Tag Archives: music

DULCIMERS AT PINE MOUNTAIN

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 30: Music
Series 32: Object Collections

DULCIMERS AT PINE MOUNTAIN

TAGS: dulcimers ; mountain dulcimer ; musical instruments ; Ethel de Long Zande ; music ; ballads ; songs ; Appalachian musical instruments ; Appalachian music ; Evelyn K. Wells ; plucked dulcimer ; bowed dulcimer ;

Ethel de Long with mountain dulcimer, c. 1915

Ethel de Long with mountain dulcimer, c. 1915

THE MOUNTAIN DULCIMER

The mountain “dulcimer” is an oblong, box-like instrument, with in-curving sides, about two and a half feet long and eight inches at its greatest width. It has three strings of either gut or wire. One string is fretted, the other two are drone strings. The fretted string and the one next to it are tuned a fifth above the third string.

Angela Melville Album II - Part III. "E.K.W." [with dulcimer]. [melv_II_album_313.jpg]

Angela Melville Album II – Part III. “E.K.W.” [Evelyn K. Wells with dulcimer]. [melv_II_album_313.jpg]

The dulcimer is either picked or bowed. When it is picked, it is held on the knees, and the left hand plays the melody by passing a little stick up and down the keyboard over the fretted string, while the right hand plucks the strings. When it is bowed, the player holds one end in his lap and rest the other against a table, holding the bow in the right hand and passing the fingers or a stick up and down the keyboard with the left.

There are very few dulcimers left in the mountains now, but in the old days they were often found beside the fiddle and the homemade banjo. Now the fiddle, the banjo and the organ are taking the place of the old-fashioned instrument.

The theory of most scholars of the subject is that this instrument was brought into the mountains by some settler from the continent of Europe, because it is a well-known fact that the German zither of the 18th century is identical in shape, tuning and general appearance with the the mountain dulcimer. One of these zithers is displayed in the Crosby-Brown collection of musical instruments in the Metropolitan Museum in New York along with other 18th century instruments. This is supposed to be a descendant of the monochord of the middle ages.

There are two types of stringed instruments. the plucked instruments and the struck instruments. The former are psalteries, the latter dulcimers. Since the mountain dulcimer is plucked, it should belong in the class with psalteries, but the mountaineer, with his love of sweet-sounding names, has preferred to call it a “dulcimer,” and perhaps by this time he has acquired the right of possession.

[Source unknown. Pine Mountain Settlement School archive.]

As recorded in her letters, Ethel de Long Zande had her portrait made in New York City with a dulcimer in her lap. It is possible that the photographer was Doris Ulmann, who knew Ethel and photographed widely in the Pine Mountain region during the beginning years of the School.

In the following photograph by an unknown photographer, “Aunt Leah” sits and plays the dulcimer using a bow. As described by the anonymous author, above, this was a more uncommon form for playing the instrument, but it was nevertheless known by some community members in the early years of the School.

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“Aunt Leah” using a bow to play a hand-made mountain dulcimer at Pine Mountain Settlement School. [pmss00024.jpg]


 Return to MUSIC AND DANCE

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH I – ABOUT

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Blog:  DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH

ABOUT
dancing in the cabbage patch 2 copy

Dancing in the Cabbage Patch is a blog named for the photograph seen above.  It is a personal reflection on the history of one of the oldest continuing rural settlement schools in eastern Kentucky.

Founded in 1913, Pine Mountain Settlement School is located in the mountains of eastern Kentucky in Harlan County.  It is one of several rural settlement schools influenced by the urban settlement movement that flourished in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth. The push in the mountains for “Community work,” following the Reconstruction era, brought many ideas and workers from the urban settlement houses and centers to the largely decentralized agrarian communities of the Southern Appalachians.  In the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia a robust rural settlement school movement took hold at the beginning of the twentieth-century.

A region of ridges and hollows, the long chain of mountains that comprise the Southern Appalachians were rich in natural resources but during the early twentieth-century the people who had settled the area were believed to be outside the accelerating industrial development of the country’s major cities.  Eastern Kentucky, in particular, lagged in development in many areas; social, economic, educational, and industrial skills. One of the objectives of the rural settlement movement in the Appalachians was to provide industrial training for people tucked away in the most remote corners of the region.

