Appalachia children

The Wooden Foot

Today’s guest post was written by Stephen Taylor.

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Tales from Kathy Campbell

In late December, 2014, I went to visit a neighbor new to my sleepy little Berea, Kentucky neighborhood. In typical southern mountain fashion, Kathy Campbell, invited me in to have a seat. Her college-aged daughter, Hannah, was with her. Kathy, with fiery red hair, describes herself as having been a feral child growing up in a holler in Perry County on the Perry/ Leslie County line, just a couple miles from Hell for Certain, (yes, it really exists but it’s pronounced locally as Hell for Sartin). Kathy was the youngest of four children. The siblings were tight knit but her older sisters Patricia and Caroline and her brother Freddy were wary of the family’s spirited youngest member. Kathy grew up in the 1960’s before Lowes, Habitat Restores, Orkin or urgent treatment centers had penetrated the mountains. We soon were discussing the plight of Appalachian people and how we both saw the unfortunate decline of the peoples’ resiliency, resourcefulness, self-reliance and break-up of families. In contrast to that theme, she then began telling a number of stories all connected by a theme of an indomitable spirit, determined stubbornness and families living out these qualities that strengthen the fabric of the individual and communities. 

She began by saying, “When I was a little girl, my uncle, who lived across the road from my family, built a fence to keep me out of his yard.”

“How old were you?” I asked. 

“Oh, about six or seven.” 

“But why would he want to keep you out of his yard?” 

She explained, “He didn’t want me influencing my cousins.”

“How old were they?” 

“Two were quite a bit older and the other was about my age.”

Then she proceeded to tell me some of her more colorful recollections from her childhood.

The Wooden Foot 

She began, “I was about six years old and Mommy had just told me to lie down to take my daily nap, (Mommy needed it more than I did). My head hit the pillow when I heard a ruckus outside. It was Daddy and my older brother Freddy, ripping clapboards off our house. Our house was built of salvaged materials from old homes in the Hiner Mining Camp a few miles from home. Hiner was abandoned, and as we had very little money, Daddy would take us to the old camp to take apart a couple of the old homes and load up wood and stuff so he could build us a new home. We had a good home but it had bats and other creatures living in the exterior walls so it was time to remove the clapboards and clear out the animals, alive and dead, from the outside walls.” 

“When I looked out my window, I saw Freddy’s back turned toward me. It couldn’t be helped. Barefoot, because no one wore shoes around home then, I snuck out of bed and slipped outside to see Freddy’s back still toward me.”

“I picked up a long clapboard lying on the ground, hauled off and whacked Freddy squarely on his backside. I turned on a dime to run the opposite direction with Freddy in hot pursuit.”

“Then, just like in slow motion when things are about to happen but you know you can’t do anything to stop them, I saw a short piece of clapboard, about 7”-8” long on the ground with a nail sticking straight up. I planted my foot on that nail and it went through my sole and out the top of my foot.”

“Letting out a yowl so loud to shame a coyote, I ran up to the porch with Freddy right behind. Soon adults began to gather ‘round to see what was the matter – and before Freddy had time to retaliate.”

“Daddy had two names for me, Little Girl and Little Dummy. Both were spoken with lots of love. When I was behaving myself and making intelligent choices, Daddy would call me Little Girl. Most of the time though, he would call me Little Dummy.”

“Daddy saw the nail through my foot and the clapboard beneath and asks, “What you done this time Little Dummy?””

“I knew what was going to happen next. Being a coal miner, Daddy was trained in first aid and had patched up a number of co-workers in his time. So, to let Daddy know that the accident wasn’t so bad and that he really didn’t need to pull the board and nail from my foot, I started flatfooting on the porch acting like everything was OK. I pleaded with Daddy to not pull the nail.”

“Daddy, look at me dancing. I can be just like Pappy. He has a wooden leg and now I have a wooden foot.”

“Daddy wasn’t buyin’ it. He noticed the nail was shiny and not a threat for tetanus so he called to my mother to get the turpentine. Just then, I lit off the porch but there were too many adults to let me escape. They caught me and 4-5 grown-ups held me down on the porch. My mother came with the bottle of turpentine.” 

“Daddy said to my mother, “Now, Rosa Lee, take the cap off that bottle and hold it upside down over the nail.” As soon as my mother did, Daddy pulled the piece of wood and as the nail backed out of my foot, it sucked the turpentine right through the wound burning like fire all the way. “   

“When I came to, I was lying on the living room couch, my foot wrapped in a bandage. Hearing a ruckus, I looked out the window and noticed Freddy’s back turned toward me.” 

I hope you enjoyed Stephen’s post as much as I did!


