Lost and Found: Stories or Resilience
As I sat in the passenger seat of Madison’s car, I was starting to feel giddy. This was my first tour with Appalachian Understories where we were taking the new AmeriCorps members through some historical journeys with the intent of helping them learn and start understanding why we do what we do.
We started the day off with simple introductions before we sat down at Stuart's Opera House with Ada-Woodson, a Black American who grew up in , Ohio.
She had a twinkle in her eye as she said how happy she was to see so many young faces there to listen to her, for her generation was ready to pass on the world to us. We were immediately hooked as we all sat forward ready to hear her story. She started off with telling the history of how we all came to the Americas, how many foreigners came over to be indentured servants, how the White men had it better than most, how they were able to fade into the background and sometimes avoid extra years of work, how it was harder for the women to avoid added time and even harder for Black individuals to ever finish their servitude, which eventually turned into a lifetime of service and slowly became slavery.
We all sat there listening as she told us about her growing up, how her life was a still ongoing effect of Indentured servitude, how she lived in a segregated community, a place with two of almost everything. She was told that she was lucky to live in Nelsonville because it was better than a lot of the more southern places. She recalled that when she and her class met up for their 45th anniversary how the nicest boy in class came up to her and apologized. She laughed and said she couldn't imagine what he would have to apologize for, and he said it was for all the times they left her and the other Black boy in their class out, how he was ashamed for treating them the way they had. She said she had smiled and told him that his apology was more than enough coming from him.
Ada-Woodson then recalled her life in Mount Zion Baptist Church as a child, recalling her baptism and growing up singing on Sundays with her aunt on the piano. She then expressed her sadness as she began to tell us, with a book full of pictures and reports, how her church looks now. Over the years, the stunning stained glass windows have started to become brittle and broken. There are also cracks in the glass itself and stress fractures and even holes where fragments are missing. She expressed how her, and Dr Tee Ford-Ahmed, a wonderful woman who helped revamp the church years ago, Are really excited to restore the windows to their former glory.
As we were finishing up, Ada-Woodson went around the room and asked each of us to give her our names and a short summary for why we were there. Going around the room it was so amazing to listen to everyone express how much they love this area and how even a handful of them are planning on staying – this made Ada-Woodson very happy.
We then grouped together and returned to the cars to head to our next place, Sand Run Pond.
When developing the tour, Sand Run wasn’t originally the place we had planned on going, but after the scouting trip, we decided this would be the most accessible location for the group. Being able to watch a group of young adults running around the wildlife area and frolicking together in nature was cathartic in a way.
From finding and identifying different mushrooms, to helping create a piece of art called a mandala out of sticks and fallen leaves, to even finding a baby snake and watching the group coo over the tiny thing before losing it in the grass, it was wonderful to be young again as a group, sharing such basic awe over nature was beautiful.
Once again we hopped back into our cars to travel to our next destination, which was lunch at Haydenville Park with Larry Horn.
Sitting there eating my sandwich listening to him recall growing up in this brick making town was enrapturing. He went on about the history of the town, how he went to the school that once sat behind the park with now nothing but a playset sitting in its place. He also told us how he remembered buying a loaf of bread for only seven cents.
We sat in wonder as Larry pointed to the houses down the street, made out of the bricks his town had made long ago. He talked about the church next door and showed us pictures of the different bricks it was made up of. He also let us pass around his book he wrote about the town's history as he continued to tell us stories of his childhood.
Once we finished eating, we went over to the church.
We made our way around the building with our eyes jumping from brick to brick. I reached out, dragging my fingers along the different brick faces, feeling the varying textures brush against my fingertips. Some of the others took shelter from the noon sun under the shade of a hundred-year-old black walnut tree as others gathered around to chat. Eventually, Larry joined us where he and a few others in our group chatted about the different bricks. Larry shared and chatted about his own brick collection and even talked to one of the members about their own collection they had started.
Time eventually catching up with us, goodbyes were shared with Larry as we headed back to the vehicles to start driving once again on our way to our last stop – Red Row Holler. I had heard stories about this small town that no longer stands but lives on in its people.
Here, we were meeting up with Lois Elaine Hutchinson, Pete Crain and Norman, who also brought along a few more family members. Pulling up into a small paved clearing, there they all stood, with tables full of diagrams, miniatures of how the town was laid out, and pictures. We all gathered around, looking from small house to small house, admiring their younger selves in the pictures in front of us as we were told who was who. We met their families through still images and felt the building excitement for their upcoming stories.
Lois Elaine Hutchinson started giving us the basic history of the area and how it came to be. The same man that founded Haydenville, Peter Hayden, had also bought and owned the land that this town was founded on. Originally called Hopperville, it was a coal mining town and eventually also a clay mining town. Lois recalled her memories of a boarding house that was across the parking lot from where we were all sitting, a place that only Pete could really recall down to its minute details, remembering its peeling wallpaper and old floor boards. The others only remember it as big and creepy, and some only have memories of it from their parents’ retelling.
Photo credit to the Logan Daily News
Once Lois was finished. She asked Norma if she wanted to go next. Norma started off with an explanation of how she and her family had originally lived farther away and how they had been farther to be closer to her grandparents. She told us how on the day they were going to move in with their grandparents, her and her brother snuck off to visit the other kids in the Holler around and over the hill. She recalled her father’s face when he tracked them down and brought them home. She said he wasn't upset, but her mother sure was. We all giggled, sitting back and getting comfortable, preparing for a trip through time.
She recalled bits and pieces of her memories here and there, hopping from topic to topic. She told us about how her father was a quiet man, how he never drank or smoked but loved music and played the guitar as well as other instruments. Her and her siblings walked all the way to Logan to buy toys and candies from a store. She recalled a time where she, her sister, two of Pete’s sisters, and some of their friends all formed a daisy chain, linking together their arms, blocking Pete from riding by on his bike. This had ended in him running into one of the girls and driving his bike clear over her face.
You could hear laughing and gasping through the group as we all turned to look at Pete, who chuckled and said he had tried to avoid her but she kept moving into his path until it was too late. Norma laughed before she continued her stories. She took us on a walk through her past, sharing with us such beautiful memories.
After a bit she ended, turning to Pete, she smiled while telling him it was now his turn. Pete made his way over standing behind her chair, clearing his throat before starting to speak. Pete had a way with storytelling, the way he could remember the events so clearly helped all of us to feel like we were standing right there with him, living his stories with him.
He recalled the first time seeing Norma, “She was riding on the biggest trike I had ever seen.” He gestured with his hands as he recalled how big the front wheel had been. Pete laughed as he recalled taking the said Trike and kicking it down the bank into the water once she had parked it, moving it so his father could park later on. Norma scoffed next to him as we all shared laughter once again. He went on to tell us multiple stories of him and his friends getting into trouble, story after story causing laughter and looks of disbelief to rise from the crowd. At one point one of the AmeriCorps members had asked how all of them survived childhood, and he laughed, eyes sparkling with mischief, “ They made us children different back then.” As Pete finished his last story there was a gap of short silence before there was applause, everyone thoroughly enjoying his tales.
Picture of a diorama of the old houses Pete made, photo credit to the Logan Daily News
As the day came to an end, we all gathered about a tall rock structure that was placed as a memorial for their town. A place that, with the help of their stories, was now paused in time. We all separated and parted ways, all returning to whatever waited for us outside of this space tucked away from time. On the way back Madison had asked me what my favorite part of today was and in all honesty I don’t think I can pick. They all were pieces of individuals' lives and each was important in their own way.