Supported by the early rural settlement movement, programs were initiated to ease the rural communities into the mainstream of America’s burgeoning industrialization but paradoxically the same movement sought to retain the isolation of the culture from  the perceived social ills of rapacious and rapid mechanization.   Workers in the early settlement schools danced an uneven course between unfamiliar cultural patterns and their own adaptation of a perceived culture that only needed to be “awakened.” The communities around the rural settlements of eastern Kentucky danced the “Running Set”, a fast-paced, energetic dance that generally had only the human voice to call out the moves.  It was a dance that echoed their lives.  Recreation had to be experienced quickly, guided by visual and auditory direction, for the patterns that shaped the lives of the mountain people was the seasonal life of subsistence farming.

Many of the workers who came to the isolated valleys and hollows promoted the isolation as a salvation from the evils of the industrial world by adopting a modified Arts and Craft Movement ethos. Others found a better balance through the introduction of many of the tenants of Progressive education, particularly through programs of civic-minded industrial training combined with a standard educational framework.  Pine Mountain Settlement School in these early years, charted a course somewhere between the two extremes.

In the region, many social service agencies, as well as church and charitable organizations developed institutions modeled on the early urban settlement movement, where plans were proposed to guide the area out of poverty and illiteracy by becoming a progressive presence in the community. Of these institutions Pine Mountain Settlement School, a uniquely non-sectarian institution introduced a powerful settlement school model for rural education and service that still inspires and is remarkably fresh when compared to contemporary trends in education and social services whether urban or rural.

The following topical essays contained in “Dancing in the Cabbage Patch,” reflect a personal journey and one not written to reflect the views of the current institution but to trace through personal reflection some of the highlights of Pine Mountain Settlement School during its 100-year history.

FORWARD

Perhaps overly romantic and nostalgic, the words “pastoral” and “bucolic” have often been used to describe Pine Mountain Settlement School. These words are most frequently used in the description of farmlands. Yet, in eastern Kentucky, generally, the farmland has often been described in disparaging terms, particularly by visitors to the region. Why this difference? The answers are complex.

The general perception of the land that comprises Pine Mountain Settlement School, in fact, stands in direct contrast to the observations of many of those who have written about Eastern Kentucky. The descriptive adjectives used for many Appalachian farms and sometimes its people often read “ravaged,” “uncultivated,” “disorganized,” “unkempt,” “scraggly,” “impoverished,” dirty, and other pejoratives that disparage any perception of beauty. Why is Pine Mountain “bucolic”, “lovely”, “peaceful”, “Shangrila”, “natures majestic garden” and on and on? Again, the reflections are complex.

Farming practice has always been central to the life of the Pine Mountain Settlement School and its surrounding communities.  Planning for the school was built upon the desire of William Creech to teach good farming practice as well as to educate students in an educational curriculum consistent with that offered to youth in other parts of the country. He saw these two objectives as joined in a reverence for the land and its people and progressive in its experimentation..

Farming at the School has a very long history and one that has been integrated into almost every program of the institution through the course of its one-hundred years. While it has never been strictly a “farm school” it has had a long association with the production of food for the body and mind.  Nature and nurture have always found a partnership at the school and were and are regularly celebrated in a variety of ways.

Like farming, the celebratory events at the School also play an integral role in the history of the institution. Like the cycles of agricultural life, community celebrations helped to establish the ebb and flow of life at the School and map it to the rhythm of the community. Many annual events such as Fair Day, celebrated in the Fall and harvest time; the Nativity Play at Christmas marked the reflection afforded by winters seclusion;  May Day in the Spring and the school’s former annual Spring Dogwood Breakfast celebrated the rebirth of living things and the nurture they promise. All have their origins in a celebration of the seasons and are generally accompanied by food or by displays of the produce of farming.

The celebrations, pageants, and plays are remembered fondly by many students who attended the school and many of these memories were or are associated with agrarian practice or with a foodway, or agricultural rhythm. These events were also linked to long traditions that the workers romanticized and tied to Anglo-Saxon heritage, pioneer life, the Pilgrims, self-sufficiency, and a myriad of partial truths.

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May Day c 1920 – young children dressed in greenery for the celebration.

Whether performed for entertainment, for educating, or for the celebration of special people, event, time or place, the events at the School provided an opportunity for a connection with both the past and the future of the institution. In the surrounding community past and present are equally revered but future rarely intruded into daily community conversation. Like dreams, the future was held close like some shining city on the hill or in the hereafter. Today, the community of promise seems even further away in conversation and practice as celebrations have steadily declined and as economic despair has increased.  The tightly woven fabric of the community began to tatter in the tangled ideals of the War on Poverty and in the reality of an economy that failed to diversify.

Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, Robin Hood’s adventures, the Mikado, HMS Pinafore, the Cooperative Store skits, the Kangawa play, Halloween, the carrying in of the Yule Log, the simple dialog of the Nativity Play — all gave early students the opportunity to don costumes and assume other personalities and to imagine themselves in other lives, other countries and other times. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace …” was found written on the wall of a humble mountain cabin.  It is a quote from the Bible, but it is also a well-known quote from the annual Nativity Play at Pine Mountain.

The early institutional celebrations allowed the staff workers to gather and renew their friendships on the campus and were celebrations that brought the school and the community together in cooperative celebration. What was carried away would be or could be life-changing.

The PHOTOGRAPHS from Pine Mountain document and celebrate many of the events at the School and the community while also capturing some of the most compelling images of institutional and community life in early rural Appalachia.  There are intimate portraits of Appalachian families at work and at play. There are scrapbooks by settlement school workers who gathered their visual memories and left them for the school to ponder their aggregation.  There are official collections of promotional photographs that sought to convey a particular image of the institution for calendars and brochures.  There are many overlaps and duplicates in the images across the many collections.  Sharing was always part of Pine Mountain’s culture. And, there are many months and years of lives in the photographs and mementos gathered in the collections, scrapbooks, travelogues, and albums. The photographic images also capture the essence of the School as it grew and changed.

Music and dance, folk craft, mountain vernacular architecture, clothing, farm techniques and implements, food and food preparation, and many more themes may be found in the photographs that were taken over the life of the School and shared within the institution and with the community.  Some of the most compelling images are those of the workers and students as they danced … and danced … and danced some more.pmss001_bas098As the educational programs changed and grew and as the current Environmental Education programs evolved, the photographs capture the shift in the scale of farming, the use of the land and the growing awareness of the preciousness of the natural environment.  In today’s technological world this preciousness is even more compelling. The photographs are celebrations of the people as well as of the land.  Together, the land and the people provide what many call a “sense of place.”

Perhaps nowhere is the sense of place captured better, or traced more intimately than in the transition of food-ways at the institution.  Change may be observed in the narratives and the photographs when annual events were either down-sized or were, in some cases eliminated. The relationship between the land and the foodways of the people who shared the land may be clearly seen as food, events, and farming intermingle.

For example, May Day and Dogwood Breakfast, two spring-time events were eliminated from the annual calendar shortly after the closure of the boarding school in 1949.  After the closure of the boarding school the intimate community of the School began to fragment, as workers lived off-site, the tasks of the school became overwhelming with no students to crew the many jobs. The focus on agriculture declined. The many changes at the School reflected a shift in the general sense of community in both the central institution and also in the community at large. The numbers of staff at the school declined over the years and many workers came for short stays or had little knowledge or connection to the historical campus. Foodways changed as the more processed food was easily attainable and preparation of locally harvested food diminished.

In the community, the events in nearby urban centers such as Harlan, or other urban centers such as Hazard or Cumberland, or even distant Lexington, began to pull families away from the immediate community life of the Pine Mountain valley. kingman_092b The isolation of the region was dramatically altered by roads, particularly THE ROAD, Laden Trail, across Pine Mountain, which the Settlement School sponsored with Harlan County and the State of Kentucky. New roads opened the region for an ebb and flow of new cultural ideas and life-styles.

Soldiers returning from WWI  and especially WWII, shifted the cultural climate even more. Today, television and other media entertainment continue to contribute to the fracture of community cohesion. The reliance on immediate communication can now be acutely felt at the school as visitors roam the campus for “hot-spots” to keep in cell-phone contact with family, friends or business. Visitors are both in place and out-of-place. 

With the full implementation of the Environmental Education program in the 1970s, older programs at the school shifted from a focus on hands-on agricultural management of the campus land resources to an educational understanding of the broader concepts of the total natural environment and its cooperative management.  Farm became garden and the devolution to subsistence farming could not be missed on those who remembered the farming years. Quickly, the new environmental consciousness of the 1960s and 1970s aligned with K-12 educational science standards found in the public school curricula and environmental education programs began to form. Pine Mountain School quickly realized the importance of its history and geography to the new environmental education movement and began to shape programs.  Pine Mountain saw its opportunity as a leader in the field of environmental education and was, in fact,  one of the first such programs in the state of Kentucky.  Today, the environmental program at the School remains a model of environmental education while keeping pace with the growing national environmentalism.

