A few weeks back I told you I was featured in the February/March issue of Smoky Mountain Living. Blind Pig Reader Jim Casada wrote the piece. I had nary a clue that he planed to write it nor that it would be in the magazine until it was! Many of you have emailed me to say you couldn’t find the magazine but would love to read the article so I’m sharing it today. Jim’s kind words still make me blush even though I’ve read them a couple dozen times myself.
Jim Casada Copyright 2016
TIPPER PRESSLEY: THE ANGEL OF BRASSTOWN
Folks commenting on Tipper Pressley’s daily blog, “Blind Pig & the Acorn,” often call her the “angel of Brasstown.” The description’s geographical part is easily explained. She lives in the crossroads community of Brasstown in far southwestern North Carolina, a location best known for the annual New Year’s ‘Possum Drop and a storied bastion of Appalachian folkways, the John C. Campbell Folk School.
Explaining the moniker’s angel part is more demanding and open to multiple interpretations. Among them are an angelic face graced by a permanent smile; an approach to life conjuring recollections Loweezy’s quote in the Snuffy Smith comic strip, “gooder’n airy angel;” and her keen interest in crafts such as corn husk angels and decorative paintings depicting angels. But where Pressley really shines in earning earthly angel wings is passionate devotion to celebrating and perpetuating our rich, varied Appalachian heritage. As she puts it in describing her daily blog, which first appeared in 2008, “All you really need to know is I’m crazy in love with . . . Appalachia—the people, the food, the music, the colorful language, the sustainable lifestyle, the soaring mountains, and the deep dark hollers.”
In truth there’s far more to know. She’s a marvelous cook specializing in traditional high country cuisine who teaches classes at the Folk School and in other settings; talented musician whose bass playing helps showcase the singing and instrumental talents of her twin daughters, Corie and Katie, brother Paul, and recently deceased father, Jerry; skilled photographer with an exceptional eye; serious student of mountain history; writer; storyteller; and speaker. Atop all that she has a full-time job at Tri-County Community College where, among other duties, she manages the college’s website.
Tipper’s interests, invariably attuned to her passion for place, range even wider than her abilities and are daily displayed in Blind Pig & the Acorn (www.blindpigandtheacorn.com). The blog’s title, taken from an Appalachian adage suggesting that even a blind hog occasionally roots up tasty oak mast, enjoys considerable and growing popularity. Performing a daily balancing act that that avoids contentious comments common in many blogs, Pressley educates and entertains while celebrating southern Appalachia’s attributes through a steady flow of noteworthy material. A heartfelt comment from one reader succinctly summarizes what many readers have discovered: “You have done so very much to make me proud of my heritage.”
That pride involves an array of topics, with one of Tipper’s strongest attributes being the ability to infuse almost any subject with immediacy and interest. Another is insatiable curiosity. Vanishing mountain customs, old-time edibles, or some obscure subject once commonplace to those calling the region’s steep ridges and deep valleys home all form fair game.
Among Pressley’s encyclopedic interests are a number of threads which run as bright strands through her blog’s entire fabric. One favorite is the monthly “Appalachian Vocabulary Test” where five words are offered to see if readers know or use them.
Another recurring theme is music. Her college-age twins, Katie and Corie (“Chitter” and “Chatter” in the blog), possess ample quantities of the family’s deeply entrenched musical talent, and they now perform regularly at regional church gatherings, fairs, and folk festivals. They play guitar, fiddle, and mandolin while offering exquisite harmony reminiscent of the likes of the Louvin Brothers or their grandfather and Uncle Paul. Tipper’s father, the late Jerry Wilson (“Pap” on the blog) and his brother, Ray, were an acclaimed regional singing duo and recipients of a North Carolina Heritage Award in 1998, while Paul is an accomplished guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Readers of Blind Pig & the Acorn can savor scores of selections from the family musical archives while reading the latest blog post.
Given her love of the land, gardening is another prominent theme. Her husband Matt (the blog’s “Deer Hunter”), a skilled jack-of-all trades, enters the scene doing everything from simple tilling to greenhouse construction. Blog readers actually serve as testers for Asheville heirloom seed company Sow True Seed, and from winter’s seed-starting time right through to fall harvest, there are regular updates on everything from herbs to “tommytoes,” cabbage to corn. Use of crops on the family table and for canning, drying, preserves, and pickles also looms large.
Traditional mountain crafts form another area of prominence on the blog. Periodically some craft project are covered, and each year near Christmas Tipper offers unique family creations for sale, such as knitted and crocheted items made her mother (“Granny”) and CDs from various members of this musical clan. Each twin has her own Etsy shop, respectively featuring jewelry and handmade soaps, oils, and balms.
Selfless in promoting mountain heritage, Tipper generously shares links to other Appalachia-related blogs in her “Sit a Spell” section. There are frequent historical posts with coverage ranging from Civil War letters back home to stories underlying popular ballads, from forgotten customs such as dumb suppers to Decoration Day or all-day singings. Yet the blog involves more than “pause and ponder” reading material leavened by ear-soothing music.
The blog’s visual impact sometimes stirs the viewer’s soul. Pressley’s keen photographer’s knack for capturing commonplace scenes from strikingly different perspectives often draws immediate attention. Daily comments from readers provide insight and information. Where responses on many blogs deteriorate into sniping, here there’s a sense of shared passion. Readers feel they are part of an extended family. As a personal example of this togetherness, I’ve obtained candy roaster seeds from fellow Blind Pig fans, received helpful suggestions on troublesome gardening problems, and been reminded of how tasty springtime pigweed (purslane) can be.
Adding a bit of spice to Tipper’s heady literary brew are occasional guest posts. The quality of these varies, but unfailingly they come from the heart and evoke a deep, abiding love for Appalachia. That affinity for Appalachia, masterfully molded and melded by a true Appalachian angel, forms the essence of Blind Pig & the Acorn.
To date well over three thousand blogs devoted exclusively to heralding all that is good and gracious, endearing and enduring, about the mountain way of life have appeared. Quantitatively only by John Parris’ storied “Roaming the Mountains” newspaper column from yesteryear surpasses that figure. Only in her mid-40s, Tipper Pressley likely will give us stories on the glories of Appalachia for many a year and yarn to come.
Jim Casada is a son of the Smokies who has written extensively on his highland homeland and its people. He has a particular interest in distinctive mountain personalities and is currently completing a book, “Profiles in Mountain Character.” The Angel of Brasstown is the first of several profiles that Jim will be doing for the magazine Smoky Mountain Living so please be on the lookout for them.
To learn more, visit his website, www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com.