Appalachia Profiles of Mountain People

Mountain Folk – Mary Lou McKillip

The first time I ever met Mary Lou McKillip she was telling a story about an old hound dog. She had my rapt attention from beginning to end. As she told the story, in my mind I pictured a few of Papaw’s hunting dogs like Smokey and Old Blue. I knew right then Mary Lou would be a perfect person to interview.

Mary Lou was born on April 13, 1942. With a hearty laugh she told me she was born Indian style-at home. She said “they would have at least sent for the doc but there was a big snow on the ground.” Since Mary Lou was the youngest of 14 children, I’m sure her Mother knew enough to handle things on her own anyway.

Several months after I first met her, I sat down with Mary Lou and her husband Truman to ask her a few questions.

What are the biggest differences you see between the days of your childhood and today?

Oh I would say tv and the other material things children have today. Of course when I was a child most folks lived on a farm and that meant chores for everyone in the family even the children. There were hogs, chickens, and cows to tend too. I never mastered ringing necks nor milking either one. Even with the work we had lots of fun too. We had a bingo game most every Saturday night and people would come together to play and visit. Every 4th of July everyone would take a picnic down to the river. Mother had a lard bucket with a hole cut in it to cook with. Family and neighbors would play horse shoes and eat together.

Seems like you told me you were the youngest of a large group of siblings?

Yes there was 7 girls and 7 boys-The Lord’s number on both counts. I was the baby of the family. A lot of the older ones were married and gone from home long before I came along. I was a little spoiled since they knew I’d for sure be their last one. My Father doted on me and couldn’t really bear to punish me. One time Mother was going to give me a whipping and I run and climbed up the apple tree to get away. My Father was sent to get me down and finish the job. He got me down but that was the end of the whipping.

Don’t you play the piano?

Yes I’ve been playing since I was 13 years old. My family was very musical. My Mother played the organ. I’ve been singing since I was just a child in Mother’s arms. One of the tales they told about me was me singing and Mother’s trying to quiet me by putting her hand over my mouth. I just kept right on singing through her hand.

Is there a memory that stands out in your mind that you’d like to tell me about?

Ever since I was big enough to know what it was I wanted to go to school. One day I was out playing in the yard and I slipped off from Momma and went to school. I had memorized a little book called Bright Eyes. The teachers all thought I could read! Of course they soon found out I couldn’t and that I wasn’t old enough to be there. But even though I wasn’t enrolled they let me come to school the rest of that year.

Can you tell us anything about the current events of the time-what sort of things were going on in this area when you were a child?

Mother and Father had 5 sons and 3 son-n-laws in WWII so that made a big impact on our daily lives. Of course most families had loved ones in the war. You could hear people praying on the surrounding ridge tops, praying for God to spare their sons, praying for the war to end. I remember the joy we felt as the end of the war was announced on the radio.

When did you start writing?

I was about 16 years old when I started writing poems and songs. I wouldn’t let hardly anyone read them. My Daddy encouraged me to send them off to magazines and such. As an adult I’ve always said I’m the bumble bee writer. Haven’t you heard Bumblees can’t fly but since they don’t know it they do? Well I’m the bumble bee writer-I can’t really write but since I don’t know it I do it anyway.

What is your life like now compared to when you were a child?

We still grow a garden and put food up. Truman promised me when he retired he’d help me with my writing, and he has. As a whole I’m afraid the people of Appalachia’s trust in people has changed over the years. We used to never even lock our doors and a deal could be made just by a handshake now you have to have it all down on paper and approved by lawyers. So much change makes tears come to my eyes when I think about it all.

What does Appalachia mean to you Mary Lou?

It’s such a serene place, my roots run deep. I wouldn’t take anything for my childhood here. My heart is in the Appalachian Mountains.


I hope you enjoyed my interview with Mary Lou. She told me “I just love everybody that’ll let me love’em.” I say the world needs more of the kind of love Mary Lou’s got to offer.

Leave Mary Lou a comment and I’ll make sure she reads it.




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  • Reply
    June 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I enjoyed the interview very much. She sounds like a very talented lady.

  • Reply
    Glenda B
    June 3, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Thanks for the interview with Mary Lou. She is one of a kind, I think, and I have always enjoyed her stories. She has a story in Echoes Across the Blue Ridge about the dogs and the hunting. She is a loving person and everybody loves her. Her husband Truman is a fine man, also.

  • Reply
    June 2, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Thank you Tipper for this story. I could listen forever to these kinds of stories of the people growing up in these beautiful mountains like Mary Lou and how much they appreciated what they had, how hard they worked to get it and how they are still thankful for it today. It is just facinating to hear about her large family and having that many brothers and sisters and a wonderful mother and father to love and care for them. Thanks to you Mary Lou for sharing your stories with Tipper and thanks to you Tipper for sharing with us. Glynda

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    June 2, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Thank you, Tipper & Mary Lou! We need to listen to people who grew up in the old ways-they have great stories & much wisdom. The Phillips family grew up on a mountain farm(and are very, very proud of it) & I love their stories-it’s a way of life that no longer exists. A lot of folks will tell you that’s progress-me, I’m not so sure.