Quickly, the new environmental consciousness of the 1960s and 1970s aligned with new educational standards in the twenty-first century. K-12 educational science standards found in the public school curricula and environmental education programs began to form. By the 1960s and 1970s, Pine Mountain School realized the importance of its history and geography to the new environmental education movement and began to shape programs.  Pine Mountain saw its opportunity as a leader in the field of environmental education and was, in fact,  one of the first such programs in the state of Kentucky.  Today, the environmental program at the School remains a model of environmental education which struggles to  keep pace with the complexity of a growing national environmentalism and the relapses of public opinion as climate change meets political scrutiny.

Yet, Pine Mountain will always carry an environmental lesson. Whether “jitterbugging” in the local streams, or waltzing across a ridge-top, or learning to tango with a rapid thunderstorm, the dances with nature at the School have proven to be endless and sustainable.

PHOTOGRAPHY

PHOTOGRAPHS have always been important to the School. What the photographers at Pine Mountain selected to photograph documents the change in the community as well as larger cultural shifts. While the photographs capture the essence of the lifestyle of the age, they also suggest the personal interest of the photographers as they experienced their cultural context. The visual record, the photograph and certainly the individuals in the photograph, capture what the local culture saw as it looked back at the many cameras and photographers. The tensions are almost palpable in the distance between camera, subject, and photographer.  Both palpable and frozen, the many images taken at the school and in the community graphically capture  photographer, image and subject as they instantly interact —  their gazes joined, the landscape stilled and quiet, a thousand questions unanswered — just as it is in one blink of life.

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Visitors from Viet Nam in the classroom at PMSS, 1950s. [pmss_0037]

Photographs are remarkable vehicles for primary source information and their visual content opens for the teacher, researcher and the viewer a variety of windows into other times and other lives. The potential contributions of Pine Mountain Settlement School’s photographs to Appalachian cultural research is extraordinary.

Friends & Neighbors - VI-51 -

Community family near PMSS. [Friends & Neighbors – VI-51 ]

Mary Rogers, wife of Burton Rogers, one of the Directors of the School, wrote in the “Preface” of the Pine Mountain Album – 1913-1963, prepared for the 50th anniversary of the School:

“Most of us are so busy trying to do what must be done today, and planning ahead to what needs to be done tomorrow that we have little time to look back to the things which happened yesterday. But we are celebrating an anniversary, the 50th anniversary of Pine Mountain Settlement School, and so we will turn to the past — get out the old album and look at the pictures.

It’s a funny thing, looking at old pictures. They don’t show the things that matter most: Uncle William’s craving that his people might grow better; Miss Pettit’s dedication to bringing help to the mountains; Mrs. Zande’s high standards and loving understanding of people; Mr. Morris’ dynamic energy; the different gifts brought by hundreds of workers over the years.

Nor do they show the important things in a student’s life: the moments of courage; the hours of service; the growth in understanding; the vivid enjoyment of life; the deepening love for a place and its people; and sometimes the realization that the source of all things is the Love of God. All the same, let’s look at the pictures, some faded and old-fashioned, but taken because someone wanted to “keep” something from the past, and let us try and read into them the things for which they stand.”
                                                                                            Mary Rogers, 1963

Another fifty years and more havet been added to the visual history of the School.  In 2013 Pine Mountain celebrated its 100th Anniversary. One-hundred years of “Dancing in the Cabbage Patch.”

GO TO:   

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH – ABOUT

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH  I – GUIDE

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH II – INTRODUCTION

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH III – PLACE

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH IV – FARMING THE LAND 1913-1930

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH V – FARM & DAIRY I – EARLY YEARS

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH V – FARM & DAIRY II – MORRIS yEARS

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH VI – POULTRY

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH VII- IN THE GARDEN

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH VIII – IN THE KITCHEN

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH IX – DIETICIANS

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH X – IN THE DINING ROOM, MANNERS & ETIQUETTE 

 

 

CHRISTMAS AT PINE MOUNTAIN 1915 & 1917

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 16: Special and Annual Events

Contents

Christmas 1915

Evelyn Wells ; Ethel de Long ; opened packages ; filled stockings ; trimmed the house ; delivered trees to neighbors, Aunt Sis Shell, Aunt Polly Day, Aunt Sal ; Santa played by Mr. Zande ; hung stockings ; children received gifts ; trimmed tree in House in the Woods ; snowed ; pageant of carols ; manger scene ; Bettie Cornett as Mary ; visit by Santa ; arrival of drunken visitors ; dinner before fireplace at Far House ; arrival of Christmas mail ; mule ride across mountain ;

Christmas 1917

no longer drinking and shooting at Christmas ; preference for simple gifts from nature as delivered by neighbors ; letter from Santa mandating good behavior ; birthday cake from Santa ; children delivered baby Christmas trees to neighbors ; [comments on narrow views in narratives and missions of settlement workers, balanced by their good works ; fine line between “work” and “production”] ; Nativity Scene ; visit by Santa ; need for donations ;


Transcriptions

Christmas 1915

*From the notes of Evelyn Wells, derived from letters of staff at Pine Mountain Settlement School. The author is unknown but is possibly Ethel de Long who served as Housemother at Far House in 1915. The use of “Aunt” or “Uncle” is used frequently as an acknowledgement of respect and friendship and not as a familial kinship.