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  • Reply
    January 27, 2022 at 10:39 am

    I enjoy this story so much I come back to it every once in a while.

    I too was a feral child…. my poor, sainted mother.

  • Reply
    Stephen Taylor
    October 26, 2021 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks to everyone who commented on the story. It was not my story. I just had the privilege and pleasure of hearing it told straight-faced from the heroine’s (perpetrator’s?) mouth. I will share your comments with Kathy. Your kind words and memories will make her day.
    And yes, Kathy has more stories, like one about crawdads and carbide.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    October 22, 2021 at 12:34 pm

    Good story. Love the description “feral child.” It pretty much describes my childhood. I have made a note of it and may use the term in one of my stories.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 22, 2021 at 12:34 pm

    My biggest dread wasn’t stepping on nails or cutting my feet. It was having to soak my foot in boiling water laced with Epson salt followed by a big white bandage made from ripped up worn out bed sheets that had been boiled in water and soaked in Clorox. I wasn’t worried about getting lockjaw even after hearing the stories of people who got tetanus and died of starvation because they couldn’t get their mouth open to eat. My greatest fear was of having to stay inside while all the other kids were outside playing. The threat of sudden extinction if I got that lily white bandage dirty loomed large in my little life. It hurt to sit at the window and watch them frolic around as if taunting me to set aside my fears and join them in their merrymaking. That pain was greater by far than the injury, the boiling water soaks and the Blair’s Red Liniment combined. Summer is a wasting and here I sit with a big ball of white on my right foot and the nail didn’t go all the way through but did bulge the skin on top of my foot. And the bulge did go away when I pulled the nail out. And I did play on it the rest of the day because it didn’t bleed any. And I did get told on when it got dark and we had to go in.
    There is a scar on the top of my right foot right where that that nail almost came through but it didn’t come from the nail. It came from when I was running and my foot slid upinunder a piece of rusty tin. Same foot, same therapy, same but different shortened summer.

  • Reply
    Rita F Speers
    October 22, 2021 at 11:36 am

    Had to laugh out loud at that last sentence…..knowing for sure what was coming next!

  • Reply
    Greg Church
    October 22, 2021 at 10:10 am

    I love the story, but , as always with the best stories, I had to cringe recalling my own nail through the foot experience as a kid. Toes are still curled up now just thinking about it.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    October 22, 2021 at 10:02 am

    Ps…please excuse my typos…it should have been… EVERY TALE IN APPALACHIA REMINDS US OF SEVERAL MORE TALES.

  • Reply
    October 22, 2021 at 10:02 am

    Oh how I loved this story! I suppose feral is how one could describe children growing up in coal camps and in some of the mountains. I always preferred to think it increased my sense of independence and made me more capable of handling just about any situation that might arise. I suppose feral might be a better description! 🙂 So much about Kathy Campbell is familiar, even the houses that were torn down plank by plank when a coal mining community would dissolve. There was the coal camp of Lamar without even a nail left behind. Also, I cannot count the nail and chards of glass I stepped on as a child. What I recall best is we were not hovered over by parents, but other parents were everywhere, and they would definitely report any misdeeds.
    On occasion, I was a bad influence like the time I taught a nicely dressed little cousin how to become a coal miner as we played it the coal pile. I do not remember a return visit.
    All went well it seemed until one president declared a war on poverty. They came into the schools and took pictures of smiling children none of whom were overweight. Commodities were rolling in by the truckload, and everybody bartered for the cheese. Nobody I knew had a clue why they did that as we all ate very well. and most parents insisted we go to school. The children I knew always started off the school year with new clothes, and their fiercely independent parents worked long hours to make sure the also had a great Christmas. They were not rich enough to afford all the clutter I see in many homes today. Soda pop and candy were a rarity also, so I guess in some respects they were impoverished. It was a fun and happy childhood even with the spankings and cod liver oil. An occasional bullying was stopped when I had a neighbor boy show me how to do a mountain version of Karate. No cops were ever called to our schools, as the principle could handle any problem. Unfortunately, I must have been wearing rose colored glasses, because I saw what they classified as poverty being worked out in a different way. There was a great deal of bartering, men working on their own machinery, and just plain hard work. Different time and different life foe sure! Thanks to Stephen for the story, as Kathy Campbell is my new hero.

