Profiles of Mountain People

In The Fullness of Time

Today’s guest post was written by Ed Karshner.

Spud-Run-Road sign

“In The Fullness of Time” written by Ed Karshner

Tar Hollow State Park, in Southeast Ohio, has been the site of the Fisher Family Reunion for my entire life. The Fishers are my Mom’s people. They go back to the original settlers of Western Virginia, who took advantage of land grants doled out by President George Washington. With the Civil War, Putnam County became part of West Virginia, and the Fishers remained there until the early 1920s. Then, my great-grandparents, Eli and Amy Fisher, moved to Ross County, Ohio with plans to go from being school teachers to farmers.

In those days, Tar Hollow State Park wasn’t a park. It wasn’t even a State Forest. Instead, it was a hard, hilly land, settled by harder pioneers fully intending to live off the land and be left alone. My great-grandparents bought, sight unseen, eighty acres at the far end of a hollow on Spud Run Road and found the land too rugged to farm. This boondoggle would forever live in my Great-grandma’s warning to “never buy a pig in a poke.”

Their new neighbors had long since resorted to trapping for furs, hunting for meat, and working the Pitch Pine to produce liniments and machine lubricants for cash to make up for the shortfall created by the landscape. My great-grandfather taught himself to “animal doctor” in order to make ends meet. Eventually, Eli, Amy, and their growing family (including my grandfather), started share cropping a farm down the road that was owned by a businessman who lived in Chillicothe.

Then came the Great Depression. It was an unholy alignment of natural and social forces. The gardens were too small and the ground too stubborn to support the people who relied on it. The century or so of over hunting and trapping had decimated the wildlife in the area. With the animals gone, so were the furs that were worth money that could be spent on flour, salt, and canned goods. For the first time, these people found themselves in need of money. Money that was as scarce as the natural resources had become; however, the government was ready to oblige.

The Works Progress Administration put “unskilled men” to work transforming 16, 000 acres of the Appalachian Plateau from a patchwork of native forests and small homesteads into a state forest and park. Those “unskilled men” were my very skilled great-grandfather, grandfather, and my great uncles. This public work was taking place on land acquired through the Resettlement Administration whose mission was to buy up, what the November 23, 1936 Daily Herald out of Circleville, Ohio called, “non-agricultural” farms. This version of the RA was called the “Ross-Hocking Land Utilization Program.” Uncle Joe recalls that the goal was to get people out of the hills and hollows and closer to the highways; therefore, closer to transportation and cash work in the city.

The Fishers, however, were lucky in that their property ran right up against, what my Great-grandma Amy called, “The Resettlement.” They didn’t need to be “resettled” because, as Uncle Joe says, “From Spud Run, where we lived, you could walk across the hill…through the woods and that is where my Dad and some other people went over there to make a little bit of money to build them shelter houses, and toilets.” My family’s homeplace was further protected because, although they still owned the “non-productive” eighty acres, they were still share cropping the farm further down the road. Proximity to State work and cash work on another man’s farm insulated them, for now.

three men

Uncle Wes, Ed, Great Uncle Joe 2019

But the government did come calling. On our property was the highest point on Spud Run Road. My family still calls it Orchard Hill even though the apple and peach trees have long since gone. Uncle Joe recalls, “Tar Hollow wanted that Orchard Hill, because the height of it, to build a fire tower.” The government men came with a pocket full of cash and a bottle of liquor. They got Eli drunk and convinced him to sell the homeplace so they could fold it into the new State Park. But, Amy wouldn’t sign the papers, the land being in both their names. That land was their only place to live. If the man in town sold the farm, kicked them off, they would be without a place. So, Amy chose security over money. She decided with a pragmatic fatalism that didn’t just plan for a rainy day but put a roof on it. Uncle Joe says “Mom said until the day she died that that was the only time she defied what Dad wanted to do.”

Even after my grandfather bought the farm they sharecropped, those original eighty acres stayed in the family. Great Uncle Joe holds it now. Every year, he goes out to the homeplace with my Uncle Wes to clean out the springs. “It’s out there. Just in case we ever need it,” Uncle Joe says. No land is ever worthless. There is nothing “marginal” about security… a place to live, to call your own. My grandma always said that land is the most valuable thing you can have. Land is “what you have and what someone else will always want. Hold it,” she’d say.

The land is still there; however, the farm house, the barns, and the corncribs that my great-grandparents built have long since gone back to the earth. Even the farm on Spud Run where I grew up, the one my great-grandparents worked and my grandfather bought after World War II, is devoid of the original homes…now vacant waiting for pre-fab cabins to house visiting ATV enthusiasts.

While Tar Hollow was being built, an Austrian photographer, Theodor Jung, took pictures of the original inhabitants of the area. Always in the back ground of the portraits of these “hillicans” are their log homes. They are built from the same square, hand-hewn logs the shelter houses in Tar Hollow are built from. The materials, the construction style, it is all the same. Even though nothing of the homeplace exists, in Tar Hollow I can touch the rough-hewn logs that my relatives cut, shaped, and put up, I can get a sense of what they built, what their lives were like. This is real history. Physical memory palaces that recall who we were, who we are, and who we should be.

two children

James and Alex (Ed’s children) in Tar Hollow 2016

That’s why, every year, at the end of July, we go back to that place that tried to swallow us. To that place that couldn’t assimilate us. And in this act of reunion, of remembering, we live something that I have come to see as essentially Appalachian. In his book Signs, Cures, and Witchery, Gerald Milnes writes about a German charm he saw written over a door in Randolph County, West Virginia: Zeit und Raum is Alles, “Time and Space is Everything.” What connects everything, within this spiritually important awareness, is story. When we can link a story to a moment, a place, an object—something present and immediate, the substance of the story comes alive again in that moment. We remember that we live not in a fixed linear time with a clear cut beginning, middle and end; rather, we exist in that fullness of time which slowly unfolds until we realize that stories don’t end with the last sentence. They continue in the lives of the people who live them. Like autumn leaves that nourish a ground they will never see flourish, they are, nevertheless, present in the green of spring; each story we tell recalls another story and, if we’re lucky, a story from another. The meaning of “everything” is found in the lessons stories teach us about the folding of oldness into newness. Tar Hollow reminds me that it is our responsibility to re-tell our stories. And as long as we do, we will be here and so will those who came before us.