This week we have been sitting up half the night opening the packages that came in — a mixed bag! — and filling tarletan stockings with candy by the hundred (575 in all), and then the family stockings. School stopped on Wednesday, luckily, considering all that had to be done. We trimmed the whole house with laurel and hemlock — ropes, baskets and wreaths everywhere until it was like bringing in all outdoors, so fragrant and woodsy. Thursday afternoon we took the little Christmas trees to Aunt Sis Shell and Aunt Polly Day. We cut the trees along the way and trimmed them by the roadside, and then bore them to the houses, singing “Here we come a-wassailing,” as we arrived. What a picture the children made as we went through the yard at Aunt Polly’s — a yard for the pigs mostly — and into her one-room cabin where she sat coughing and moaning and trying to knit. She was quite cheered however by our visit, and was even moved to show interest in the things we brought her. People around here usually say nothing at all in acknowledgment of a present, though they are really very grateful. Aunt Polly’s daughter came in from milking as we were leaving and showed us her twelve-day-old baby, all done up in red flannel and quilts.

Friday the children took a tree up to Aunt Sal‘s, but didn’t go in, of course (quarantine) [smallpox]. Aunt Sal is almost ready to be released from quarantine, and we left the tree at the gate and she came out and got it. The day was so warm that we had our supper on the terrace by lantern light, and just as we were finishing, Santa Claus arrived with gifts for all the family, and the children were quite overcome. Santa was Mr. Zande, and very adequate in the role, though wordless. He had wanted to give everyone presents and I had stayed up till 12:30 the night before, tying them up, so I was quite surprised to get another gift from him — a handkerchief and a box of face powder. Likewise, gifts for Mrs. Light and Miss Lincoln.

Then we went in and had the big Christmas tree, and hung our stockings up — with the exception of two bad boys who had lost that privilege — such a sad time for them! Then the children — lucky things — went to bed and after fried eggs and bacon, cake and oranges, we went to work. Candy, hair-ribbons, knives, tops, books, dolls, aprons, shirts, awfully nice things, eight presents for every child, and stockings up for the two bad ones after they had gone to bed. All the house presents were put in Miss de Long’s stocking, nice toys and books and a beautiful doll. By one o’clock we were in bed and it had started to rain, and the next thing I knew the waifs were outside my window, — singing.

At six we lit the tree and the children came in to their stockings, and had a rapturous hour of it. But such rain — Just teeming! After breakfast, to the accompaniment of French harps — every child got one — I went up to the House in the Woods to trim the big tree, with Mr. Zande’s help, and some of the hands. One very nice box we’d had was a big collection of Christmas tree ornaments from Marshall Field’s, and we really achieved a lovely tree.

About 9:30 the rain turned to snow, which continued all day, piling up everywhere and absolutely transforming things. We didn’t have a big assemblage on account of the weather, only about 150, mostly men. They began to arrive very early, of course, and I set them all to work decorating.

[Isaac's Creek?]   nace_1_078a.jpg

[Isaac’s Creek?] nace_1_078a.jpg

The exercises began at eleven with our pageant of carols, which was very lovely in its simplicity. Our manger scene, with Bettie Cornett in a purple veil bending over a manger constructed by Chester that morning, and the shepherds with crooks and gifts, and the Three Kings bearing staffs tied with holly, all against a background of laurel and snow, was beautiful. The little children were to play Old King Cole, but the King was overcome with embarrassment and began to cry, and it was fortunate that Santa appeared just then to distribute candy and snappers and balloons.

It’s such a shame that some unpleasant things interrupt all this gaiety — such as Alec Day, such a nice man, coming with several others as drunk as lords. But of course Christmas is their best time for drinking and shooting. One man at the school’s first Tree got up and made the following temperance speech: “Hit’s been put upon me to tell you fellers as how the school-women don’t want no drinking at their Tree. That’s mighty hard on us, but we’ll have our drams the day before and the day atter Christimas, and then we’ll have two Christmasses!”