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    June 2, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Mary Lou is one of my favorite persons. I bought her book. Mama, my sister, and I enjoyed it a lot. Thanks for interviewing Mary Lou. This was very interesting.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    June 2, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    I enjoyed hearing about Mary Lou’s life. We’re about the same age and though I wasn’t born here in the mountains,like they say, I got here as soon as I could.

  • Reply
    June 2, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Keep singing and writting poetry.
    Love the quiet life where you all live and busy gardening. Also bring’zs alot of memoeies for me. chicken’s to feed and water and pig’s cow’s. canning and getting ready for winter. Love the ham’s and home made sausage and bisquit’s.
    God Bless you all!

  • Reply
    June 2, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Sounds like she would be a very good friend to have and would never be bored listening to her stories.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 2, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I just love storytellers, and MaryLou is a great one. I c an see vividly the story she is telling

  • Reply
    June 2, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    This was wonderful!! I’m a year older and could have been considered “mountain folk”. Her musical family sounds much like my mother’s family. Thanks!!

  • Reply
    June 2, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Mary Lou is such a likeable, down to earth Lady. I would love to listen to her stories about growing up in her beloved Appalachia. Thanks for sharing her with us!

  • Reply
    Elizabeth K
    June 2, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Thanks for sharing with us Mary Lou and thanks Tipper for another wonderful read. I enjoyed it very much.

  • Reply
    June 2, 2011 at 10:35 am

    She said that her mother had a lard bucket with a hole cut in it for cooking when they went on picnics. I would like to hear more about this technique. I’m not quite sure I understand how it would work.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    June 2, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Thanks for sharing Mary Lou with us. I also bemoan the fact that people can’t quite trust each other like they used to.
    Of course, there are still people to be trusted, but you have to be careful.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 2, 2011 at 10:01 am

    I just love what Mary Lou said, “I just love everybody that will let me love’em.”….
    She grew up during my time the early forties. Children were beginning to just not be seen but heard as well… her spunky trip to the school…
    Now that said, during my parents time the (teens and twenties), most mountain folks I was around were more ‘stand-offish” and you had to get to know them pretty good before they would let strangers in their friendly lovin’ space. At least that was my experience…
    Thank you Mary Lou..loved the interview…
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Brian Blake
    June 2, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Dear Mary Lou, Your reminiscences bring back a world I did not know, but wish I had. My great-great grandfather grew up in Eastern Tennessee splitting kindling and wringing the necks of chickens. You are a poet, and I’m writing a “bumble bee” family history, trying to invoke the mountains that he knew, with Tipper’s help. Grampa Blake would surely recognize your home-place in the woods.

  • Reply
    Mama Crow
    June 2, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Oh how my family has a special place in our collective hearts for Mary Lou. She was the first person to help give home care to my Aunt Maybell. Maybell, and my mama (when she was in Murphy for a long visit), just waited for the days Mary Lou was coming. She always showed up with a smile on her face, a song in her heart, and a sincere desire to make others fell good that day. She entertained them with songs, stories, gentle conversation, and sound wisdom. My aunt died 2 years ago at 96. While we miss her deeply, finding Mary Lou again through you, Tipper, makes me happy with memories of them both. Linda, (Lois’s daughter).

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 2, 2011 at 8:45 am

    What a beautiful clear spirit Mary Lou is, you can hear it in her words.
    I love the her answers to your questions. They are all little stories in themselves.
    I appreciate her stories of old times. I am just a few years younger than Mary Lou but I didn’t grow up on a farm and we had only two children so it was like a different world.
    I lived visiting my grandmother. They were mountain farm people like Mary Lou is talking about with cows, chickens and pigs.
    I was always fascinated when I went to the farm. I wanted to pet the cows and chickens. As you can imagine that didn’t go over very well. lol
    Yes, times are different now but I see the mountain people still hanging on to their integrity while the rest of the world goes wild!
    Thanks Mary Lou………you were a cute baby!

  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    June 2, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I enjoyed this interview and would like to here more. I have always liked listening to elders tell stories of growing up and life on the farm, etc.
    I was fortunate enough to know my great grandmother who was born in 1898 and my granny who was born in 1905. Both lived to 90+ years old and they told great stories, which I recorded on tape or paper for my boys. Maybe some day I will publish these.

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph.D.
    June 2, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Tipper: Mary Lou reminds me of my BRAND NEW COUSIN who was number 13 in a family of 14 children. I shall share this great story with him!
    Cheers, Eva Nell

  • Reply
    June 2, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Beautiful post!

  • Reply
    June 2, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Mary Lou has a style that pulls a person into her writing. I am very picky about what I will read. I would be drawn to her work.
    Mary Lou knows how to make that “flow” that causes a person to want to read on and on to the next page. Wish I had that knack! I’m not gifted in the writing area but, I know good writing when I see it. I guess I’m sort of like the cat that ate the Canary, I can’t sing but I’ve got it in me.
    Loved her story; would liked to have heard the story about the old hound dog.

  • Reply
    June 2, 2011 at 7:36 am

    What a sweet lady!
    And I agree that the world needs more like her.

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    June 2, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Very interesting, thanks to both you and Mary Lou. I am happy to think of her preserving and adding to our story telling heritage. I found one of her stories on It was great!

  • Reply
    June 2, 2011 at 6:38 am

    Sending thanks to you & Mary Lou for such an enjoyable read! Almost forgot to thank the singers & players for the fantastic music! Blessings to all.

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