Appalachia Profiles of Mountain People

The Dancer

Today’s guest post was written by James E. Gentry.

The Dancer written by James E. Gentry

Toy Gentry

She shall never kick up her heels again
In the spirited dance of the mountains
As the fiddle saws out a rousing tune
And the banjo trots along behind.

Never again will her toes tap and twirl
As they did by the light of the old oil lamp,
When her laughter echoed down the valley.

Ninety years or so, a tune was never played
That didn’t find her feet in motion
And the joy she felt, if added up
Would fill the vast spaces of the hills.

Now she and the fiddle lie silenced
In their velvet lined cases
No longer making a joyful noise
And the feet that stepped and twirled and tapped
Are as still as an early winter morning.

No matter how fast we dance
Time is always right behind us
Trotting along like a twanging banjo
And playing a mournful tune.

We spin our way through the years
And move in and out of the circle
But the dance always brings us back to the middle
Where the hand of the clock
Spins it’s last tick.


James wrote this poem after the death of his grandmother, Toy Gentry.  James said “She was 95 years old and grew up in the mountains of North GA. She buck danced and square danced until she was in her late 80’s.”

As a lover of mountain music as well as mountain dancing I especially enjoyed James’s poem-I hope you did too. The photo James shared of Toy makes me wish I could sit a spell with her on the porch you can see in the background.

If you make it to the JCCFS Fall Festival this weekend-you can see some mountain dancing for yourself.


You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    October 31, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    I felt the same way – wishing I could have spent time sitting with her on a porch, listening to stories of her past, and happy stories I bet they were too.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    October 3, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Oh how I would love to sit a spell with this beautiful lady to Tipper. This is such a beautiful poem and tribute to her. It brought tears to my eyes.

  • Reply
    bridget young
    October 3, 2013 at 9:31 am

    So proud of the talent my Uncle Jimmy and my great grandmother Toy had. I love you Jimmy and miss Toy so very much !

  • Reply
    james gentry
    October 3, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Thank you all for the kind words. Toy loved to tell about the Saturdays in the mountains when she would race to get her chores done. Then that night, the family would move what little furniture they had outside, emptying the “front room” as she called it. Her mother’s cousin would come down from the house on the hill with his banjo and her mother would play the fiddle. All the neighbors from there abouts would come in their wagons to join in. They would dance until the wee hours. Granny took me to my first square dance and pushed me and a young lady out onto the floor and I have been dancing ever since. Time has helped heal my grief at her loss, but my throat still tightens when I think of the pure joy on her face as she and my grandfather twirled around a wooden dance floor.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    October 2, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Thank you, Tipper and Mr. Gentry for such a timely post. I lost another of my precious oldtimers last week and I’m certain there’s some serious dancin’ goin’ on in heaven!

  • Reply
    October 2, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    What a wonderful post! I would have loved to know Toy!!!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 2, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    A beautiful adjunct to such a sweet poetic memory would be to find that old fiddle and have a plaque placed on it in memory of Toy Gentry. Then learn to play it or give it to someone who would play and respect it. I’ll bet that would set some toes to tapping in heaven too.

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    October 2, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    My great grandparents were buck dancers. She had fourteen children. Don’t know when she gave it up. He played the fiddle and the “harp” at the dances.Loved the poem!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 2, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    James wrote some beautiful words in
    tribute to his grandmother. Most of
    us have our own special memories of
    our grandmothers. My grandma had 16
    youngin’s, my mama being one of the
    last. Grandma raised all of them youngins before the age of electricity, it must have been hard
    for her. But like James’ grandma,
    she was happy in her actions…Ken

  • Reply
    October 2, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Such a beautiful tribute and wonderful memory!

  • Reply
    October 2, 2013 at 11:49 am

    I’ll bet her eyes and smile continued to dance(they are in the picture) when her feet no longer could.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 2, 2013 at 11:12 am

    and James…I loved this poem.
    You know everyone should try and write a poem about their favored loved ones. It is a way to move on and describe moments of their life and what they have meant to us.
    I especially liked the last verse.
    “We spin our way thru the years, etc”. It seems that your Grandmother danced and spun a wonderful life for herself and a vision for others!
    Thanks Tipper and James

  • Reply
    Mrs. K
    October 2, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Beautiful poem. <3

  • Reply
    October 2, 2013 at 10:05 am

    What a lovely, sensitive, and rhythmic tribute by James to his grandmother! It could almost be about my mother, only she didn’t dance so much to mountain music,(unless it was line-dancing)but to swing:”I mean SOUTH, in Birmingham…” from “Tuxedo Junction”, by E.Hawkins/B.Johnson/J.Dash- rec. by Glen Miller & others.

  • Reply
    October 2, 2013 at 8:52 am

    I have always heard that the best thing we can do for our children is to be happy. This is very evident in the glowing tribute James paid to his grandmother. Her joy of life has set a wonderful example.
    James that is a beautiful poem, one of the best I have heard.

  • Reply
    October 2, 2013 at 8:27 am

    If I could have just one wish, I would want to waltz in the arms of my beloved Mike Pine just once more, to the sound of ‘Lover’s Waltz’, by Jay Ungar. Please take a listen on YouTube. It is beautiful and moving.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 2, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Such a beautiful poem dedicated to his grandmother, I can only hope my grandchildren feel this way about me.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    October 2, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Again, you have given us a beautiful and meaningful read. Mr. Gentry’s story makes me want to ‘go home’ and here my Uncle Johnny play that fiddle one more time! But his fiddle lies in a velvet covered case, closed and silent here in Tennessee!
    We’ll make JCCFS one of our stops this weekend in NC! They may still have a few copies of my new book available – check it out!
    Eva Nell
    Author of “Fiddler of the Mountains — Attuned to the Life and Times of Johnny Mull” 2013

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 2, 2013 at 7:32 am

    What a lovely tribute to your grandmother, thank you, James and Tipper. Danced till she was in her late 80’s, that’s a long time! She must have loved it indeed. I bet you could see that love on her face every time she danced.
    Another of our remarkable mountain women. I salute her life!

  • Reply
    October 2, 2013 at 6:48 am

    Thank you, Mr. Gentry, for such a beautiful poem about a lovely lady. Such a simple picture with porch in the background, but so much more when we can peek into the life of the person in the picture.

  • Reply
    October 2, 2013 at 4:48 am

    Tipper, where do you find these people!!!!! This was such a beautiful example of someone finding the perfect words to express his love for his grandmother.
    If I could I too would have loved to sit a spell on the porch with her! Thanks for this one Tipper!

  • Leave a Reply