Calloused Hands

Barbara taylor woodall

An excerpt from It’s Not My Mountain Anymore written by Barbara Taylor Woodall:

Dad was quiet, tall and lanky, dressed in baggy, bibbed overalls and work boots. Sawdust settled between the leather laces and on his sweat-stained hat. The dusty hues contrasted with jet-black hair and chinquapin eyes that darted about with sharp glances. His smooth, shaven face was tanned, but roughened by mountain elements. His long-term commitment of love and responsibility fueled muscle and sweat to feed, clothe and shelter the family. His diploma was calloused hands.

A diploma of calloused hands: makes me think of more than a few fathers I know-respect-and love-including my own. A diploma of calloused hands: makes me think of shaking hands with men whose hands feel like a solid piece of cord wood.

It also makes me think of something one of The Deer Hunter’s friend told him not too long ago. He said “You know-I have a master’s degree and I’m surrounded by folks who have at least the same level of education as I do-if not more. Yet when I can’t figure out something-you know who I ask to help me? My Daddy who didn’t even graduate high school. I swear he’s the smartest man I ever met.”


p.s. If you can’t wait to read the book yourself-click on any of the links above (title of book in orange or Barbara’s name in orange) to jump over and buy your own copy!

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  • Reply
    Rob R Baron
    November 4, 2012 at 11:04 am

    B.Ruth-I am sorry I started this! Guess I had a flare up of the can’t help its. Of course it ain’t you I’m referring to! Of course those I am referring to won’t recognize themselves! To make a long story short, in the county I lived in, a child could “drop out” at 16. In the beginning of my 11 grade year I was sick a lot. The first time I was out of school for a few days, I went back and the school had dropped me from the roll. My homeroom teacher told me someone told her I had quit. I had to go to the principal’s office and sign back up. A misunderstanding, you say. Well a few weeks later the process repeated itself. After a third time I decided I had enough and gave in. I decided to get a job and then a GED and go from there. It took me until I was 35 years old to get the diploma. Two “hours” of remedial courses and 5 tests later I had a diploma but by that time I was too deep into work and raising my family to pursue it further.
    Sure I put the blame mostly on myself! I was young and dumb and thought I could take the world by the horns and win. Well I didn’t! And I am still being gored. After 25 years in management at my present job, I lost my position because I didn’t have a degree. 25 years!
    The school had a guidance counselor, but no one ever talked to me. Nobody called (we didn’t have a phone.) Nobody came to our home. My parents were raising five other children one of whom was chronically ill.
    I had a cousin who attended The United States Military Academy at West Point and was trying to help me get admitted there. I had taken a pre-admittance test and had done well enough to have been accepted. But, all that came crashing down like a lead balloon.
    God blessed me with a good brain and an almost as good body and I, with the aid of the
    County School System, have wasted it.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    November 3, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Tipper, I hope you don’t mind..
    “I recognize some of the of those people in the list of commentators on this very website and others and….”
    Rob this is your quote…
    Please don’t include me as one of those people, I take offence at the suggestion.
    I am from another state. Since you do not state why you were not allowed to finish high school I feel that something is amiss…In our state one has to attend public school between kindergarden and 12 grade..It is not a teachers or school systems choice, it is the law! If one chooses home schooling then the appropriate materials are checked and testing is supplied…Only an emergency at home would allow a child to miss school. The other way a child could leave school was only with the parents signature. It was their responsiblity.
    Illness, behavioral problems, disabilities, cleanness, shoes, clothing problems were all delt with to see the child through school…There were programs in place for help with it all. It sounds like a vote needs to be applied to the local and state school system politically….
    I am not elite (mainly self-educated) nor was my family, just hard working people responsible for their own success or failure, trying to accept all people the same. We come into this world naked and we go out with nothing, what happens inbetween is up to us and our caretakers..We are all connected and yes, hillbillies, tarheels and Appalachian mountaineers…and flatlanders!
    I am sorry you feel the system failed you. Your goal should be not to let another child fall through the cracks…
    Thanks Tipper, and Rob

