Why I Never Left Appalachia


I’ve never lived anywhere but in the mountains of Western North Carolina—smack dab in the middle of Appalachia. When I felt the need to spread my wings as a young adult, I moved a whole two hours away from Granny and Pap and even then, I moved into extended family’s loving arms.

I felt a stigma for not wanting to leave. “Don’t you want to see the world?” “Don’t you want to experience a different life?” “Are you sure you should live that close to your parents after you’re married?” “How can you stay here? You’ll never make any money?” “If you want a real job, you’ll have to leave to find it.”

My roots are intertwined so tightly in these mountains, I knew I could never unravel them to leave. But as a young adult, every time someone questioned my staying it bugged me. It was only as a married mother of two growing girls that I realized the answers I had for people who questioned my decision to stay were not only valid, they were what most people spend their lives hoping for.

Appalachia unfolds before me anew on a daily basis in a beautiful and magical way. The area may not rank first in the list of per ca-pita income earners, but it is a wonderful place to live with an excellent quality of life and a low cost of living compared to other areas of the country. The scenery can’t be beat, and the people are overall kind, compassionate, supportive, and colorful. The weather allows for sustainable living on a large scale and there is still a strong make do attitude with people willing to share the knowledge they’ve accumulated over their lifetimes.

I love Pap and Granny with all my heart and soul—who else would I want to live by? They’ve been there to supply every need from borrowing a cup of sugar to offering medical advice about a sick girl.

Money makes it easier to live in many ways, but money doesn’t make you any richer in the ways that count most.

Random reasons I never left Appalachia and never will:

A childhood memory of a bumblebee sitting on the corner of my sweater as I stood in Big Grandma’s flower garden waiting on Mamaw to walk me back to her house. Playing in the yard on summer evenings with strains of music coming from the windows flung open to catch the coolness of the breeze. Competing for the coveted 8th Grade History Award and winning it. Teenage years of cruising town and trying to be as cool as everyone else. Pushing a stroller with two baby girls in it down a gravel road that always led me home. Walking alone in the woods listening for and hearing the voices of those who have long since gone.

This post was originally published on The Appalachian Retelling Project website.


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  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    June 24, 2021 at 5:21 pm

    Tipper I really understand staying close to your roots and family. I did not stay in my home community, Flat Creek near Kershaw, SC but I live only 56 miles away and I go “home” very often. My high school graduating class had only 26 in it. We started the first grade together and finished high school together. They are more like brohers and sisters than class mates. I have always felt blessed to have grown up in such a close knit community. I have made new friends through Boy Scouts, church and at work but the best friends are “old friends”. Thank you for this post. I aways enjoy reading what you say.

    Dennis Morgan
    Flat Creek Rattler

  • Reply
    Catherine Spence
    January 6, 2021 at 9:30 am

    Well said, Tipper.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2020 at 1:26 am

    Oh my, so late getting on, that I am plumb into the next day. Had to post on your debut on the “Retelling Project.” Your little corner of Appalachia nourished and made you the special person you are Tipper. Those girls have thrived in the setting you purposefully chose.

    Unlike you, Tipper, I hate to admit I just had the wanderlust. I lived in the city for many years, and it seemed the trees were just counted and placed just so so. I longed for the wild randomness where trees could grow free, and mountain ranges stretched out so far they became a distant blur. Dad liked to say that in the mountains you could see for a long ways, but in a city could just see what was right around you. Anyway, I came back, and treasured the forests, gardens, and wildlife so much more than anybody I knew. A few times I wanted to just tell some to open their eyes and look around at all the rivers, lakes, and wide open parks. Some preferred malls. Honestly, the one thing I really noticed about our mall was the smell of honeysuckles from the hillsides at a certain time of year. I wanted the old ways back, and I loved the soil and grass under my bare feet. Everybody needs to go away for awhile, because that is the best way to truly appreciate what we call home.

  • Reply
    Sue McIntyre
    August 26, 2020 at 3:53 pm

    Hello Tipper, I live in the North Ga. Mountains. I have always felt at home here. I feel the same way about the Oconaluftee area. When I go there I am transported to another time that is so familiar, I find myself feeling as if I belonged there in times past. I feel that my roots spread and traveled a great distance. Inspired by my niece, we have been researching our past. I discovered our ancestors lived in, and migrated from, the Oconaluftee area!! There must be something inside of us that never leaves our soul, and is passed from one generation to the next. A strong sense of belonging, that is embedded so deep within us, that when we are still and listen, it speaks to our souls. Your writings also speak to me in a way I can’t explain. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 26, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    Soon as I got old enough, and married and had a girl toddler, I moved out of the house in search of a trade. There was no way to make a living In Cherokee County, anyway Harold had Joined the Air Force and they sent him to Macdill Air Base in Tampa, Fla. There he met his wife, Linda Parrish.

