Sadness of the Traveler

three girls and two boys standing on porch

Chitter, Chatter, and their cousins on Granny and Pap’s back porch

Now I know all the sadness of the traveler who has gone far away from his home And he knows he can never return there for the place and the people are gone

—Just a Touch of the Past

Folks who are born and raised in Appalachia have an impressive sense of place. I’ve often wondered if other inhabitants of the world have a strong attachment to their place, but I don’t have the answer to that question because I’ve never lived anywhere else.

There are varying reasons behind our love for the mountains.

People who live in the area have a feeling or sense of belonging to the actual terrain of Appalachia. It’s the towering mountains that hover close; the sparkling water that sings a merry song; it’s the wind in the trees that whisper secrets; it’s the deep dark hollers that make you feel the presence of those who walked before you. Appalachia is magic. People like me who’ve lived here their entire lives feel the pull of belonging to Appalachia and people who move here later in life feel it too.

The familial culture of Appalachia plays a supportive role in the sense of place. The family unit is extremely important in the culture of Appalachia. Parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are often intertwined with one another in a tight family network. In 2010 David Anderson wrote a guest post about two of his ancestors. In the post David highlighted the fact that ten generations later many members of his family are still abiding in Clay County NC. Take a minute to think about that. Ten generations walking the same paths; speaking the same words. Ten generations who are bonded with the same landscape and culture. The stable location of David’s family tree is common in Appalachia. Mine and The Deer Hunter’s ancestors have also been in the mountains of Western North Carolina for multiple generations.

I’ve often heard stories from folks who had to go off to find work and then spent their working-life waiting for the day retirement could bring them back home to the mountains. Some folks move off and realize they just can’t live with out the landscape and family of Appalachia surrounding them day by day and come home to make do with what work they can find.

Lonnie Dockery, who was a faithful Blind Pig reader until his death, once told me a story about being homesick and hearing a familiar voice.

Lonnie was in the Marines and he hadn’t been home in good long time. He was flying from one place to another and was in an airport in California. He said he noticed a jar of sorghum syrup sticking out of another man’s bag. Lonnie pointed at it and asked him if he liked syrup. Lonnie said in one of those small world ways it turned out the man was from the mountains of Appalachia too. Lonnie said hearing the man talk of syrup and home made him feel like he was sitting at his mamma’s kitchen table instead of at an airport across the country.


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  • Reply
    October 10, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    Home, for me, has always been where my Mother was, and she was always here where I still live. She died at the age of 90, in 2007. My son left home 25 years ago. I’ve never liked the town where lived, but I stayed because I knew my mother depended on me. Now she’s gone and I would love to move somewhere else, but my husband says one place is the same as another and will not leave. In case I outlive him, I will be gone – somewhere. I’ve told my friends/family if I die before him, sprinkle my ashes anywhere besides the town where I was raised !

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 9, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    Tipper–Whether knowingly or otherwise, you have evoked, in particularly powerful fashion, what is probably the single strongest and brightest thread in Southern literature–a sense of place. From William Faulkner to Archibald Rutledge, from Thomas Wolfe to songwriter/singer Dwight Yoakam, passion for place looms large. Yoakam, who is writing about his native heath of eastern Kentucky in “Readin’, Writin’, and Route 23,” goes squarely to the heart of things when he notes that being away from Appalachia can lead “to a world of misery.”

    The mountains and foothills, with their mystery and magic, lay hold of our souls and never let go.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Debbie Nixon
    October 9, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    Growing up we were always moving around from place to place. Military families sometimes find it hard to establish roots especially the children who were born in different states than where your parents were born. Both my parents were born and raised in Arkansas so their hearts belonged or rather shall I say longed to come back to where all their families and memories of the ones who have passed on.
    I remember my dad saying when he finally retired from the military when he got back to Arkansas he was burning his suitcases because that will be his last trip. He was so tired of all the moves and just wanted to be back here to raise a garden and be able to visit his brothers and sisters whenever he wanted. I must say it was nice to be able to be around family something I wasn’t used to till my teen years. I loved being able to go to my grandparents house to spend the night, I think my cousins who lived here took that privilege for granted because they didn’t know what it was like to go years before seeing them. I do love where we live but I think in all regions there are things we love and things that we don’t.
    I love being where my parents grew up and where all of my family from both sides reside except for my family in Hawaii and in Colorado. Saying that if I finally decide to ever get married I would go wherever my future husband went. Home is where your heart is or where your love of your life is. I look at my mom and she went with my dad wherever they sent him and wherever it was or for however long it would be she made it home for them and us kids. They always seemed happy as long as we were together, that’s what makes a home.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    October 9, 2019 at 11:36 am

    I feel about the sea the way you all do about your mountains. I left North Carolina for the Navy as a seventeen-year-old boy and spent the next thirty years on the water. I can’t conceive of living anyplace away from the water. I have traveled the world and have found many places I could live, but they are all on the sea. I sometimes see one of the warships leaving Pearl Harbor and nostalgically wish that I was going with them to once again chase that which lies just below the Western horizon.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 9, 2019 at 11:07 am

    That is one of the sweetest pictures I have ever seen!

