Quilt Pieces…Feb 24th 2011

Quilt Pieces

Shirley Noe Swiesz

Well, I had a lovely birthday on Sunday. It was also my daughter’s birthday…I spent my 31st birthday in Alaska, giving birth! Several people called me this week, including the Cat Lady. I will give you more info on her next week. I received an e-mail the other day from Shirley Blair, Butch’s wife. Thanks for the kind words! I have so many good memories of the Blair family…just like the Cornett family. They were such good people. There was a sweet girl named Alice who lived on the hill near the Tuttle’s in Hiram. I can’t remember her last name but I do remember that my brother Jr. (Jake) made her mother a magazine rack out of an apple crate (or two), to earn a few dollars spending money. He was probably about 16 at the time. My dad was a good carpenter but the person who did the most carpentry work in Hiram had to have been Dennis Hall. He worked on every house in that community, I think. He never lacked for work. Dennis was my Aunt Nancy’s son and I mentioned before how he was a great fisherman. Roland Cornett and I spent a good bit of time discussing the merits of fishing, the other night. Another thing that the river bank was used for in Hiram, should come as no surprise to you guys around my age…it was a great gambling spot! Dennis and others who are too numerous to mention (and would probably prefer that I did not do so!) would go there on Friday nights and spend the entire weekend fishing and gambling, with a few swigs of moonshine thrown in for good measure! They would build up a good fire, fry fish and potatoes and enjoy life to the fullest! I am sure that if my mother would have allowed it I would have been there taking notes! Think of all the good stories I could have told! The riverbank, after dark, was strictly off limits for us girls, though. I loved the riverbank though…I liked to go right to the edge and walk barefooted in the mud and I would spend hours catching tiny catfish in a jar. Their were hundreds of them in ‘schools’ and they were perfect little specimens. I think that as kids we loved to catch things, fish, butterflies, bugs, June bugs, green snakes, pollywog, frogs, and craw dads are among the few. We would put special things in our pockets. One time a little girl (whose name I will not mention,) came to our house when we lived in the Morris Holler. It was a bit chilly outside so she got up close to the stove to warm up. After a while a very strange odor came from her and mom asked what was in her pocket. She said, “nothing but an egg or two”. She reached down into her pocket only to find out that the eggs had broken and a loud stench came from the obviously rotten eggs. It is safe to say that mom sent her home to change clothes!

Do you remember eating mulberries from the wild trees found in our neck of the woods? Wow! They were so good! We would go home with mouths stained and tummies hurting from an overload of those fat berries!

When I was growing up practically every house had a plot with a garden in it. It might not be big, but it would be enough for some lettuce and onions and tomatoes and a cucumber or two. There was never a time that my mom and dad did not have a large garden. If they did not have room, then they would ask to rent a plot and usually someone would tell them to just go ahead and plant it and then just save them a ‘mess or two’ of something. I remember that they canned, dried, holed up, sold, and gave away vegetables all summer long and still had too much. Mom always canned enough for us children after we left home, to take back with us. Their gardens were truly works of art.

I have almost finished reading The Black Heart Book III, The Fourth Generation by Rosezelle Boggs-Qualls. If you have read any of her books then let me suggest that you really should! Rosezelle did not begin her writing career until she was in her 70’s, when she came back to Ky to live after being gone for many years. Let me tell you a bit about her: ‘from the rugged mountains of Southeastern Kentucky comes one of the twenty-first century’s most powerful writers. Her written word will both educate and entertain you. She grew up in Sunshine, a small coal mining village just south of Harlan, Ky. A born tomboy, she spent her days exploring the trails, streams, caves, and abandoned mines of the Cumberland, Big Black, and Pine Mountains. For high school, Rozelle attended the Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, Ky. As an infant, due to a childhood illness, she had a progressive hearing impairment, but received her first hearing aid at the age of thirteen. In 1946, she met and married William A Buck Qualls. Her husband is totally blind.

When they were first married they lived in Cawood, Ky. However, in 1947, Harlan was still a depressed area and in order to find employment, they were forced to leave the mountains they loved and move to Dayton, Ohio.

Rosezelle earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Social work at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. Her graduate work in Applied Behavioral Science was also at Wright State. Fro thirty-seven years she was employed in the child welfare field in both the Dayton and Akron, Ohio areas. After her retirement in 2004, she and Buck came back home to relocate in Harlan and now live in Cawood, Kentucky. They have one son, Tom and three grandchildren.

In 2003, Rosezelle was given the prestigious Wright State University Social Worker of the Year award and the Wright State University, Collage of Liberal Arts Outstanding Alumna Award.

