A few weeks ago I was privileged to take part in Appalachian Culture classes at Johnson County Middle School. The class, taught by Nancy Davis, is offered at JCMS and is designed to give students a view of the way it use to be in the Appalachian area of the country and in particular the way it was in their own Johnson County before modern conveniences came along.
Nancy teaches music at JCMS. She, of course, is widely known as both a teacher and performer of music. She has sung at Carnegie Hall, at International Teachers Conventions throughout the United States, and at regional conferences in the United States and Europe.
Nancy had also asked her husband Wayne Davis and Junior Maze, one of my classmates in high school, to participate in the class discussion. Junior and I are about the same age so our perspectives on growing up in Johnson County in the ‘40s ‘and ‘50s were very much alike. Wayne was born a little later, but he also experienced some of the hardships of growing up in rural Johnson County.
Prior to the day that we were to attend the class, Nancy had asked the students to write some questions to ask us when we visited the class. We were glad to answer their questions. They were well prepared.
We sat in on three classes in the morning and came back for another one after lunch. The youngsters were very attentive and showed interest in how the three of us lived when we were growing up.
The three of us were from farming backgrounds. Needless to say, in that day farm work for kids started at a fairly early age. There’s always work to do on a farm and that work experience was common among the three of us. Hoeing corn, picking beans, carrying in the wood and weeding the garden were just some of the chores we did at an early age. Some of today’s kids probably do farm work as well.
Many of the questions the youngsters had were about hunting in our day. Not being a hunter, I let Junior and Wayne talk about that subject. Wayne pointed out that deer was protected and there was no hunting of deer until the mid-1950s. Of course, rabbit and squirrel meat often appeared on the table as a result of a successful hunt.
Of course we pointed out there was no electricity, indoor plumbing or telephones during most of our early years. We studied our school lessons by the light of a kerosene lamp. And as many of the readers of this column know, there is no comparison between the light of an oil lamp and an electric bulb.
Running water and indoor bathroom facilities were definitely not available in the early years of our lives. There were country stores where we were able to get most of what we needed, but going to town was necessary at times. For me (and I suppose it was for Wayne and Junior as well) it was always exciting when we made a trip to Mountain City. I would usually choose a comic book from the rack at W. V. Ramsey’s store and maybe get a hamburger and coke at the Courtesy Drug Store. That was about all I needed at that time. I wasn’t hard to please.
There was no television in our early years but as we grew older small-screened black and white TVs finally became affordable. We mentioned to the students that gasoline was about 30 cents per gallon. We came along before ballpoint pens, hand held calculators, computers, frozen food, credit cards, FM radio, tape recorders, and many other modern inventions.
Anyway, it was a great experience for us to share with the youngsters some of the ways we lived in our early years. I hope it was as interesting to them as it was to us. I believe I can speak for Wayne and Junior as well when I say that I hope we were able to bring the past to life for these fine young people.