    • Reply
      Patricia J. DeWeese
      October 29, 2021 at 10:24 am

      This was a great story. I remember my Floridian father referring to me by those two names from time to time. I tended to keep my shoes on, because for sure and certain I would step on a bee if I didn’t.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    October 22, 2021 at 9:59 am

    In the VA. coalfields, we doctored everything with either turpentine or moonshine….bad cut, turpentine…bad chest cold, moonshine …mixed with a little honey. Only once did any of my ugly brothers or cousins go to the doctor…that was when my littlest brother fell off a pony and it stepped on his arm and broke it. My cousin Jean was even doctored at home with turpentine for a copperhead bite. It a plum miracle we survived.
    And about my calling my four brothers ugly…well as mamaw used to tell them boys…. Pretty is as pretty does…and those 4 brothers treated me UGLY. So they got their name by how they acted, not by how they looked !
    I loved today’s story.. reminded me of my daddy’s tale of when he was a ten year old boy and was running across the porch…he said he was barefoot and ended up with a splinter longer than his foot!
    Every tale in Appalachia reminds us old several more tales!!!

  • Reply
    October 22, 2021 at 9:42 am

    I liked the story. Seems like I would manage to stick a nail in my foot each summer but unlike in this story my family would use kerosene instead of turpentine. I can also image how tempting it would be to smack your brother in the rear end with a board. I heard a man with two sons say he was going to put one of them through college and the other one through the wall.

  • Reply
    October 22, 2021 at 9:31 am

    I will have to admit I was probably my mom and dad’s most spirited child. We had a bench behind the kitchen table used for seating the kids during meals. Dad would make us scoot close and hug the ‘victim’ and tell them we loved them while we ate. That was worse than any whooping he could have given us.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    October 22, 2021 at 8:49 am

    I did laugh thinking about the old girl flat footing with her newly acquired wooden foot so to speak to get out daddy’s medical care. It seems there are kids destined to get into more stuff, trouble, and shenanigans than others and it does seem these same kids have very independent ideas from the time they get to walking. Later on, they’re the adventurers, travelers, leaders and sometimes the village dummies….. I think I can sum this up as mommy told me at least 10,000 times- “A hard head makes a soft butt!”

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    October 22, 2021 at 8:06 am

    That certainly was a spirited young lady!

  • Reply
    October 22, 2021 at 7:50 am

    Love this story!!! It’s good to start your day off with a chuckle. I’d kind of like to hear more Kathy Campbell stories. She sounds like she had a mighty exciting childhood!

  • Reply
    Donna Sue
    October 22, 2021 at 7:48 am

    I admire people who are strong, determined, and resilient. I have been described by those words, too. When something knocks me down, I do my best to get right back up, better than before. That being said, having a piece of clapboard siding attached to my foot by the nail in it being in my foot also — you would not find me dancing on the porch – nail, clapboard and all! I would at least wait until after the nail had been pulled out of my foot! Ouch! Thinking about it, however, there would be more pain after the nail was pulled out. The pain receptors in the foot were in shock, and therefore no pain felt, while the nail was still in it. This was a good story, though, I enjoyed reading it. I needed to read it this morning, and God knew it, so He had you post it for today! I needed a shot of strength, determination and resilience this morning, and this post supplied that – you know – get up and keep moving forward., nail and all! Thank you!!!

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 22, 2021 at 7:40 am

    Several adjectives come to mind to describe Kathy; harum-scarum, irrepressible, adventurous, impulsive. I have know one or two like that but I for sure am not one. They move from one adventure to another because if there aren’t any they make them up as they go. There is never a dull moment in their company. They are fun, a bit dangerous and scary to be with but for all that lovable to.

    OUCH! I guessed before it happened about the nail in the board. And I can guess why her Mom needed to rest more than she did! Our elders tried to teach us that if we didn’t think ahead about consequences we’d get our come-uppance. And we did, more than once. Us country kids worked our angels overtime. Kathy’s was extra busy.

    We lived in Berea for a time about 40 years ago and have fond memories of it. It is a nice college town. The “little mountains” of the Cumberland Plateau are just east of it and the area is very scenic.

  • Reply
    October 22, 2021 at 6:58 am

    Great story, that was a good time to grow up compared to now., Turpentine was a wonder drug.
    Think many people even know about using it for a wound Amy more ?

  • Reply
    GoodGriefLouise ( Bill )
    October 22, 2021 at 6:53 am

    Oh my gosh that was hilarious. She reminds me of Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird. I loved that movie and I love this story. I also thought her Uncle was the smartest one in that family. Imagine having to put up a fence to keep Little Dummy from getting into the yard and being a bad influence to her older cousins. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 22, 2021 at 6:33 am

    Love the story! I especially like the mention of turpentine used on the wound. All my growing up life turpentine was what my family used on cuts and scrapes. There was always a bottle of turpentine on the shelf in the bathroom, we never used anything else. I used it into my gown up years till I came to the bottom of my last bottle of turpentine and went to the pharmacy to get a fresh bottle and they refused to sell it to me, saying it was poisonous. I argued with them that I had used it all my life but they were adamant and would not sell it to me.

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