We ate our dinner around the fire at Far House, and afterwards the children played with their new treasures and the grown-ups did nothing — a great treat. I was going to have a tea-party for the little girls so they could use their new dishes, but they’d really had enough done for them so the party is put off till some other long winter day.

It was a wonderful afternoon, with the snow piling up outside so quietly, and a fire within. We went to bed early, the children in a blissful state of mind. And after they were all in bed, the Christmas mail came in, a wonderful ending for us.

The next morning we slept late, and the sun was shining on the ridges across the valley, all snowy and bright. I crossed the mountain on a mule, a heavenly ride up through the silent woods, with the trees showering snow on me as I went along.

(This letter was written on the train from Harlan to Pineville, on my way out to “vacation.”)


Christmas 1917

*The following description of Christmas is taken from a much quoted account of the 1917 Christmas at the School.

Dear Friend:

This letter is a Christmas reminiscence from Pine Mountain.

“Well, Christmas, hit used to be the rambangin’est, shootin’est, killin’est, chair-flingin’est day in the hull year till the school come, and now look what a pretty time we’ve had today. I didn’t know you could git so many folks together and have sich a peaceable time. I never did come to one of your Christmas trees before, but I seed you never had a killin’ at em yit. So I come this year.”

Not a chair was flung at Pine Mountain on Christmas, nor a dram drunk, and no one was killed! These are meaningful negatives to us at the ‘Back of Beyond,’ telling of something accomplished since that Christmas two year ago when we collected the pistols before the party began. But you ‘furriners,’ who have dwelt under the wig of peace, ‘since allus ago,’ can scarcely imagine how pretty a time the negatives made possible.

Our neighbors know that we like gifts of hemlock and holly and mistletoe better than any ‘fotched-on’ presents. So, for two weeks before Christmas, we were continually interrupted by visitors bringing us greens; — grey worn figures, honest, plain, kindly faces — what a glory they gained from the marvelous boughs of holly or the great bunches of mistletoe that somebody had ‘clomb a tree fer.’ The golden apples of the Hesperides could be give with no sweeter grace. Sometimes a neighbor brought us a gift of eggs, a rarity at Christmas when the hens ‘ain’t layin’ good,’ Sometimes honey just ‘robbed’ out of a bee-gum, and once it was a great bunch of gorgeous ‘feathers of the pea-fowl.’

Some ten days before Christmas, just at dusk, Santa Clause left a letter at our gate, full of kindly information about himself and his ways for the thirty or forty children who had never seen Christmas before. He not only laid stress on his well-known love of good behavior but went into particulars, writing: ‘I won’t bring any candy to little boys or girls who leave their nightgowns on the floor in the morning or don’t open their beds, or keep their noses clean.’ Our chattering little boys and girls discussed these commands from every angle and with whole-hearted faith. Much-desired ends were accomplished by Christmas magic.

One night reindeer bells were heard far off. Undoubtedly Santa Clause must be riding along the hill-tops hiding presents against Christmas Eve, when he could not possibly bring enough for all from the North Pole. The children, just dropping off to sleep in the dark of the sleeping porches, quivered with joy; but small William, six years old, remembered the least boy’s morning shortcomings. ‘Pleath, Santa Clause,’ he called out in the dark, ‘ecthcuse Cam just thith once for leavin’ hith nightgown on the floor. He won’t never do it again.’

A few nights later, when the bells were heard again as the children were undressing, little Green already in his pajamas, dashed across the room for his handkerchief. ‘Look out for your noses, fellers,’ he called, ‘thar’s Santa Claus.’ And then, with irreproachable nose tilted high he leaned against the window, hoping that Santa Claus would favorably note him.

One night, when we were all at supper, Santa Clause left a birthday cake for himself on the living room table. No other explanation could account for the mysterious frosted cake loaded with candles, and exclaiming on its top in red letters: ‘Merry Christmas!’ Every night the baby Christmas tree was lighted, when the children danced around it, singing Christmas songs and blowing kisses to it.

The day before Christmas each one of our four households carried its baby tree to some dear old neighbor’s. If you could know how those trees are cherished! Sometimes they are kept through a whole year, treasured as a joy even when the needles have dropped off. To one old lady, living three miles off at the backside of a mountain in a dark little windowless house, the children carried a window — a common barn sash left from our building operations. ‘Why,’ she said, ‘why, I wouldn’t take ten dollars for my window. I’ve had to set in the dark by the fire cold or windy days when the door had to be shut, and I couldn’t see nothin’. There haint much to see here, way off the road, at the head of the holler as we be but hit’s mighty lonesome in the dark on a winter’s day.’ Then, carrying her little window gently in her arms, she laid it on the bed in the one safe place in the room. ‘Lord. I wouldn’t take a nigger baby for my winder,’ she cried.

