.”
Here is a mother’s whimsical tribute to an energetic girl’s new ideals.
“Hannah and Sarah come home for Saturday and Sunday, but Sarah weren’t no comfort to me. Hannah and me set down on the porch, when the work was done up, to see a little pleasure and look at the mountain, but Sarah kept a-rousin’ us up. ‘See here, now that this has got to be done’ — and I didn’t see no peace while she was at home.”
Changed living conditions, with the store products easily available, have taken away the necessity for the constant hard work of the last generation, but have not furnished new interests and ideals. No wonder some of our Sarahs, seeing the children undernourished, yards full of trash, roads unimproved, want to stir older folk out of their lethargy. Our nurse, visiting a sick woman last summer, was told that there was a rattlesnake under the one-room log house, built so close to the ground that nobody had been able to get under to kill the snake. She said anxiously, “Could it get up into the house? Are there any holes?” “Yes, there’s one right over thar by your foot,” said the father. “Hit could get up.” He had never thought of plugging it up.
Yesterday a boy came into the office, a bright seventeen-year-old, but inclined to be lazy and bluff his way through. We had been anxious about him, in fact.
“Can I miss school a couple of days? I think I must. I’ve just had word that my mother’s hand’s no better. Her finger’s been bad a long time now. You see they don’t think about things like that at home. they don’t know what might happen if she doesn’t take care of it. I must go and make her do the right thing. Why, she might lose her hand!”
The seed is sprouting, we thought, and some of our load of anxiety dropped off. He was using his head, instead of passively accepting fate. There are still great sections of the mountains where the midwife and the charm doctor are the only folk to be called in, in time of trouble. This morning a neighbor with a large goitre (sic) told me earnestly how a charm doctor who was now dead “holp her” when she was half stangled by its pressure. “He whetted a knife and drawed hit across my neck like he was aimin’ to cut it several ways, and he muttered things to hisself. Hit got better right away.”
Nineteen-year-old Daniel, twenty-eight pounds underweight when he came, and so deficient in vitality that it took him two years to get up to normal, is timidly formulating his life’s ideals. “I get to studyin’ what I’m goin’ to do with myself, till I just plumb forget I’ve got a body or a thing to do. I don’t aim to live in the city. Of course from all I’ve heard, they haint no flowers nor fresh air; hit’s just dirt and noise. I aim to have a cabin up on a mountain top where I can enjoy nature.” “What do you aim to be, a farmer?” “No, I think I want to be a doctor. when I study about the folks back home in my neighborhood, how they don’t have any doctoring or know anything about…
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