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    November 3, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    I can’t wait to read this book! One of the wisest lessons I’ve learned in life-never trust a man (or woman,for that matter) without calluses on their hands-Miss Cindy said it best!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    November 3, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    I checked the book out yesterday from the Amazon Library to read and I have had a hard time putting it down. I am over halfway through it and I am really enjoying it.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Rob-I’m sorry you were failed by those who were supposed to help you-and sounds like the failure was made worse since they were your neighbors so to speak.
    Being born and raised in Appalachia by no means makes a person perfect. There are good people who live in Appalachia and bad people who live in Appalachia-just like there are in all the other areas of this world. And then there is the majority of people-myself included-who walk the line between good and bad every day-weaving in and out of both sides.
    For whatever reason-I’ve never felt like a ‘hillbilly’ nor have I ever felt belittled or made fun of because of where I’m from or who I am-not even when someone has to ask me to repeat myself because they can’t understand what I’m saying. Maybe its because I’m too full of pride-maybe its because I was raised with just enough love to see that all the rest didn’t matter.
    Sounds like things worked out for you in the end and I’m glad! There’s one thing hard luck times do for a person-if they make it to the other side they can be forever grateful for every good thing. I know that sounds like a sappy greeting card-yet in my life I’ve found it to totally be true. Only after deep dark despair could I see the sunshine on a dirty pair of old Chippewa boots laying on a porch that needed sweeping over a yard that needed mowing and think they were beautiful as I thought about the feet that wore them every day for me and my two jewels.
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    November 3, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    I know exactly what is meant by callused hands being a diploma. Callused hands were among the most gentle in my childhood.

  • Reply
    Rob R Baron
    November 3, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    I didn’t finish high school. Not because I didn’t want to but because the county school system didn’t want me to. I took classes in another county for two days to get a GED. The instructor said she didn’t think I needed to be there and made arrangements for me to take the tests. I need 50 to get the diploma. I scored 94. They told me I “blew the top out of it!”
    The school system in the county where I grew up failed me but I don’t consider myself a failure. There is a final test that we all must take and the playing field there will be leveled. All things will be considered. That’s the one that really matters in the end. Isn’t it? My seventh grade graduated, calloused hand Daddy will be the valedictorian. I just hope I can be in sight of the podium.
    I still own property and pay taxes in the county who’s school system failed me. I hope my money is going to help the children who really need it but is most likely being used to advance the education of the elite just as it did when I was growing up.
    It’s never been the “outsiders” who have oppressed the poor people of Appalachia. It has always been our “own people” that profit most from the toil and sweat of our “uneducated hillbillies.”
    I recognize some of the of those people in the list of commentators on this very website and others and don’t really expect my diatribe to be published but I felt it needed be said.
    Tipper, I feel you have also been a victim of the same kind of treatment I have experienced and it may well be ongoing. I suppose your reaction to what I have had to say today will be revealed when you next update your post.
    Good Night!

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    November 3, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    The calloused hands make me think of my father who worked hard all his life. He loved farming and was on a tractor two days before he died at 88 years of age. At the hospital with pneumonia, he hallucinated thinking he was on his tractor and giving “orders” to his son who sat with him. I’ll always remember his hands.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    With all those speaking so lovingly of their Daddys it warms up my memory of my Daddy. We were a pair!
    I recall a few years ago I was at the funeral home to visit a friend’s Daddy that had tragically died in a tractor accident. I heard a person ask him how he was doing and how he hated to hear of the loss. Then I heard the fellow say, “Yes, we hated to lose him like this and wouldn’t you know it, we had just started getting to where we could finally get along with one another.” That saddened my heart so much to hear that. Then I was glad because my Daddy and I always got along. I now like to brag about that. It soothes my mind. He couldn’t give us everyhing we wanted when we were kids but, but he always saw to it that we all got what we needed.

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    November 3, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    All my grandparents but one had enough schooling that they could read and write. My Papaw Clyde could write his name but that was about it. They all had masters degrees in “life” and by far are the smartest people I’ve ever known.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Those are powerful, but touching
    words from Barbara’s book. I, too
    know of daddy’s like that and one
    of ’em is my own. One of the things daddy done was laying rocks
    and bricks and cement blocks. But
    he could do anything! I miss his
    knowledge and guidance, think about him often, and remember all
    the good times we shared. He’s
    been gone for 30 years now and
    loved election nights, baking
    chestnuts on top of our old wood
    stove. He’s still my Hero…Ken

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    November 3, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    tipper as always your topics stir my soul… and what a lovely verse that was … and so true too… its the hard work and sweat of our forefathers which made this country what it is… we all love our fathers.. it was 11 years ago for me.. when i lost my beloved father on the 1st of nov. and i miss him dearly.. and he had calloused hands too.. worked two jobs to provide for us seven children. looked for the article i have.. but it showed him in his navy uniform.. and it said.. he celebrated his 18th birthday on the nemitz(submarine) as he was in the navy in the wartimes…
    may all of you have a wonderful weekend filled with love and remember to salute our veterans and shake their calloused hands 🙂
    sending big ladybug hugs

