Appalachia Pap Profiles of Mountain People

Inspiration From Days Gone By

Papaw Wade Wilson

Papaw Wade and his dogs

Since I first started writing here on the Blind Pig one truth has proved itself over and over: you never know where questions will take you.

As will often happen, I already had the thought of wood meandering around my brain when GW Newton sent me the story about his Mother and lightered wood. Falling in love with his mother’s fierce independent determination led me down a whole different road.

Somewhere along the dirt path that went from dead chestnut trees to rich pine I took a u-turn and went back along the way looking for rolling stores. Wouldn’t you know, when I hitched a ride on the store truck I found a story or two by way of Pap. Seems he’s always got a story for me no matter the subject.


Pap's family

Pap’s family: Marie holding Henry, Wade, Carrie, Ray, and Pap in his overalls

Since most of the places Pap’s family lived when he was a boy are within driving distance (if not walking) he’s taken me to more than a few of them over the years. You may remember the place he lived on Cook Road-the place where he was scared in the moonlight.

The house had 3 rooms with a fireplace for heat and a wood cook stove. WWII had been over for a few years and things seemed to be picking up even here in Brasstown. Pap’s father, Wade, was offered a job share cropping the old Brown place over on Pine Log.

In early summer they moved from Cook Road to an old house in Calley Cove that had 3 rooms too, but the rooms were larger. Even better the old cabin had a covered porch along the length of it. The house sat under a white oak as big as a wagon wheel. There was even a can house and a big barn. But the best part about the new place was that it was on the sunny side of the mountain, not in a dreary damp place like the house they’d just left.

The Brown place was less than a mile away, so Wade didn’t have too far to travel back and forth. Things were going good for Pap’s family. His father also did some farming for Pap’s aunt and uncle, Ina and Bill Penland. Pap didn’t say it, but I’m thinking his mother Marie liked being only a mile away from her sister Ina. And I know from the stories I’ve heard that a true bond of friendship was made during that time between the two sister’s children.

The house in Calley Cove didn’t have a fireplace nor a cookstove. The cookstove wasn’t an issue since they were able to bring the one from Cook road with them. But as summer turned into fall the lack of a fireplace for extra heat became a problem. You’d think a cook stove would be enough to heat a little 3 room cabin, but I’m sure most of the heat went straight out the un-insulated walls.

Wade came up with the money to buy a woodstove-Pap thinks it was 26 dollars. He put in an order for Bennetts Rolling Store to bring him one as soon as they could. Finally the day arrived. Pap said it was an exciting time for them all.

Now this is the part of the story that tugs at my heart.

When Wade went to meet the store truck he didn’t have anything to haul the stove home on.

All these years later, who can say why. Maybe he didn’t have an animal to pull a sled-maybe he didn’t have a sled-maybe he didn’t want to put someone else out by asking to borrow theirs.

Pap doesn’t remember the why, but he remembers the how.

Wade directed the store man to help him put the stove on his back. The man didn’t want to comply with the request, the driver warned Wade he’d hurt himself, warned him there was no way he could make it home. Now my Papaw Wade wasn’t a large man, he wasn’t much taller than me (I’m 5’5) and he couldn’t have weighed much more than me either.

Pap remembers how his Daddy started off for home with that stove on his back. He traveled a ways and then backed up to a bank so he could shift the load off. Pap remembers after his Daddy folded a coat and placed it on his shoulder he backed up to the bank and wrangled the stove to his back and started off again.

Pap remembers how after going a bit farther, his Daddy finally realized he’d bit off more than he could chew. After the stove was once again set on a bank, they went for a horse and sled that carried the load the rest of the way home.

I’ve pondered Papaw Wade trying to carry that stove a blue million times since Pap first told me the story. You’d think only a crazy person would try to carry a stove, but see I know Papaw Wade wasn’t crazy, he was actually a very smart man. So why did he attempt such a herculean task?

Because his family needed a stove; because he had an independent spirit that made him want to take care of things on his own; because he didn’t want to put someone else out by asking for their help; because he saw what needed to be done and went at it like fighting fire.