Also, Rosezelle served a six year appointment by Bob Taft to the Ohio Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities 1998-2004. She served four years by appointment to the Ky. Governor’s Council on Independent Living for People with Disabilities. She is serving her fourth term as Chair for the Southeastern Kentucky Regional Pathfinders for Independent Living whose offices are in Harlan.

In 2007 she organized and served three terms as president of the Harlan Writers’ Guild. In 2009, she served as Chair of the coordinating committee for the 25th annual Festival of the Mountain Masters. Non-profit organizations participating in the event were th Harlan Historical Society, The Harlan Writer’s Guild, and Pathfinders for Independent Living for People with Disabilities.

In 2010, Rosezelle, with the cooperation of the Harlan Tourism Commission, was the founder and is serving as president of the National Hall of Fame for Mountain Artisans. The National Hall of Fame for Mountain Artisans is permanently housed in the Harlan Center, South Main Street, Harlan, Kentucky.’

I enjoyed all of Rosezelle’s Black Heart books, but I especially enjoyed the newest one. She brings the Harlan that many of us remember, with busy streets and stores, to this latest book, as we walk each page in our memory. If I had to choose someone that I would like to emulate, I think that it would have to be Rosezelle. She keeps going and like Thomas Jefferson, age is not a factor to accomplishing what she sets out to do. I think that is a wonderful asset for anyone to have. I think that some of you will recognize many of the people that she mentions in her book, but even if you don’t recognize anyone you will recognize the way of life that was so familiar to the ones born in that time frame.

I do admire many of the older men and women whom I often come in contact with and another such person is Miss Bea. I am not going to mention her last name because she does not parade her age around and I want to tell you that she was born in 1925. She still takes college courses and she is very active for her age. She is the one that I mentioned once who said, “Why, I don’t sit down real often for if I do, I just have to get right back up!” She has a lot of stories about Harlan in the old days. It was said that her daddy, who was a business man in Harlan, once held the mortgage on the court house. Miss Bea always talks so good about everyone. She finds a silver lining in the worst of situations and perhaps that has a lot to do with her being so positive about life. I wish I was more like that…I put everything into a story form in my mind and I use adjectives to describe people in the same way that I do when I put a story on paper and it is not always good…

Well, I hope you are doing well and looking forward to the Dogwood and Redbud trees blooming and all the little wild mountain flowers coming up in the spring. I hope you are looking forward to planting a garden and looking for dry land fish…I hope you are looking forward to life in the mountains. May the good Lord watch over you for the rest of the winter and give you hope for springtime…give me a call @ (606) 909-1017 or email me at sswiesz@gmail.com or write me @ Shirley Swiesz 204 Ivy St. Harlan, Ky. 40831