    I’m from West TN–definitely flat & pretty swampy. I did grow up living in the same sharecropper house nearly all my life. We migrated to Michigan when I was about 5 and stayed only briefly. We were all very attached to our home until Mama died. Can’t say the area is very inspiring–not like the mountains anyway.

    It’s funny how many of your stories and vocabularies coincide with things I’ve heard Mama talk about. I need to do some genealogy searches to find more of their family background. She used expressions I’ve not heard elsewhere.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 9, 2019 at 10:21 am

    When I Graduated from Andrews in the late 60’s, we went of a Senior trip to New York and Washington. Talk about a Country Boy being out of place, I was. My Superintendent went with us, and got pick-pocketed in New York. I hadn’t never saw so many people. We went up in the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty on the Hudson . We even watched a Movie at the Radio City Music Hall and saw the Can-Can girls perform.

    We went on to Washington and saw where our first President once lived, and saw where the first airplane got it’s start. We even saw John Glen’s Friendship 7 at the Smithsonian Institute. There was many other things we saw, but none can compare to our beautiful Mountains of Appalachia. I tried to remember all the things I saw, so I could tell Daddy and Mama. They had hardly been out of the county, since they were Married and living at Bushnell. …Ken

  • Reply
    Stephen Westfall
    October 9, 2019 at 10:21 am

    I never had the fortune to live in those wonderful mountains, but have multiple ancestral links from West Virginia to Georgia dating from pre-Colonial times to recent years. And although my ancestors eventually migrated west, my father finally found his peace on the west slope in Tennessee. As if he had been lured back by those wonderful silhouettes and family heritage.

    And visiting the mountains for the first time as an adult about ten years ago I immediately felt a strange familiarity and urge to remain. Its the place I’d Of course, life is not so easy and ties elsewhere did not allow such a move, I soak up everything I can get – music, food, stories, nature etc. And it’s never enough.

    Thanks for your blog, Tipper. It’s my remedy for this strange but welcome homesickness for a place I have never lived.

    And thanks for that wonderful information on Benjamin Clark and family of the Buncombe County area you shared a few years ago.

  • Reply
    October 9, 2019 at 10:18 am

    I’m not so sure place is as important as the people. Having to move because your work place was closed and moved to another state sometimes makes a person really miss home but I think it is their parents, aunts, uncles and cousins they miss. I know my parents had to move from the south to the north for jobs before I was born. Of course, we went back every year and it wasn’t long after my father retired they moved back down south to the area they were from. Their parents had passed but they still had siblings in the area. On my father’s side 5 generations go back in NE MS leading back to Patriots in NC. I LOVE being out in nature and that comes from my Father – nothing inspires or lifts my spirit like a meandering stream of water, cascading waterfall, pasture of cows, green mountains and serene stretch of green grass in valleys, and on and on. Place is icing on the cake but my people are who I miss the most.

  • Reply
    Doug Bishop
    October 9, 2019 at 10:00 am

    This is so true. Never more evident than when I was back home. I took my daughter on a tour of the place where I grew op and it wasn’t there.

  • Reply
    October 9, 2019 at 9:03 am

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart. As I watched so many of my Aunts and Uncles leave for better jobs it was difficult. The unpredictability of the coal mines caused almost all of them to leave to find better jobs for their family’s sake. Some would even work and come for their family later. They settled mostly in states like Texas, Ohio, Delaware, Florida, North Carolina, and at one time in Michigan when it was booming. I finally joined the ranks and lived in Louisiana for a time. I longed to be where my family lived, and missed the mountains. I remembered sitting near the pot bellied stove in Winter at the country store. Neighbors would gather at times and make small talk.
    When I came back home I searched the want ads, and though jobs were scarce there was a common denominator. Everybody wanted health care workers from aides, medical secretaries, and RNs. Thus, I made a decision to work and go to school because I loved helping folks and would never have a problem getting work. I lived some treasured years in Home Health traveling around in the mountains meeting people I felt like I had known all my life. I told Mom once it was like visiting people and getting paid for it.
    Fast forward to now where I find myself in another state to be closer to children and grandchildren. I love it, but how can this be? Somehow, I brought that feeling of home right with me! I will be buried one day in my home town, as most of my extended family also has done. One aunt brought my uncle back to be buried in a home cemetery, and sadly never returned until she died. Her daughter brought her “home.” It is where our ancestors lived since the Revolutionary War, and unfortunately I am able to visit hundreds of family, but only in their scattered resting places. Sounds sad, but that is life’s cycle. As a true Appalachian I accept this, and the study of genealogy helps to understand it all. I look forward each year to a large reunion where we gather and laugh, and sometimes tell tall tales on each other. In the meantime, that sense of home lies deep in my transplanted heart!