This story about Papaw Wade trying to carry a stove home to his family and GW Newton’s story of his Mother figuring out how to get her own lightered wood splinters when she needed them inspire me. Both show the determination and goodness that can dwell within us humans.

In today’s world there’s no need for carrying stoves on your back nor crawling under the house for splinters, but there are still obstacles. There are still hard times in my Appalachia and there are still people rising above them for their families. And you know what? That’s just as cool now as it was way back then.


p.s. This post was originally published right here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn in 2012. I’ve had Papaw Wade and his wood cutting on my mind the last few days and thought I’d share the post with you again.


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  • Reply
    Barb Johnson
    January 24, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    My daddy grew up in Middlesboro Ky, very near Cumberland Gap. They were very poor. He told stories of gathering coal by railroad tracks ,small pieces that barely warmed their newspaper lined cabin. He hitch hiked to Michigan when he was 16 for a job. Daddy’s funeral was yesterday,he was 90 . There will forever be a hole in my heart.

  • Reply
    marshall reagan
    February 9, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    Tipper I wonder why they didn,t use corn cobs to start fires with back then. because they shelled corn for the chickens so they had cobs & they had kerosene for the lamps . they could have soaked the cobs in kerosene & had a good fire starter.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 9, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    I do admire your Papaw Wade for his determination in this particular situation. I come from a very independent family, especially from my Mother. She thought bordered on stubborn as well. For instance when in her late eighties we tried to get her to come live with one of us as we all lived out of town, (though be it not but 15 to 30 minutes away), she would not do it. She also feared us putting her in a nursing home. Sooo, she made lists on top of lists, medicine taking times, trash pickups, grocery needs by the date she might run short so she could tell us what to bring etc. Yes, we knew what was going on but we still feared that she might need immediate help from a fall or some medical unforeseen disaster. But she persisted, we took turns going by, taking her to the store if needed, to the doctor of course, etc. and she got her wish to stay in her home and dying there with all of us by her side. I did spend the last three months mostly living there but getting out and back home to wash clothes when someone would relieve me! ha That is the mountain way, she could have also hired someone to stay with her too, but refused all help but family! ha Am I sorry or angry about it, no! I feel I honored her as my Mother and the older I get, 76, I just can’t think of anywhere I would want to be other than home. Mom passed at ninety three, except the last few months, enjoying a walk in the yard to look at flowers, cooking cornbread and milk if she wanted to just eat that, and not listening to anybody telling her what to do in her own house! ha
    When I asked the doctor all about the situation, he said, “She is a strong willed, determined woman, and I doubt she will pass away without a tremendous mountain battle so just go with the flow if you can! And we did!
    I do want to say that some people feel terrible if they are not asked to help out a neighbor. Some people live to help others. I someone tell me one time that very thing, that I was her friend and it hurts when a friend won’t ask another friend to help! That also is the mountain way!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Great post!

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Very neat story. Folks back in the day were raised with survival skills, and they taught their young the same, as time has passed, you don’t see it as much anymore. I had a conversation with an older gentleman a while back, and he said folks now days buy what they want and beg for what they need, and I had to say Wow he nailed it.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    I love that picture of your Uncle Wade and those Tree’n Walkers. They’re real coon dogs! This story made my reading glasses “fog” up. You seem to use real life stories and those are the best.
    I built my wood stove back in 1980 and it’s still going strong. The wood heat has saved me thousands of dollars over the years. I love to play in the woodpile anyway. My stove weighs about 630 pounds and it’s 3 layers thick. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    February 9, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Oh, Tipper, I treasure that photo of Pap as a boy in his overalls! His face never changed, did it? This makes me feel even more connected with your wonderful family!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 9, 2017 at 11:22 am

    You never know what you can’t do until you try. You never let someone else set your limits.
    Now I’m wondering if the stove came all in one piece. Why didn’t Papaw take the thing apart and carry the pieces?

