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Kaikowska on Feather, _Mountain People in a Flat Land_

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    fyi...aj wright, your listowner.... ... H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-Appalachia@h-net.msu.edu (March, 1999) Carl E. Feather. _Mountain People in a Flat
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 26, 1999
      fyi...aj wright, your listowner....

      ----------------------------Original message----------------------------
      Published by H-Appalachia@... (March, 1999)

      Carl E. Feather. _Mountain People in a Flat Land: A Popular History
      of Appalachian Migration to Northeast Ohio, 1945 - 1965_. Athens:
      Ohio University Press, 1998. xxvi + 255 pp. $39.95 (cloth) ISBN
      0-8214-1229-9; $19.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8214-1230-2.

      Reviewed for H-Appalachia by Catherine Kaikowska,
      <kaikowsc@...>, Independent Scholar, MA, Michigan State

      Appalachian Heart

      I owe Carl Feather a debt of gratitude for helping me to discover,
      finally, my Appalachian heart. In 1986 when I read Ernie Mickler's
      _White Trash Cooking_, a celebration of the culinary language and
      customs of ostensibly the South, I easily located in its photographs
      and recipes my own Ohio hillbilly family, whom I had often heard
      referred to as "white trash" interchangeably with "hillbilly" and
      "Appalachian." A few years later I became aware of a
      tongue-in-cheek campaign recommending the adoption of the
      classification "Appalachian-American" for the U.S. cultural group
      with its roots in the Appalachian area. But it was Bob Greene's
      newspaper column on Pete Rose, in which Greene described the
      southern Ohio accent as the prettiest sound he'd ever heard, that
      allowed me to begin to identify my own Ohio self, seriously, as
      "Appalachian-American," despite the fact that I was born and raised
      outside any stretch of the various geographical limitations placed
      on what might be called, by the experts, Appalachia. Carl E.
      Feather's _Mountain People in a Flat Land: A Popular History of
      Appalachian Migration to Northeast Ohio, 1940-1965_, lays the
      groundwork for understanding that identifying oneself as
      "Appalachian-American" is a serious enterprise, and a location of
      the heart, rather than simply a designation applied to those living
      in a specific geographical region.

      Dr. Stuart D. Hobbs' foreword grounds Feather's book historically,
      from the "literary" discovery of Appalachia in the late 1800s as a
      subset of southern culture, to the changes wrought by
      industrialization that forced the transition so authentically
      depicted in the novels of Harriette Simpson Arnow from self-reliance
      to dependence on a cash economy, an industrialization which
      ultimately culminated in the creation of the "Urban Appalachian."
      Hobbs particularly notes Feather's emphasis on the magnitude of this
      transition by paralleling it to that of foreign immigrants: For both
      groups, their language, music, and religion initially provided a
      locus for their own idiosyncratic cultural identity, but often, as
      in the case of Urban Appalachians, also made a significant impact on
      the surrounding culture. Full transition into Urban Appalachians,
      however, was not required for the mountaineers Feather concerns
      himself with in this work; they disregarded the lure of such larger
      metropolises as Cincinnati, Columbus, or Cleveland, and settled in
      Ashtabula County, where they had space for gardens, woodlands for
      hunting, and in Lake Erie "a 'fishing hole' unlike any ... ever seen
      in the mountains" (p. 2). While Feather's first two chapters
      elucidate his purpose in selecting this particular migrant group,
      and establish the socio-economic history of Ashtabula County in the
      first four decades of the 1900s, most of his chapters are anchored
      by a specific family and its stories in which the life of each of
      the mountaineers becomes "symbolic of the hundreds and thousands of
      others who came up [north]" and "eked out a tough living with
      nothing" (p. 63): Ruby Gillespie, who "worked constantly to feed the
      flow of mountaineers," north to work and south to visit, on such
      delicacies as her grape pie; Kathleen and Elbert Snyder, who lived
      their first summer in Ashtabula in a playhouse built for the owners'
      daughter, and who later began the "Kedron Apple Butter Reunion" as
      a means of preserving their agrarian roots and providing "a
      flavorful reminder of simpler times in Appalachia" (p. 96); and
      Darald Spangler, whose wife Kathern is still hurt by the prejudice
      she experienced against mountain migrants, but who himself put up
      with all the "dumb hillbilly" jokes he was told by native Ohioans
      because, as he contends, "We couldn't be too dumb. We took over Ohio
      and never fired a shot" (p. 184). In fact, one of Feather's primary
      purposes in this book is the dispelling of just such negative
      stereotypes as the "dumb, shiftless hillbilly." He succeeds
      beautifully, creating a portrait of the mountaineer spirit by
      recounting stories of the poverty that pushed the mountaineers
      north, as well as stories of the hardships they faced in Ohio while
      creating better lives for themselves and their children. Although
      most chapters are separately annotated, pointing the way toward more
      scholarly, academic, and historical sources, Feather has maintained
      his focus in presenting an oral popular history that poignantly
      renders the experience of the mountain migrants in the flatland.

      By the book's conclusion, it is unmistakably apparent that most of
      these people have been "mothered by the mountains" (p. 231) and
      deeply miss the sense of family that extends beyond the human and
      into the very land. This is a crucial insight to pass on to those
      of us Baby Boom and Generation "X" postmoderns whose alienation
      from nature is so complete that a forecast of rain, as
      singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith has noted, is met with
      disappointment, and no comprehension that future crops depend upon
      such a vagary in the weather report and for whom "nature" is often
      but a landscape set behind our vacation activities. _Mountain
      People in a Flat Land_ makes this profound experience of a
      disappearing generation accessible to subsequent generations.

      Feather's original impulse for _Mountain People in a Flat Land_
      sprang from his own childhood "when [he], too, was a migrant" (p.
      xxvi). This impulse engendered a newspaper series that served as the
      basis for his book, a work that can now reach outside the community
      to tell the story of the mountaineers in Ashtabula County. It is an
      important story; not only, as Dr. Hobbs suggests, because "[i]t is
      a very American story" (p. xxii), but because the stories people
      tell are the real history, as it was lived, skinned to its truth. We
      need Carl Feather, and others like him, who will take the time to
      sit down, listen, and write it out for all of us.

      Copyright (c) 1999 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work
      may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit
      is given to the author and the list. For other permission,
      please contact H-Net@....
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