Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel
EDITH COLD English Teacher
TAGS: Edith Cold English Teacher, Mountain Life and Work, Central and Southern Appalachians, PMSS students, language, composition, poetry
As a teacher of English (1934-1947), Bible reading, and history (1942-1943), as well as a librarian (1940-1947), Edith Cold drew from her many skills. In the Spring of 1947, she was invited to submit a small article for Mountain Life and Work, a periodical that focused on life in the Central and Southern Appalachians. Her article, “The King’s English,” captures the delight she obviously entertained when hearing and reading work spoken and written by her students at Pine Mountain Settlement.
THE KING’S ENGLISH by Edith Cold
For about a dozen years it has been one of my school room experiences to condition an atmosphere conducive to written expression at the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Since the school is situated in a narrow valley dominated by high ridges or peaks, the range for the physical eye is everywhere hemmed in. Moreover, the same is true of the view obtainable by most of our students for they also come from narrow river bottoms or from hillsides confronted by their hillsides. Our students, too, arrive here with great cultivation of the imaginative scope. The stimuli they have received are in the nature of a monotone and only occasionally does something sharp or climactic startle widened impressions.
It does not take a long experience, however, to find out that these boys and girls from the hollows and the hillsides have a latent store of something, fresh, genuine, and oft-times quite peculiar to them, which, when sympathetically directed, makes the art of composition teaching a pleasure to be sought after.
It is not only the possible word combination, or the fancy, or the originality of the expression which give delight, although there are occasions for that, but there develops, in addition, a kind of close fellowship, spiritual or perhaps esthetic between teacher and student that is on a plane to exalt both. Together we explore, we look at what is about us, we reflect upon our experiences. Gradually we come to realize that we have about as much to draw on as youth anywhere has.
Students from the coal camps or from the altogether rural areas can but write the language of those areas. The coloring, the comparisons are based on what they know. Once a young student still quite inexperienced, in describing something lovely, found satisfaction in likening it to the appearance of young corn in the spring. Another, a girl from an isolated section, had an emotional experience one winter evening when she happened to glance out upon the street lights. Afterwards that unreal, fairy-like world flowed out into words.
The boy who has an early morning round of duty can write, “Anger comes swiftly like a breeze but it goes away slowly like the haze of the early morning.” An apt comment on the rush of school life comes in a line taken from one of the poetic compositions, “Moments of solitude bring fragrance of lilacs.” How well does the child from the cabin close to the creek bed know that in spring “… the sunshine on the doorstep has come to stay a while.”
There was the girl who could review with emotional satisfaction the near neighbors of her childhood. They were just the common folk of the coal camp, dwelling in buildings quite sordid and without individuality, but they left upon the memory of an impressionable child a glow of kindly helpfulness. Odd people they were in a way, an Uncle Tuck who planted radishes in rows along the back fence, a large woman, “Ma”, who kept a boarding house, the woman who never missed taking the neighbors’ little girls to every revival meeting and baptismal service of the region.
Now and then certain religious impressions emerge. At times, according to atmospheric conditions, the border of trees on the high ridge of Pine Mountain seems to be in contact with the sky. To one writer it suggested the escape from the realities of this world to that other ideal world, for she was transported in spirit with intense longing right to the tree-tops where angelic songs might be heard. Another writer treated it thus: “A grassy slope, a tree or two, beyond the silences of God.”
A teacher of composition is not only aware of every detail of the toil connected with a writing but such a one also comes in for a full share of the awards. Does a student discover the glow that comes to the mountainside with the first swelling of the buds, or feel the beneficence that has returned to Pine Mountain when the sun again lights up the hill-top, then it is that the teacher, also, makes that discovery. When a student looks out upon the chestnut poles supporting the illumination wires and sees in them “gray, slim fingers charged with the pulse of sustaining life,” the teacher exults in the fruit of the spirit. This matter of teaching composition is just not to be measured by monetary rewards.
Examples of Pine Mountain Student Composition
[Sources: Pine Cone and Conifer.]
All about me stately oak trees
Send their sprawling branches upward;
Sovereign they stand
O’er trees about them.
Yet drab they look, standing leafless,
While other trees
Of less dimension
Proudly display their Easter garments.
But their assets are but folly:
For these trees which now so gaily
Show forth their beauty
And rejoice in their appearance —
Theirs shall be the destruction.
They shall but feed the soil
On which the oak tree thrives,
While waxing mightier
By their destruction,
The oak tree stands,
—- William Tye
THE OLD MARE
On a lovely afternoon in September, a stranger knocked at our door. A hearty welcome was extended to him. ” I am Mr. Eli Zinger,” he said, “Fro the head of Yokum Creek.” After the introduction, supper was soon on the table. “Take out and eat,” were m mother’s encouraging words, “there’s more in the pot.”
Mr. Zinger finished his supper and sat before the big log fireplace smoking his pipe. It’s a wonderful bargain,” he said at last.
“What’s a wonderful bargain?” asked my father.
“Oh, I was just thinking of selling my mare. You wouldn’t want to buy one?”
“Yes,” says Pa, “I need one worse’n I ever did. Let’s take a look at her.”
Knowing my father’s judgment in trading, my mother wanted to accompany the but nothing was doing. she wasn’t going to interfere with his business when she wouldn’t even let him tell her when his bed was made wrong. No, Mam, he would do his own trading. so off they walked together toward the barn. Dark brought Pa to the house but Mr. Zinger was not with him; he had gone on his way.
“I’ve got her Cornie,” he said. “She’s a fine a mare that ever you laid your eyes o. Jest one fault and I’ll get over that ’cause she’s only twenty years old.”
At this, we all gave a hearty laugh for at twenty we thought she would be giving her last kick.
“Why, she isn’t dead,” my father announced two weeks later. “She’s picking up and will do some good work yet.” Three months passed. “You’re doing might’y good by her, boys,” said Dad. “She’s gained twenty pounds already.”
One day Dad’s tune changed for the old mare, Kate, was sick. She seemed to have a cold. As hours drug on she got worse. Everything possible was for Kate but all in vain. She died about ten o’clock one night.
Dad came home about eleven and he was heartsick. this was plain as he did something he seldom ever did. He refused his supper.
“She was so gentle,” he would often say, “and the kids thought so much of her. I don’t regret paying the twenty dollars. It’s just that everyone thought so much of her.”—- Mary Garrett
EDITH COLD Biography