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Quilt Pieces Column

                                               Quilt Pieces
                                                     Courage

Shirley Noe Swiesz

     The men from this area are quick to respond during a war…because
they have courage. They have gone into mines that were so low that
they had to kneel on their knees in order to work and bring home a few
dollars. They had courage. But take a minute and think of the women
before us…our great great grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and so on who
were right beside or slightly behind the men who settled this harsh
land between these equally harsh mountains. I remember reading about
Daniel Boone when I was very young and thinking…’but what about
Rebecca, his wife?’ she stayed behind in North Carolina for months,
indeed years, waiting for her husband to come home. She didn’t know if
he was dead or alive. She held the family together. When she finally
left NC for Kentucky, with all those children, she ended up losing one
in an Indian battle. She left home, friends, and family to go into a
place where there was no civilization. If you got bread, you had to
bake it, if you needed cloth, you had to weave it, after first plowing
up the land, planting the stuff, running it through a spinning wheel,
dying it, the list goes on and on. There were no Walmarts or
MacDonalds. The women didn’t even have stoves to cook on. When Old
John Shell took his family to Greasy Creek, it has been said that he
lived under a cave until he could build a log home. He and his wife
had a lot of children and Harlan County boosts a lot of offspring from
those kids. He was a pioneer who lived a long life of hard work. So
was his wife. They were my great great grandparents, but I do not know
her name. I know my great grand-father’s name but not his wife’s,
either.
     Think about it for a moment. The women followed their men into
this wild country aware, but not aware, of the hardships and
tribulations they would have to go through. The fear alone that they
suffered must have been staggering. Each day must have brought new
fears…are the Indians going to attack, will the children get sick,
what if I get snake bit, will we have enough food for the winter, what
if my husband gets attacked by a bear??? I know that we have our own
set of problems each day in our world, but they seem very minor
compared to what the women who first settled in this land had to go
through.  Recently while riding in the back of a truck with Jewell
Shepherd and Alfred, up Gap Branch, they showed me a place where an
old log cabin once stood. I thought of the woman who lived
there…probably she never left that holler more than a dozen times in
her lifetime…it would have been a long stretch to walk and too
difficult to ride a horse. A mule might have made it, but possibly
they had been too poor to own a mule. She seldom saw another human
outside her man and her children. If someone got sick or snake-bit,
she took care of them. If a baby died, she and her husband would bury
it…if she gave birth, chances are, she did so alone. I wondered, was
the floor of her cabin wood, or was it dirt? In the summer they would
all go barefooted, including her husband. Going barefooted would seem
to make a grown man or woman very vulnerable. It is fun to do if you
have shoes and know it is only because you like to go barefooted…but
what if you had no shoes or perhaps had only one pair and they had to
be saved for winter. What if you were pregnant and knew something was
wrong with that baby you were carrying? What if you had to sit back
and watch a child die, knowing there was nothing you could do for
it…it was too far to go to get a doctor and you didn’t have any money
to pay him if you did find one…what if your husband had to go hunting
to bring food to the table, and you were all alone with small children
and knew that Indians lurked outside the walls of your cabin? You and
you alone must protect your little ones? What if your husband was gone
for months, perhaps even years, and you had to make sure the children
were taken care of…you had to do it all and yet at the same time
prepare them for adulthood? You had to be teacher, preacher,
doctor…you had to do it all! What if you were an Indian mother and
knew that white people were all around you and you were scared for
your own little ones?
      I often think of the women who came before me…down to these
hollows and hills and paved the way for future generations. My daddy’s
mother lost her mother when she was about 8 or 10 years old. She had 2
younger sisters and one younger brother. They were sent to live with
other relatives. She got married when she was about 16 and had a baby
at 17…it was a little girl, the only daughter she would ever have and
it died. At eighteen she was pregnant again and then one day in a
senseless feud, her young handsome husband was killed.  What to do?
She could not read or write, there were no jobs to be had, no place to
go, no mother to turn to…she got remarried, but life was still
difficult. Two days after she gave birth to her second child, her
father was killed in a hunting accident. Life just got harder for her.
Her first grand-child, whom she adored, a little girl, died when she
was two years old of diphtheria. Her own second son died in an
accident. She saw six other little grand-children die at birth. She
herself was an invalid with severe heart troubles. Life was so hard
for her. She never had any luxuries, nothing but her beloved flowers.
But Granny was not unique…this was the way it was with women in those
days. How very difficult life was for them! My late sister-in-law told
how her grandmother rode a mule and had to cross a swollen river
during the rainy season, the water flowing over her shoes, to try to
get to her daughter’s house before she had her baby. It was the
seventh baby she was giving birth to and she was only 27 or 28 years
old. The grandmother arrived too late. Her daughter had given birth to
a tiny, puny little girl. She died trying to give birth to a second
baby, but it never saw the light of day. The grandmother took the
child home, carrying it in her arms on that same ole mule and she
raised it with the rest of her children. My sister-in-law showed
resentment for many years to the father who gave her away. She did not
know of the hours he cried, even on his death bed for the little child
he could not care for; she did not know how the other children
suffered hunger and pain from a step mother who was supposed to care
