Are Appalachians too Nostalgic?

Tipper Pressley

Tipper Pressley – Appalachian Blogger

Just a touch of the past is I’ll I’m asking Just a feeling I’m wanting to know Its a time where my spirit is walking Its a place where I’m longing to go

—Just a Touch of the Past

People often say the Appalachian culture is too nostalgic. A common thread of thought among the naysayers is how can you have a hope for the future if all you want to do is hold up the image of your mountaineer granny and papaw?

I know I’m prone to being nostalgic and sentimental about days gone by so I’ve often studied on this criticism and wondered if I’m guilty of looking back too much.

I believe the tendency for people of Appalachia to become nostalgic comes directly from our culture.

The family unit and all its appendages are so highly regarded in Appalachian culture that its impossible not to look back through the family tree by sharing fond memories and stories about those who went before.

Another trait that lends itself to nostalgia is joyfulness.

Appalachians like to laugh and have a good time. The simply joy of story and joke telling is learned by children at an early age. Where do stories come from? Our past.

Most Appalachians do love to sit around and talk fondly about days gone by, but they also like to talk about how their children are doing in school, where they’re going to college, the promotion they just got at work, and the new house they just moved into.

I started the Blind Pig & The Acorn because I felt it was powerfully important to discuss the way life in Appalachia really is, not the fake pitiful piece of cardboard that’s often lifted up as a view of Appalachia. I wanted to highlight the fantastic people, celebrate Appalachia’s great sense of tradition, and share Appalachia’s language, folklore, food, and music.

It’s been almost 12 years since I became an Appalachian blogger. During that time I’ve talked a whole heck of a lot about the past, but I’ve also had two nephews graduate from Yale University, a niece from Appalachian State College, and two daughters graduate from Young Harris College. And every single day the Blind Pig & The Acorn is brought to you by cutting edge technology that’s constantly changing and evolving.

I do not believe Appalachia is too nostalgic. I believe Appalachians understand that you have to know what went before to have an appreciation for the present and a hope for the future.


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  • Reply
    Norma Walker
    October 13, 2019 at 7:04 am

    Whose place is it to decide I have books on ancestors coming to America may not have any interest. We can both enjoy what our interest.

  • Reply
    Lee G Harvey
    October 12, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    Hey to you all. Love my mountains..I am an author and my first published book was based in the Smokey Mountains. Write. Mystery.
    My next mountain book will be published in two months. Dedicate my books to the mountain people. Lee G Harvey now in San your stories!

  • Reply
    Jim Dane
    October 12, 2019 at 7:52 am

    Wonderful article!
    Here is my quick story of our family roots. My direct grandfather was born 1889 in Wayne Co.,Ky. We have Always been farmers and really, like many pioneer families, they would move easily if they thought they could get better land, more land at a better price or better water.
    So most of my Deans left Ky and went to Texas for outstanding land deals in 1890s. My grandfather was the only one to leave for California for central valley opportunities. He left in a Model T and it’s 1930 and the Dust Bowl and Great Depression were hitting.
    Of course, I ended up being raised in Calif and I would ask my dad, “what country do we come from?” “When did our Deans come to America?”
    My father said they struggled daily and he was never told anything of our family history. Dad just told me 2 things;
    1) grandpa came from Wayne Co., Kentucky
    2) we have always been farmers
    So in 2007 I just went to Wayne Co., Ky and what I found was completely amazing!
    Our family had lived there since 1796!! I met many of the local families that had lived there for centuries and they took me right in and they a knew my Deans and they really knew the county history. All these families had a grt grt grandfather that served Virginia during the American Revolution and most received military land which became Ky..
    They knew we were Scots Irish and they all shared passed down stories of the War of 1812 and the Civil War…Incredible!
    I have been coming out to our old homelands every year. Grandpa went to Texas and then California but for over 200 yrs, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee was our home and now, I fell in love with our people, the land and beautiful Appalachia and I moved back here, back to our true home!
    And I’ll tell you Tipper and your readers; I can’t get enough of the nostalgia and passed down stories!! My family left heaven to try and improve their family prosperity But it was time for me to come back home!
    Jim Dane/Dean

  • Reply
    October 12, 2019 at 3:53 am

    Tho my roots are only in the FOOTHILLS of the Appalachians (SW Ohio) our family has loved to share stories of old times & relatives long gone! Our roots help anchor us in these times of fractured families & shootings around us. Our bonds are close. We are blessed! Thanks for your blog

  • Reply
    October 11, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    Your question is a good one and you have worked through it thoughtfully as have your readers. I think any community, whether in the Flint HIlls of Kansas, the coast of Maine, a village in Ethiopia, or in Appalachia has nostalgia for it’s past and as a way a remembering what brings it together and gives its a footing for moving forward. You’ve done a fine job looking at Appalachia through the lenses of music, cooking, humor, stories, crafts, etc. You’ve provided a fine example of how to cherish our past while living in the present with hope for the future. Keep it up!