  • Reply
    November 3, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I am blessed with a hard working husband. Right now, at 60, he’s out back replacing the tin over the back porch with metal. He just reroofed our house with a little help. I know he is in pain every day. His knotted & calloused hands are a testament to his love for us.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    November 3, 2012 at 11:59 am

    My Dad had calloused hands. It worried me as a child to see them so stained, dry and peeling.
    His diploma from Applachian State helped him in a sense of his business things, but he loved physical work. I think that came from farming as a youth. He loved the physical work.
    Like a lot of carpenters, how did he figure!
    With his hands, head and a pencil, he said.
    When I talked to his doctor in his later seventies, commenting that we just couldn’t get him to stop working…his doctor said, “It is better for him to wear out, than rust out!” Not to worry!
    I’ll never forget that statement. When he finally did retire, so to speak. it wasn’t long before his body did…the doctor was right, work kept him living.
    Thanks Tipper, and Barbara for sharing on your blog, Eventhough I have read the book. I love the post and comments of others…

  • Reply
    Tim Hassell
    November 3, 2012 at 11:08 am

    They say necessity is the mother of invention and the hard school of necessity is where my own dad earned his doctorate. He could fix anything and in many cases “invent and manufacture” what he needed to get a particular job done. He was keen on teaching his sons to be inventive and self-reliant. Sadly, his time with us was short and I’m sure there were many valuable lessons I missed. He passed away more than thirty years ago —-I still miss him every day. It is so important for young fathers today to realize what a huge role they have in teaching their children the lessons they will need for life.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Ron Perry, Sr. is right. It is most evident that her writing comes from the heart.

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    November 3, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Reminds me of my own Dad too, now gone these 25 yeaqrs. He too never finished High School but got a GED late in life, not that he really needed it, but it seemed like the thing to do. The calloused hands were part of life, had ’em myself as a kid, but left the farm for easier work…still not sure if that was the right choice.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    November 3, 2012 at 9:18 am

    I love that statement – his diploma was calloused hands.I think this would be a better country if more people would have that type of diploma. Hard work never hurt anyone.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    November 3, 2012 at 9:04 am

    I hate to contrary all the other commenters but “My Dad” was the smartest man, he had to give up a College Scholarship to help support his widowed Mother and two younger brothers and then served in WWII in the US Army Air Corp in the South Pacific. He was the most self sufficent person I ever knew and had a Phd. in Callouses. Dr. William E. Mitchell, a WWII Paratrooper was one of the most intelligent men I ever knew and saved my wife’s and my life with his skill would always feel a man’s hand when he shook hands with them and when feeling callouses he would comment that this was a good hand since he too had callouses for he spent his days off working his farm and I would venture that these were the happiest days of his gifted life. Sadly these two fine men are no longer with us but both of them touched many and their legacies still live.

  • Reply
    Ron Perry, Sr.
    November 3, 2012 at 8:59 am

    She writes with her heart, not with her hands and a pen.

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    November 3, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Love it.. This is right up my alley.. My kind of writing and so true.. My daddy’s hands were callused all of his life..Can’t wait to read that book.. I’ve got a book coming out soon.. It’s at the publisher now.. Thanks Tipper for the great post.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    November 3, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Truer words were never spoken. Having a degree doesn’t make one the all knowing. Those who worked hard learned from experience and were forced to do a lot of problem solving. I enjoyed your post. I look forward to more.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Love it!
    Barbara really has the gift of coining a phrase. I think I may have to get this book! My Grandad, Pop, came from a family of 12 children and he knew hard work all of his life. Even when he finally became a wealthy man he would rise before dawn and worked hard with his hands. They felt thick like old saddle leather and his fingers became twisted like a Harry Lauder walking stick in his old age. He loved good furniture and spent his last years refinishing it for my childhood home, despite the pain, because he just did not know how to be idle and out of love for his daughter – to make her happier with her new home.

  • Reply
    Canned Quilter
    November 3, 2012 at 7:50 am

    My daddy had the biggest and most calloused hands I have ever seen and was probably the smartest man I have ever met. Life was a hard teacher and his lesson was learned well!

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    November 3, 2012 at 7:19 am

    Pop Shipman never went to school, could not read or write. Those skills were not as important as survival when he was growing up. But he could do math in his head, areas, volumes, carpentry calculations faster than I could put them on paper to figure them out.
    My dad went to GED classes at age 60 and got his high school certificate.
    Both these men had a ‘diploma of calloused hands’.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 3, 2012 at 7:10 am

    Oh, I love it. Now we’re talking about real knowledge and real experience learned through blood, sweat, and tears. These are the people I want to talk to.
    What a beautiful way with words she has!

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