[Racist remarks such as this one, are all too commonly found in narratives of both the School and community in the early years of the Institution, as they were in much of the literature of the day. Reaching out to those in isolation — “… those that sit in darkness,” was perceived to be a critical mission of many workers in the settlement movement.

For those settlement workers in the rural Appalachians, a common belief was pervasive — that the people of Appalachia were of “pure Anglo-Saxon” stock and that they represented long-lost ancestors that could be “raised -up” through education and the re-introduction of traditional English and Scots-Irish rituals and traditions. Christmas, May Day, and other pageants and rituals were often used to re-introduce and to underscore the connection of the mountain people to their Anglo-Saxon heritage. This folk-heritage belief and crusade was attractive to many workers of the first part of the twentieth-century.

Today, in our multi-cultural world, such views are those of people “who sit in darkness”, no matter their education, wealth, or status. These narrow views do not, however, negate the well-meaning intentions and results of these early social service crusaders. The results of their good work in the areas of general education and health and health literacy were profound and lasting. The need for intervention was critical but the balancing act of social service and social engineer, was sometimes uneven.

The fine line between “work” as something irreplaceable and unique, and “production” as something that conforms to a common product, a nature or a production, is a very delicate process and one that continues at the School, even today. Letters, such as this one to ‘Friends’ of the School, had a broad appeal and kept programs alive at the School and helped to “produce” new ones as times dictated. Early letters to family and friends are far more candid than the letters to board members and supporters and often reflect personally held beliefs that stand in deep contrast to the mantras of settlement work and to the beliefs of the populations they served.

The social space in which these Christmas events took place is not a thing among many things or a product of some thing. It is its own set of knowledge that subsumes relationships and products and beliefs. It is a process that still continues as the School struggles to work with populations that are impoverished and illiterate and deep within the valleys and hollows of Appalachia but also works to reach all those “who sit in darkness” with regard to their environment, no matter if the source of that obscurity is in deeply rooted urban life-styles or in denial of climate change.]

The narrative continues:

Was this the sweetest incident of Christmas, the carrying of light to those that sit in darkness? Or was it the caroling of the boys at four o’clock in the morning, singing through the dark from house to house, “Hark, the herald angels sing,’ and ‘God rest you, merry gentlemen.’ To the small ones of course the dearest moment came when their stockings were handed to them, and they drew out barley candy and oranges, a French harp or a doll, — some trick the like of which had not come to their ken before. Table manners at breakfast were suspended while whistle and harps and laughter and ‘Christmas gift,’ perceptibly reduced our daily consumption of oatmeal.

Of course, there was a beautiful community tree, and how peaceable a time we had at it you already know from the first sentence of this letter. Some five hundred people came, among them an old lady sixty-nine years old, who had started before day to come clear across Pine Mountain. ‘I’ve never seed a tree,’ she said, ‘and I allowed thar mought be a pretty one the tree for an old woman sixty-nine years old, what had ever seed one.’

Silent and spell-bound, we all watched the progress of the beautiful Nativity Scene, which had the simplicity and sweetness of an early mystery play. Then Santa Clause came tramping through the woods. We hailed him with joy, we laughed at his jokes and we had a “big time” flinging confetti at him and blowing balloons in his honor. You, who treasure your Christmas ornaments from year to year with wise economy, do not blame us that we gave most of ours away to the mothers who looked so wistfully at the radiant wonders on the tree, and who carried the tinsel and the balls home to brighten lives and homes already too grey.

I cannot write you of all the bits of joy, that pieced together made Christmas so lovely a mosaic. It seemed to us that the wealth of beauty that centuries have given the Christmas festival was all flung into our laps. We want you to share with us the most beautiful Christmas we ever knew, and then we want you to share with us the shrinking of spirit we feel as we think of the months from April to August, when we go through the profoundest anxiety about money.