—-

I hope you enjoyed Ed’s piece as much as I did. I especially enjoyed his thoughts on our stories, and therefore our lives, continuing on in the hearts and minds of those who come after us.

Tipper

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Appalachian-Cooking-Class

Come cook with me!

MOUNTAIN FLAVORS – TRADITIONAL APPALACHIAN COOKING
Location: John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, NC
Date: Sunday, June 23 – Saturday, June 29, 2019
Instructors: Carolyn Anderson, Tipper Pressley

Experience the traditional Appalachian method of cooking, putting up, and preserving the bounty from nature’s garden. Receive hands-on training to make and process a variety of jellies, jams, and pickles for winter eating. You’ll also learn the importance of dessert in Appalachian culture and discover how to easily make the fanciest of traditional cakes. Completing this week of cultural foods, a day of bread making will produce biscuits and cornbread. All levels welcome.

Along with all that goodness Carolyn and I have planned a couple of field trips to allow students to see how local folks produce food for their families. The Folk School offers scholarships you can go here to find out more about them. For the rest of the class details go here.

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Quinn
    May 10, 2019 at 7:46 pm

    Good writing, Ed! Thank you for sharing your family history on the land.
    I wish there was a piece of land with my family history on it, but as far as I know, my little patch of 2 and a half acres makes me the biggest land baron in my family, and everyone else in my family thinks I live in some kind of faraway wilderness. Funny, that.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    May 7, 2019 at 10:11 am

    A friend always said ” Land is a good investment. They aren’t making any more of it.”
    I had a college professor to show how land was not a good economic investment due to taxes. He didn’t understand there are more important things than money when it comes to land.

    My greatest fear in this “land of the free” is that some politician can see that there would be a better use of my land and take it for “development”. It has already been done in other places here. And the resettlement in 1930 shows it was done then.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    May 7, 2019 at 9:12 am

    Ed, that was really interesting and it made me think of my ole homeplace in e.ky. The farm is still in the family but all the houses are gone and the barn recently fell down. The only things left are two wells and one sweet water spring. My brother drives his tractor and bushhog 40 miles ever fall and keeps it cleaned up. There are no tobacco crops raised on it anymore and is used mostly for hunting. Sometimes I like to go to the top of the ridge and sit on a huge rock called buzzard rock and enjoy the view and the solitude. This beautiful piece of land, beautiful to me, has been in the family for well over 100 yrs. and will stay in my family for the foreseeable future.
    I enjoy telling my Grandson about his Great, Great, Great, Grandparents that lived there. He has an interest in his heritage unlike his Father who could care less.

  • Reply
    Richard Shepherd
    May 7, 2019 at 9:07 am

    Ed Karshner’s story hit home in me, Tipper…..Before Mary and I retired to the North Georgia Mountains in the Fall of 2018, we lived in east central Ohio…..I hiked the hills and hollows of southeast Ohio surrounding Tar Hollow State Park and Hocking Hills State Park for 28 years….We love our new home, people and entire area of North Georgia but I will never forget the beauty and peace of Ohio…..Thank You for sharing Ed’s memories!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 7, 2019 at 8:16 am

    My Dad would say, “If I have land, they can’t starve me to death.” There are layers to that idea. One of them is what you posted about recently, Tipper, having a place. In their time, our trapping, fishing, farming, ranching, logging, hunting etc ancestors felt vulnerable without land. They knew that with land they could provide housing and food. The idea still lives in a form in the song, “A Country Boy Can Survive”.

    Examples could be multiplied throughout the Eastern US of the Federal government acquiring land for social programs in the 1930’s. The New Deal set up the ever-more invasive role of government in all our lives.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    May 7, 2019 at 8:01 am

    Ed sure has depth in his words and thoughts. It is a great gift to be able to take what might be ordinary people and be able to bring them alive in such an interesting way. Thanks for letting us learn about their lives.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    May 7, 2019 at 7:43 am

    Love these stories. They are so close to many of my relatives. Even though my parents moved to town we still went back to the farm to help on the weekends.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 7, 2019 at 6:54 am

    Yes, Tip, I really enjoyed Ed’s story, he really has a way with words! We do exist in the fullness of time. He makes me wish I knew more of my family history/story.
    This story is Appalachia is her fullness.

  • Reply
    Vanessa
    May 7, 2019 at 6:44 am

    I really enjoyed this. I read a blog post years ago that came close to a sermon based on “O Brother Where art Thou?”‘s Delmar. Hollywood made Delmar to be the dumbest of the 3 convicts but to my mind he was the smartest, reckoning on spending his share of the treasure by ”I’m gonna visit those foreclosing son-of-a-guns at the Indianola Savings & Loan, slap that money on the barrelhead and buy back the family farm. You ain’t no kind of man if you ain’t got land”
    Our hollow is paid for, w/ plans to pass it down to our children. It does give you a feeling of immortality.

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