  • Reply
    October 11, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    You have to know where you came from to know who you are.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 11, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    Tipper–Historians have a tried and true adage which states “You can’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been.” Nostalgia is all about awareness of where you’ve been, and without looking back (with longing) I would argue that looking forward in a meaning manner simply can’t happen.
    Too much nostalgia is like too much hunting or too much fishing.
    Too much nostalgia is like too fine a garden.
    Too much nostalgia is like too much kindness.
    In other words, I think nostalgia is a singularly redeeming mindset, one which you can never have in over-abundance.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    October 11, 2019 at 11:57 am

    Very well said.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 11, 2019 at 10:28 am

    When me and my family moved to Atlanta for work, I worked for Davidson-Kennedy Co. They took to us boys from N. C., and soon I talked my boss into hiring my brother-in-law to help. He could build Train Control Receivers like nobody’s business, while I was taught to run and drill and tap on a big machine from Italy. Those Italians knew how to build machines that could get the job done. They thought of everything. Mr. Meade (the Superintendent liked me and he could look out through a glass window and see the employees working.) The Foreman, Buck Tucker saw that I was good on that machine, so he had a carpenter to build a Step Ladder for me, so I could reach the things better and had 3 stations built around me to where I could work on other things too. I learned alot about machining different types of steel and brass. The City of Atlanta had Josam Castings that I threaded several holes in them for water pipes to connect to. (Later I was in some Hardware Store in Biltmore, Asheville and saw some of my Castings that I tapped, and it made me feel good.) …Ken

  • Reply
    October 11, 2019 at 10:16 am

    There is a difference, truly there is. My sweet Yankee cousins seem to drift along in the here and now. Fortunately their parents have taught them all about fried green tomatoes and hunting. My Aunt Bet’s yard in Cleveland looked suspiciously like an Appalachian yard with fruit trees and a garden patch. Meanwhile, the ones who have left and stayed in Appalachia are very fun loving, and also very nostalgic.
    We love our old stories, and sometimes we tell them over and over. My all time favorite is when they took my dear city slicker cousin Gary hunting. The men like to tell how he came running back to the camp out of breath saying, “Do cows bite?” I might add we are not very politically correct, as we are used to being teased about everything. They all tell on me for figuring out how to eat Grandpa’s apples off the tree–we were not allowed to pull them. I climbed up on a shed and clutched the apple to eat while leaving the core dangling. Rebellion or inventive, I am not certain, but it sure provided a lot of funny story telling for years later.
    Yes, we are nostalgic, because we like to cling to what is important and dear to us. Maybe, that is why so many old cemeteries are still cared for. Perhaps that is why we like to look through old albums instead of checking the stock market. We are rich in history, and I am amazed at the accuracy of stories handed down for well over a hundred years. I can research genealogy and find a lot of proof right there to back up much of the family oral history so popular in Appalachia. Fitting documents together with the old stories sometimes tells an amazing past history. I have loved this week’s posts maybe more than any ever posted, because remembering is probably what Appalachians do best. OOps, don’t want to forget the cooking!

  • Reply
    October 11, 2019 at 9:52 am

    Oh Tipper, well said! The genuine love of place and people comes through each blog. I just embrace every post like a hug from kinfolk! It is all such a joy and we need that. I am blessed to be stitched into this gorgeous Appalachian quilt along with all of you. 🙂

  • Reply
    October 11, 2019 at 9:38 am

    I love your blog, Tipper, well said. It jogs my memory of so many special times and words I remember from growing up.

    Wes summed it up perfectly too. It seemed like I was always listening as a young person to the stories told at family gatherings. When I was in my early 20’s I wanted to know more about those that came before us and was always searching for the history of how they lived in their time period and have visited numerous libraries in various states following my ancestors. I know how resourceful my grandparents, and parents were and see how tough those that came before were too and just how good they were. Makes me so thankful for my people. The past is important.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 11, 2019 at 9:09 am

    Well, I don’t recall ever hearing that criticism. Anyway I say, “Good for us.” Those who have deep roots don’t get blown over by the storms of life.

    I think we each need the influence of folks from two or more generations before our own. They have accumulated life experience that we need to temper us from instability. And that works even if, sadly, the example is a somewhat negative one. My grandmothers (My grandfathers died before I can remember.) were both good examples for me. I muss them and will miss them.

  • Reply
    Leon Pantenburg
    October 11, 2019 at 9:07 am

    I love what you do and write about. Nostalgia means people have had a happy life.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    October 11, 2019 at 9:03 am

    This is a topic I teach in my courses on Appalachia. My answer to that outlander question is “how can you have any hope for the future if you don’t honor and remember the past?”