    I went all over the East Coast looking for work, I even worked at Pilot Trucking Lines in High Point loading refrigerators and I couldn’t stand that, cause it hurt my back, so I went to Atlanta and worked for Davidson-Kennedy Co. The Boss, Bud Meade and the Foreman, Buck Tucker and they Put me on a big Radial Drill. I couldn’t hardly reach around the Column, and sometimes I used a Stepladder to reach the workpiece. The foreman liked me and I could tell, so I asked him to hire my Brother-in-law, Mike fish. (For some reason beyond my knowing, my young daughter called him—Mike two .)

    They liked us North Carolina Boys, so after I got My own Shop, I let other Folks have a break of $2000.00 a year for a long time. Most were Farmers, honest people, and I know what it’s like to be Poor. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    August 26, 2020 at 12:35 pm

    Oh, my dear Tipper, your beautiful Appalachian way of life is what every human heart longs for — whether or not they ever realize it. Bless you for sharing it with those of us who did leave home to “see the world.”

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    August 26, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    All the reasons posted are those that make me wish I COULD have grown up in Western NC. Sadly, our times there were always vacations and/or holidays. We had kinfolk there and I was never happier than the times spent walking the mountains, catching fireflies til dark, listening to the sounds of the square dance drifting up from below, hearing the wind in the trees, even knowing when it was gonna rain because we could “smell Canton” (paper mill). Some of my NC friends were jealous because I lived in Florida and could go to the beach any time. Honestly, if I coulda traded, I woulda.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    August 26, 2020 at 10:59 am

    My husband and I have discussed your topic and these are some of the reasons we stayed in Appalachia. We live in beautiful hill country cut by many gorges. Parents and Grandparents were farmers. This provided a strong tie to the land. Other things that have kept us here are, love of family, love of our church, and even the country twang of our people. We also felt a responsibility to help our parents in their old age. Some of the traditions still alive is dinner on the grounds, cleaning graves for Decoration Day, and singing the old Baptist songs. For many years I picked wild flowers while climbing a steep hill to the graveyard. Graves were cleared and flowers were placed with great care.
    Anita G.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    August 26, 2020 at 10:31 am

    I left NC fifty nine years ago for the Navy and the sea. I still have that desire to see what lies just below the horizon…

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 26, 2020 at 9:15 am

    Tipper–In many ways, geographically speaking, I guess I’m the opposite of you. While portions of my education (B. A. and M. A. levels) were in Appalachia, my more advanced studies took me outside the comforting bosom of my highland homeland. I’ve been privileged to see, study, travel, hunt and fish, or otherwise experience a lot of the world–years of research in the British Isles; sporting trips to Austria, Africa, Alaska, every province in Canada, New Zealand; and more. Yet never once has there been any question about the home of my heart. It rests squarely in the Smokies, the locale of my birth and raising.

    You are aware of it and probably always have been, but for many it takes time, reflection, living elsewhere, or a combination of these and other things to realize precisely where home is to your heart. Consider yourself blessed.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Leon Pantenburg
    August 26, 2020 at 9:13 am

    “…I realized the answers I had for people who questioned my decision to stay were not only valid, they were what most people spend their lives hoping for.”
    Profound insight – there’s no place like home!

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein (and her NYC converts)
    August 26, 2020 at 9:06 am

    Tipper, I left here at 17 years old courtesy of the US ARMY. I have traveled all over the US and a good part of Central and South America. While everybody was mesmerized by the ANDES mountains and tropical rain forest, it was just like being here except hotter, much taller peaks reaching above the clouds, and animals we don’t have. The people were actually a lot like us— survivors living off the land and country folk. After I got back to the states, I moved to CRASHVILLE, TN suburbs to work for Vanderbilt University Hospital in their rehab, private duty and home care sectors. After all the commuting, all the traffic, all the killings and mayhem I had a front row seat to, I packed her in and came home to WV. Oh, I will leave some day in a cardboard box or coffee can of ashes tossed off the mountain straight across from my home. It’s a beautiful view and magically misty and foggy up there. I’ve seen some stuff (you’d think I was kidding or crazy if I told you) but let’s suffice it to say there’s a lot going on in this world at night most people don’t know about. I have a telescope too to see what I see. THERES NO PLACE LIKE HOME!!! P.S. last night a bear got in all the neighbors trash. It’s wild and wonderful here and that bear is forgiven over the trash. Murray’s family wants us back in NYC but Murray’s a hillbilly now so no way, hosea!!!Plus he knows I AINT A BUDGIN’! Never lost nothing in NYC hellhole. Have an awesome day, PRESSLEY BUNCH!!!