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    October 9, 2019 at 8:52 am

    I was coming back from a tour of western Canada in 1974 and we had a week’s gig near Denver. Making a long story short, I met a gentleman who left Blairsville in 1919. He and his family proudly showed me a waterwheel that he and another carpenter built in 1928. The mill had been restored and the site was now a little park.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 9, 2019 at 8:43 am

    I’m envious of those who can live a big part of a lifetime away and still retain their childhood place as ‘home’. I’ve spent time all over the Southern Appalchians, Virginia to north Alabama and felt at home with the places and the people. But I seem unable to settle on a little bit of earth now anywhere within that big region. So in a way I feel homeless. I hope nobody else reading this has had that happen to them.

    Regarding family in one place over many generations, genealogy shows a pattern. Way back in pioneer times folks without the money to acquire large acreages were under pressure for each new generation to keep moving west to find cheap land because small farms could not be subdivided among several children and still give each a living. So one or two, usually among the boys, inherited and others moved on. The ones staying behind provided the long continuance of the family name but other descendants ended up in Texas, California or other remote places, making for lots of cousins ‘out there’.

  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    October 9, 2019 at 8:06 am

    Quite a few of our family lines have been in upper East Tennessee since before statehood, or 1796, and our boys are 10th generation East Tennesseans. I say East Tennesseans, rather than Tennesseans, because we are not to be confused with the flat landers of Middle and West Tennessee. There has always been a rivalry betwixt our three grand divisions, hence the three stars on our flag (They also represent the three presidents from Tennessee) I suppose our ancestors like this place we call home as we have been here quite a while. We ARE natives to the soil. And so I think there is something more to being a Tennessean or East Tennessean than simply moving here. We don’t take that title lightly. In other words, moving to Tennessee no more makes you a “Tennessean” than putting yourself in your garage makes you a car. A co-worker from Missouri finally received his Tennessee driver’s license and proudly proclaimed, “I got my license, I’m a Tennessean now,” to which I replied, “No, you’re a Missourian with a Tennessee license.” With such a strong historical and multi-generational connection to this place we call home, is it any wonder that we guard the title of Tennessean so closely? I enjoy traveling to other places, for a time, but there’s no place like home and I can’t wait to get back to these mountains, hills, and valleys.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 9, 2019 at 7:29 am

    My family was one that moved from the mountains for work and were gone most of my early years. Everyone was happy when we finally got back to the mountains. It was home, people of the mountains just don’t do well away from the mountains. There is something nurturing about the mountains. You don’t so much live in the mountains as the mountains live in you if you are of the mountains. It’s kind of hard to explain in words

  • Reply
    October 9, 2019 at 7:03 am

    Oh my. The first time I read your blog, I told you I’ve been gone from my foothills of Appalachia (Shelby County Alabama) for over 40 years so my place and family are gone. In the fall, I go back to visit a cousin who’s more like a sister (I had 2 brothers) and to the graves of my family. My home is where my husband is, but I do miss my foothills.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    October 9, 2019 at 6:44 am

    I’ve often heard stories from folks who had to go off to find work and then spent their working-life waiting for the day retirement could bring them back home to the mountains.
    This excerpt from your post today brought a thought to my mind: Once you have had the best, nothing less will satisfy you. I think this applies to our wonderful Appalachian mountains and valleys?

  • Reply
    Marie Messer Clark
    October 9, 2019 at 6:22 am

    I too have lived in these mountains all my life just like my parents, granparents, and eight so generations before them in Swain, and Jackson counties.The mountains are are a part of your body as much as your essential organs, limbs ,a part of your soul, deep in the marrow of your bones. When I go away there isn’t a true place to rest your eyes in the flat lands and , I find myself yearning for the that first glimpse of my mountains and my soul is uplifted and I know I am home at last.

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