    Nostalgia is a deep reminder of the debt we owe the people who got us here and a reminder of what we owe the little ones we are making a way for now.

    We celebrate the past because our strength is in who we come from.

    That’s my take…but I’m using yours in class next week. Great blog this morning!

  • Reply
    October 11, 2019 at 9:03 am

    I’ve lived in the suburbs of Richmond, Va. all my life and I am nostalgic, too. I still think about my maternal grandmother’s home because she had the biggest yard, but it and that whole neighborhood was torn down for “progress.” Apartments were built on that land, and they are full of drugs and welfare mothers. I never thought our two big department stores, Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimers would eventually close. I still drive by Mama’s house when I am in that area. I grew up in that house, and our girls loved going to Granny’s house. I remember Homecoming at my childhood church with dinner on the grounds and the best gospel music. Sadly, the church really changed in the last few years and many of the members, including Mama left and went to other churches. But I do talk about what’s happening in our neighborhood and what’s happening now. The memories are precious treasures.

  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    October 11, 2019 at 8:45 am

    It only makes sense to be nostalgic and sentimental about days gone by for that is all that we have. We can imagine the future and what it holds, but that is the extent of it, imagining. The past, and the stories and the people and the memories and the events are solid and tangible, they are real to us and we hold on to them. We share all of this because that is who we are as a people.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 11, 2019 at 8:08 am

    Tipper, I think you have done exactly what you set out to do, celebrate Appalachia, as it really is. I love our people and I’m so glad that I know who my people are. I am proud of our people who came into an inhospitable wilderness with nothing and made a home for generations to come. Pretty cool, huh!
    Our people did that and survived!

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    October 11, 2019 at 7:38 am

    Could it be that we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. There is something about the peace that everyone can relate to.
    In this busy world we need the feeling of calm and belonging. Even tho I was raised in the country in Pennsylvania and our mountains were smaller I still sit and recall the family on the farm. What a wonderful way to grow up.
    I am sure city folk probably feel that way also and miss the noise of the city but I choose this
    and hope it stays as it is in spite of progress.

  • Reply
    Dan O’Connor
    October 11, 2019 at 7:15 am

    Well said!

    A lot of people, including myself, move away from home when they grow up and go off to college and/or find jobs in places far from home. We tend to loose that since of home as we adopt the relocated home. There are also folks that don’t come from the loving homes you were blessed with and don’t have warm nostalgic feelings. It’s easy for many to not have much to look back to and maybe feel folks can be too nostalgic.

    What draws me to your blog is the the warmth and comfort and a feeling of coming back home. I grew up in the piedmont of Virginia, but the Appalachia is where I always felt at home, and still do. I just spent a week at the JCCFS and then went home to bring my wife back for the Fall Festival and being in the mountains was such a renewal, I loved it! And your blog brings that to me every day!

    Thank you!

  • Reply
    Wesley P Bossman
    October 11, 2019 at 6:27 am

    I would like to observe, Tipper, that if we don’t talk about and remember the family values, the work ethic, and the community helping each other in hard times, the generations growing up will never know that life and those values ever existed. How can we keep the wonderful portions of our past, the parts and practices that gave us hope and comfort, if we don’t remember, cherish and value them? We don’t need any more “social media”, or technology that tells us what the latest fad, product, or activity is that we should all be buying into. We need to hear about caring, sharing, loving, sacrificing, laughing, and gathering real,human values around us that don’t cost a cent and mean all the world to us as regular people. I value what you are doing far above what the latest celebrities are selling, doing, or trying to get us to buy into, then throw away six months later. You stick to your original plans and follow what YOU value and want to share because you have a warm human interest and history to share and are not devoted solely to making profit. God bless you! Peace and all good things, Wes

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    October 11, 2019 at 6:24 am

    Music is also an important part of that nostalgia. Singing without musical instruments was practiced before the instruments came along. Singing, dancing and playing musical instruments has been a big part of the cohesiveness
    of the Appalachians?

  • Reply
    October 11, 2019 at 6:18 am

    Sadly we live in a time where seemingly society wants us to forget our past, ( I’ll not go into detail where it seems to originate from, if you study it’s not hard to find ) that sets us up for failure in the future I believe, right or wrong we can learn from the past, I’m currently reading a book that was written about my 4th Greatgranddad and it’s not pleasant to read about what all he and his son had done, sadly the end of a rope was their final outcome, now learning from someone else’s mistakes is a gift, they chose a bad road and that’s not one I would suggest anyone take, now see how easy that was, you can learn from the past. Now I’ve read where other ancestors were an asset to helping society along, that was a good road, I would recommend anyone to take that road because some of the good done in that day still remain over a hundred years now. Remembering the past holding onto the good and bad helps us make better choices.
    And the Stories in the Bible is a good example of that.

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