for them, but had little patience for another woman’s children. Life
was not easy for the men and women in this hill country, but somehow I
suspect it was so much harder on women, in most cases, for it was
their duty to hold it all together…to give birth, to feed and clothe,
to nurture, to educate, and yes, to bury. Mother’s Day is coming up
soon and I hope you will give your mother what she wants most…a bit of
your time. but while you are at it, take a moment and think of all
those other mothers, the ones before you, the ones who worked so hard
and so long with so little…say a little prayer for them and send a
whispered ‘thank you’ on the wings of love that drifts through your
heart. They’ll hear you and if only for a brief moment, you will know
that you are loved.
      Hey, what old word do you have for me today? Have we discussed
‘gome’ yet? That of course means making a mess, as in “Is she goming
in the kitchen again?” how about, ‘Did you put a scotch under the tire
of that truck?’ Or ‘did you kiver the baby with that new quilt?’ Love
those old sayings!  It’s about time to go looking for Hickory Chicks
which you might know as Dry Land Fish and then go pick a mess of
Bear’s Lettuce. By the way, mess has many meanings also as in ‘making
a mess’, ‘messing around’ (which could be construed in many ways!)  or
a mess of something, such as a ‘mess of beans’.
     I am in the process of collecting Miner’s stories…got any good
ones for me? I know that coal miners are notorious for their love of
pranks and I thought that with next year being the 100th year since
the first load of coal was taken from Harlan County, it would make a
great little book! You can contact me at sswiesz@gmail.com or write me
at Shirley Swiesz 102 E. Central St. Harlan, Ky. 40831 or if you see
me on the street just walk up to me and say, ‘I got a story for you’
and I will try to find a pen and paper somewhere in that gigantic
purse of mine to write it down on.  By the way, we made this fabulous
bag out of t-shirts and duct tape, at the Depot last week. The class
was sponsored by the Extension Office and was a lot of fun. The bag is
waterproof and great to haul junk in…the Extension Office does a lot
of fun things at the Depot. Join us! There are some great gals out
there…(you too, Jeremy and Raymond!)
    Ruby Cox Hoskins, who was raised in Hiram, but lives in Tennessee
now, e-mailed me the other day asking if I had my mother’s recipe for
the old fashioned apple stack cake, the gingerbread type. She said,
“My mother never wrote recipes down.” Well, unfortunately, neither did
mine but most of the time, she didn’t even measure the ingredients.
“Just a little of this and a little of that,” she would say. Ruby’s
mother, who was a good friend of my mom’s, was a wonderful cook, as
well as a sweet and kind person. She and Mom never became friends
until they were ‘way up in years’. Neither of them had the time when
their children were growing up, to make real lasting friendships. But
as they grew older, those women in Hiram turned to each other for
friendship…Nola Cornett, Mrs. Cox, Goldie Lewis, and my mom, among a
few. I am glad they had each other for friends. But about that recipe
for Stack Cake?  I am hoping that someone who reads this will share
theirs??? Wilma Lewis Fields??? Goldie Lewis??? Anybody??? Perhaps
someone would even allow me to put it in the paper?? Ruby’s brother
James, or Jim as we called him, graduated with us in 1962. He died
while still a young man. He was well liked by all of us and a fun
person to be around. In her lifetime, Mrs. Cox lost 2 sons…one died in
the Korean War and then James who was her ‘baby’. She had an old
treadle machine and she made quilts on that machine for her children
and grand-children. I don’t think that she ever stopped working in her
garden and on her quilts…she lived to be in her nineties. God Bless
those old women like Mama and Mrs. Cox, who lost so much but kept on
going. It is good to be back in touch with friends like Ruby, also. We
all grew up together in Hiram…that Sweet Spot that touches memories in
a lot of us. Hiram is just another name for many small towns…it just
happens that I know the names of the ones that lived there. When my
first book came out a young African American woman from Columbia, SC
came up to me and said, “I know every one of those people in that
book…and you don’t fool me…they are all black!” Which goes to show,
people are pretty much the same no matter where they live! We have
good ones and bad ones everywhere but probably most of us are
somewhere in-between. ..but I swear, those old women who came before
us are more saints than anything! How I loved those old people!
     Don’t forget…smile at someone today. A smile or a quick wave can
make a wonderful difference if a person is having a bad day. Be kind
to others, we are all on the same journey. If you are a Christian on
Sunday, try your very best to be one on Friday also, as well as every
other day of the week. It doesn’t matter if you are covered in tattoos
or covered in spirituality, God loves you the same. Take care until we
meet again and may Blessings come your way.

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Old Days in Harlan County, Kentucky

I write a column for a small newspaper in Harlan County…mostly old stories about the area. I pull, stretch, hit, squeeze, twist, and throw the truth around until it might or might not be recognized…in short…I am a writer! My Column is called Quilt Pieces and I am currently working on a book of the same title. Also included in the book will be stories of coal miners…some of the things that happen throughout a shift to help them keep their sanity in a deep, dark, and cold mine. It is a lonely job, therefore the ones who work with you become your best friends or your worst enemies…I sometimes feel the same way about being a writer! But I enjoy other things besides writing, such as decorating, junking, gardening, cooking, reading, and quilting, among a few. So, if you have a moment, join me each day in my journey in the mountains. I will take you hunting for ‘hickory chicks’, or ‘dry land fish’ commonly known as morel mushrooms, or to look for ‘bear’s lettuce’ and I will take you back to that time when there was no electricity in most of the homes and we spent the better part of each day playing in the woods; we walked the railroad tracks with hobos and never met a stranger. Join me, I think you might have a good old fashioned time!

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