The School is too large now with its seventy children, to be kept in cold storage through the pleasant Spring and Summer, when givers forget that there are wolves howling at poor folks’ doors. Now, while it is cold and poverty seems bleakest, will you not help us to build up our annual income to carry us through the year? We want five hundred givers of one dollar a year, five hundred of two dollars a year, and five hundred who will give five dollars a year. If you are already a subscriber, won’t you try to find somebody who will fill out the enclosed card? We will tell them of our children, and not send merely a cold receipt. They shall hear of our six-year-old who wanted to ‘do somethin’ for his country’ with a penny he earned carrying kindling for twenty minutes in his play-time; or the little girl who wrote Santa Clause for two tooth-brushes — one for herself and one for her little sister at home.

We workers who for weeks last Summer faced the question of breaking up school and sending the children home and saw our bank account drop to one cent, feel that another such experience will put us in the class the preachers pray for, ‘those whose heads are abloomin’ fer the grave.’ Please help us find another Rock of Gibraltar, — an annual giver.

Sincerely yours,
Ethel de Long


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THANKSGIVING AT PINE MOUNTAIN SETTLEMENT

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Thanksgiving Day

Excerpts from Narratives by Evelyn Wells and an Unknown Worker


 

THANKSGIVING DAY, NOVEMBER 1915

[*The following selection is taken from the notes of Evelyn Wells for her History of Pine Mountain Settlement School 1913 -1928 (unpublished).

A beautiful day. We started out with a nice breakfast party for the visitors from Hindman, at the Pole House, and by the time things were cleared up it was time to start up to the woods. What a procession: every child carrying some kind of bucket or pan of food. We established ourselves, some 60 strong, in a lovely glade about a mile from here which the children call the Fairy Forest, it’s so full of moss and soft grasses and pretty rocks and laurel. We had three big fires, one for the coffee, and two for the squirrels, which we toasted – roasted – on long sticks, while the children played in the woods. When the squirrels were done, we sat around and had pork, squirrel, sandwiches, jelly, pumpkin pie and coffee. It was so warm that we didn’t even need sweaters.

Then a very simple, lovely Thanksgiving Service. A hymn or two, and the story of the first Thanksgiving, told by Munroe, age 11, on the spur of the moment, very simply and dramatically. Then Miss de Long talked for a little while, using St. Francis’ Prayer to the Sun as a starting point. She certainly can touch and hold every kind of person, and there was nary a one of the sixty mountain people, children, or workers, that didn’t get much from what she said. We ended with “Come, ye thankful people, come”, and out in the woods I suddenly realized what the line, “Come to God’s own temple” meant, especially to people who have never been inside a church. Then the children sang “Under the Greenwood Tree”, some of them, a little way off, echoing the last line as if from another part of the forest. They call it the Robin Hood song.

Afterwards the little girls ran sets, and the boys had a shooting match with bows and arrows. The problem was to prevent Miss Cobb (of Hindman) from joining the party for Jack’s Gap, for she is delicate and won’t admit it. But finally Uncle William decoyed her away to show her some interesting trees, and we made our escape. Jack’s Gap is the most beautiful place in the world, and the lights and colors at this time of year are so soft. We got back to Miss Pettit‘s for supper – TURKEY – and a nice evening. The children sang ballads and Miss Pettit was in fine form, with many stories of the beginnings of Hindman and Pine Mountain. When I got back to Far House, there was another party going on. Several mountain young people, one of them with a banjo. They are perfectly content to sit and pick the whole evening the tunes that sound exactly alike.

When they sing to the banjo, there’s a long monotonous accompaniment and now and then a line of the ballad thrown in in a dreary nasal voice, and when the theme is thrilling as it usually is, you just sit on edge of your chair waiting to see what’s going to happen in the next line.

Friday afternoon we took the Hindman horses out for exercise. I rode the least “feisty” one, a nice little mare with a really stylish gait, and realized for the first time what bad nags I’d been riding. My, but I’d love to have a good horse at my disposal here, it makes riding a different thing.


By 1927 the School had institutionalized the celebration of Thanksgiving and many of the students also were accustomed to celebrating the day with their families. In this account by a worker at the School, a cultural tug of war is evident in the exchange that occurred on this holiday:

Thanksgiving morning one of our big boys asked if he could go home for the day. “You know I like to be with my folks,” he said, adding a second later, “but I like to be here too. I’d rather be here than at home.” Then, anxiously, so as not to have his meaning mistaken, “You know of course I like to see my folks, but you see my mother keeps house country-wise, and I like keeping house city-wise.” It was the only way the lad could think of to express his new views of order and cleanliness acquired since school began this fall!

Apparently the worker believed the School to be the purveyor of “city-ways” and that the city offered lessons in cleanliness and order that “country-ways” did not. The worker’s cultural tug of war seems as unresolved as was that of the student. [The name of the author is not known at this time.]


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