Social Distancing – Appalachia Style

With the COVID-19 pandemic steadily growing, many states, my own included, have initiated a stay-at-home order.  The introvert that I am, this hasn’t been too hard for me, with the exception of eating out and library runs. While not minding the lack of social interaction, I do miss food that isn’t cooked by me, and I miss my frequent trips to the local library. What can I say, I love being surrounded by books.  Oh, and being temporarily furloughed (I’m nonessential… who knew?) is also an issue, but to curb my ever-increasing anxiety, I’m ignoring that problem, you know, as one does.

As most of you may know from past entries, my parents were born and raised in the mountains of West Virginia as were their parents before them. Great-Grandma Mooney of Vinegar Valentines fame – among other stories and her husband were also Appalachian born and bred. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here or not while discussing my family, but my mother’s father died in the coal mines when my grandmother was very pregnant with my mom… so she and the kids (my mom and her brother) lived with Grandma Mooney in her house in the ‘holler’. For those of you who aren’t from the south, a holler is a small valley between mountains. Some people would say it’s a hollow, but they would be wrong. There was only one way in and one way out of the holler, and traversing that road was, well, let’s just say that it wasn’t for the faint of heart.  Now you know what all those country songs are talking about. You’re welcome.

I can’t help but think that they would do better at this sheltering-in-place gig than the rest of us.  I mean, they were nothing if not self-sufficient. Grocery store runs? Nonexistent. Mostly because grocery stores themselves were nonexistent. I was talking to my mother the other day about this very thing and she said that once a month, this one gentleman (the son of a preacher man… hmmm, sounds like a song, if you ask me) would come around to all the houses in their mountain community, which in and of itself was a trek, because it’s not like these were neighborhoods, these folks were spread out – which takes me to the point of social distancing. Since you had to walk a mile or more to see a neighbor, social distancing wasn’t an issue, but I digress.  This one gentleman would come around once a month and take your order for items like flour, corn meal, sugar, powdered milk, maybe cereal (puffed wheat) and a pound of bologna if you were lucky. A couple of weeks later, he’d bring the items to you.  Where he got them is a mystery, but got them, he did. The flour and cornmeal were always bought in bulk – 50-pound sacks, because everyone made bread, biscuits, and/or cornbread every day. When the stash was gone, it was gone. Then you’d have to wait until the next time he came around. If you wanted eggs or milk, but didn’t have chickens or a cow, you traded or bartered with a neighbor. In most cases, you could simply just ask nicely, and you’d find yourself heading home with a quart of milk and a couple of eggs. If you’ve even glanced at the news the past few days, you’d see that today’s masses are hoarding toilet paper, bread, Excedrin, and frozen vegetables. We’re a narcissistic society born of selfishness and greed. But back in the day, people shared what they had, at least in the hills where my parents grew up.

Throughout my mother’s childhood, my family raised chickens, pigs, and what my mother calls a vegetable garden, but was actually more like a mini-farm. Along with burying certain harvested vegetables like potatoes and cabbage (I found out recently from my mother, that this was a thing, and not only that, it worked perfectly to preserve these provisions), my grandmother canned vegetables, fruit, and homemade soup to put up in the root cellar. In addition to canning fruit of all kinds, she dried apples too, since that kept well.  She did this all summer long to ensure they had food through the fall and winter when the growing season was long over.  Since they didn’t live on veggies alone, my grandmother also put up canned beef, homemade sausage, and salted-down bacon… it was their only source of meat in the winter.

Quarantine?  Hell, it would just be like December for them, only warmer.


9 thoughts on “Social Distancing – Appalachia Style

  1. My family background is similar, just a lot flatter. My dad referred to his family as “South Dakota dirt farmers” and as a kid we spent a fair amount of time in the summers on grandpa’s farm. Like your family, corn to sell but chickens, pigs, cows, horses, and a good acre or more of “vegetable garden,” plus apple and cherry trees and nuts and… I don’t remember ever going into town (30-40 miles) to get groceries, but we went to get parts for the tractor and ammunition to go pheasant and quail hunting. When I first started going they had an outhouse, only got indoor plumbing later. TP was delivered for free in a big book from Sears!

  2. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves what our grandparents would have to have survived on! My Gran was a little girl during WWII too and she is constantly reminding us why you shouldn’t waste food. I HATE it when my partner does,lol

  3. I was taught it was a holler because it was narrow enough to holler across and be heard by that distanced neighbor, who would come to help if called for.
    And though not in Appalachia, some of us function in the modern world of Internet etc but still live fairly self sufficient and rural, with monthly trips to stock up, such that current restrictions are fairly minor infringements. If you were to be able to visit me you would not need the library. My home is full of walls of books, since reading the Gutenberg version is my particular addiction.
    Too much screen time required in my job to care to spend more during my limited leisure.
    Working from home is my standard but not seeing clients, having to do all assessments by phone, is exhausting.
    And I do miss the sustaining regular acupuncture that has kept this aging body going!!

    • I miss working from home, which I did for years, and I’d love to find another remote position. AND I’d love to see your books! I hope there are other things you can do for now that will help until you can go back to acupuncture.

  4. Can understand but not relate, since my grandparents, parents, are all from Chicago and grocery stores were all we ever had. No gardens. Had gangways between our buildings and cement/streets everywhere. It’s so interesting how different all of our backgrounds and experiences were/are. We played baseball with sewer covers for bases in the street. LOLOL I can’t even imagine having to walk a far as your grandmother and mother had to walk between houses, or wait for food to be brought to them. Such different lives we all live. We were downtown at plays and shopping at Marshall Field’s. My grandmother was making jewelry and we were out having chocolate sundaes and sodas. I loved your post. A glimpse into a different world, one without skyscrapers, els, busses and movies.

    • Most of their food, they grew. But there were definitely some items they had to wait on. However, it’s not like they would’ve been hungry while waiting… or at least not too hungry at any rate. My kids were raised in a suburban atmosphere and my daughter loves the city. I do wish they had been to WV a time or two to experience it. But by that point, my grandparents had passed.

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