  • Reply
    August 26, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Even if you had left, you would have come back. I read somewhere that a high percentage of people who went up north to work, returned ‘home’ as soon as they retired. That is definitely true when it comes to my family. I have one cousin who bought a small house up the holler where she was born and raised some fifty or sixty years ago. She still lives in the city several hours away and comes back when she gets homesick.

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    August 26, 2020 at 8:56 am

    People today often use the expression “Living the Dream” in a sarcastic and humorous manner to express complacency in their lives. You are living the dream in the truest since. This is exactly what Olive Campbell hoped for with her goal to “awaken, enliven and enlighten” her students to contented, happy. and productive lives in their home environment they loved; and not have to leave for the city to become a statistic. Olive would be proud…

    Loved Sanford’s “bit of humor”.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 26, 2020 at 8:43 am

    Amen Tipper. Travel is alright but it is over-rated as a purpose of life. I am a firm believer that nothing essential to a good life is denied anyone because they don’t have enough money to go find that life. Contentment is a rare trait for many, if not most, of us but it comes from within, not without. When and where it can be found it is much preferable to the sophistication of having sampled every glitter and glamour of the wider world. It is tragic to spent most of one’s life to learn that lesson by our own experience. We don’t have to because Solomon tried it and left us the record of his search in Ecclesiastes.

    For some of us, leaving home results in us becoming unable to have a home again. I don’t mean a physical house. I mean a place one fully belongs without any missing pieces. In my case I love country, all kinds of country. The trouble is there is no spot of country that I love head and shoulders above any other. No-one warned me that could happen. I feel at home in each of the parts of Appalachia I have been in but that is not quite the same as having a homeplace where the heart rests. We have lived here 28 years and to me at least it has never been a homeplace.

    So OK, it may be a character flaw of my own. Maybe no-one else even understands what I’m talking about. I’d like to understand because it would help me but I rather suspect I never will. You escaped all that Tipper and I am glad for you and all others that also did. I rather suspect that rootless and landless feeling haunted that first generation of Appalachian folks who left their hills and hollers to make a living.

    • Reply
      August 26, 2020 at 1:45 pm

      That is the exact reason you need to move to Cumberland Gap Tn. really close to us then you would be home, until you reach your final home

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 26, 2020 at 8:40 am

    My family were all native Appalachians. My parents worked away from here kind of off and on. They kept coming back then leaving to try again but they finally gave up and came home and stayed. They were never satisfied away from here. It isn’t just where we live it’s the place written on our soul!

  • Reply
    August 26, 2020 at 8:31 am

    Tipper, as I read some of the reasons you give for staying I think about my life. I do not live in Appalachia but live in the most rual area of Greenville County, SC. I live about 100 yards from home I was raised in. I am not gifted enough to put all the reasons into words, so I will just call it time. The time and fellowship I have with my family, my wife’s family, friends, neighbors, church members, all people I have known all of my life and even some for several generations is one of my main reasons. Money can not buy friends that will be with you through thick and thin, in other words through good and bad times. There is always someone you can turn to for comfort and help at all times of day or night.

    • Reply
      Margie Goldstein
      August 26, 2020 at 9:09 am

      Randy, your response is dandy!!!

  • Reply
    gayle larson
    August 26, 2020 at 7:55 am

    I love Sanford’s post. I have known it all at one time or another.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    August 26, 2020 at 7:16 am

    Some of the sme reasons that I came back…….

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    August 26, 2020 at 7:12 am

    Your post today brought this little bit of humor to mind.
    Places I’ve Never Been
    I have been in many places, but I’ve never been in Cahoots.
    Apparently, you can’t go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone. I’ve also never been in Cognito. I hear no one recognizes you there.
    I have, however, been in Sane. They don’t have an airport; you have to be driven there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my friends, family and co-workers.
    I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I’m not too much on physical activity anymore.
    I have also been in Doubt. That is a sad place to go, and I try not to visit there too often.
    I’ve been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm.
    Sometimes I’m in Capable, and I go there more often as I’m getting older.
    One of my favorite places to be is in Suspense! It really gets the adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart! At my age I need all the stimuli I can get!
    And, sometimes I thought I was in Vincible but it turns out I wasn’t.
    People keep telling me I’m in Denial but I’m positive I’ve never been there before!
    I’m hoping to avoid in Continence…
    And more and more I think of the Hereafter — several times a day, in fact. I enter a room and think “What am I here after?”

    • Reply
      Rick Shepherd
      August 26, 2020 at 8:38 am

      Hahaha!…..Good one, Sanford!…..I am in situ to enjoy your post.

    • Reply
      Margie Goldstein
      August 26, 2020 at 9:10 am

      Sanford, I LMBO!!!

    • Reply
      aw griff
      August 26, 2020 at 10:12 am

      Sanford, I really enjoyed that and got a good laugh. I’m going to have to read that to my Wife.

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