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    February 9, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Tipper–From my perspective, the two things you touched on in this post which speak most to me and to mountain ways are staunch independence and an unwillingness to ask others for help. I think it’s just the Scots-Irish in us.
    Right now I’m a member of a board which has, among its primary duties, fund-raising. I’d rather have an all-day toothache than to ask someone for money or, for that matter, unless it’s a family member, for help of any kind. It’s pretty clear to me that your Papaw Wade had a similar mindset.
    I’d also bet a silver dollar that he would have gone to great lengths rather than ask anyone except family members to loan him something.
    It’s just our mountain mindset, and to my way of thinking character traits of this sort are ones to be prized, not pooh-poohed.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 10:39 am

    When I bought my small woodstove I honestly believed I would be able to lift one end and would just have to break down and ask someone to help with the other end. Sounds crazy now, but I guess I was just so accustomed to managing on my own, one way or another, with all sorts of heavy lifting, that one extra pair of hands seemed plenty. I asked a friend, he brought another friend, and they told me I should just hold the door and point to where I wanted the stove. Well, when I saw those two big fellows sweating and straining to carry my little stove into my parlor! I was SO embarrassed I hadn’t hired someone to do the moving! Honestly, it was about 30 years ago and I feel myself getting red in the face as I type.
    So, I guess I can’t explain why your Papaw Wade would undertake such a task, but I hope you don’t mind me saying that I feel a sort of kinship with him for doing it.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 9:16 am

    I remember well the rolling store that came through our community every Tuesday. It stopped at the elementary school and we lined up to purchase colas, candy, peanuts and Cracker Jacks.
    The stove: My grandfather wanted a new heater for the living room. The grate had burned out of the one he had. He saw an ad in the local paper and asked me to take him over to see it. He asked, “How much?” The man said , “Oh, I guess 4 or 5 dollars.” I handed the man 4 dollars and began to dismantle the stove and load it into the trunk of my car. The man counted the money several times and finally said, “I think you only gave me 4 dollars, I wanted 5.” I replied, “You said 4 OR 5. I thought you meant you would take either and I chose the smaller.” He counted it again and said, “Well, I guess that lesson cost me a dollar. I won’t be making it again.”

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 9, 2017 at 9:01 am

    Your story reminds me of my Dad. When I was in the sixth grade we lived on Queen City Avenue in Cincinnati. We had an apartment at the top of the building, on the fourth floor. There were sixty-some steps from our door to the street. I can’t quite remember the why but Dad got a refrigerator on his back, carried it down without stopping and put it on the truck.
    My Grandpa carried the lumber on his back to build my Grandma a set of canning shelves she wanted. For her, I think they came to symbolise what was best in his nature.
    I think you are quite right that folks do those kinds of things because of determination and independence. And in back of that is an acceptance of responsibility, that it needs done and it is their duty to do, even if it is risky. It has been called the “pioneer spirit”. Kind of like a line from my favorite movie, Connagher. Mrs. Teal says Connagher ought to wait and get help before he takes on the cow thieves. He says, Anybody that needs help, ma’am ought not start out.” For the independent folks, at some point help is not helpful if it erodes ones self respect.

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes Moreno
    February 9, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Some folks would call this stubborn, some hardheaded, some obstinate. I have been called most of those things a time or two. I always prefer determined! Papaw Wade was determined in my mind to do what it took to achieve the needed outcome!

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 8:33 am

    It was always way to common in Appalachia to carry too much burden or attempt burdens the back is not designed to haul. In my training good body mechanics were stressed, and this helped a great deal with my avoiding any spinal injuries. However, I saw many very young me with herniated discs, and especially if they had worked in a coal mines. My own dear Dad had black lung and herniated disc, and he was also hard of hearing from running a loud bulldozer for years The sacrifices these family men made to make certain their family was taken care of should always be brought to attention of younger members of the family. I felt those injuries were largely unreported as many missing fingers and herniated discs. Just men trying to take care of their families!
    I appreciate your keeping the story of Paw Paw Wade alive, and let your family know his sacrifices. We do have our problems nowadays, but so many of the unbelievable tragedies of yesteryear could have been prevented with a few more rules or safety standards.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 9, 2017 at 8:14 am

    What a hero your grampa Wade was. A man who put his family above all else. As it should be

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 9, 2017 at 6:47 am

    Tip, that is a story worth telling again. It goes straight to the heart of Appalachian folks, Independent and determined people! It makes me cry and it makes me proud.

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