Author: Doodlebug, Doodlebug, Your House is on Fire

Archive for April, 2014



The term Appalachia often conjures up images of moonshining and feuding, of the uneducated and backward.  Terms such as hillbilly, redneck, backward, poor, and ignorant have come to describe the majority of the people in the Appalachians.

I once attended a summer science institute at North Carolina State University. People came from all across the United States. I asked a lady I knew was not from the south, “How do you like North Carolina?”  She answered, “I love it here, I was expecting killings in the streets.” I was startled, but that was the image of the Appalachians, the media, and others, had painted for this lady.

I read Horace Kephart’s novel, Our Southern Highlanders, a novel written in 1922 about his life in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. He wrote of the people of the Southern Appalachians and a study of the life among the mountaineers.

In one place he wrote, “They are people of keen intelligence and strong initiative when they see anything to win.” He added, “They are apart from other folks by dialect, by custom, and by character, and by self-conscious isolation.

With just a little research, we would find that hardly a family today doesn’t have a member with some college education. We find, just in North Carolina, 131 colleges and universities. This includes the University of North Carolina founded in 1789, and Tri-County Community College founded in 1964 and this year celebrate their 50th Anniversary.

The Appalachian region includes 13 states, but people, including Horace Kephart usually just include the following states: West Virginia, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia as making up the Unakas or Unaka System or Southern Appalachia.

I’m proud of my Appalachian heritage, the people of the Appalachians, the culture, the dialect, and character. I have no statistics, but will venture to say that our belief and practice of religion far surpasses any other region of the United States. That is a practice handed down for generations.

What Edgar Allen Poe judged in 1845, “The Appalachian people are an uncouth and fierce race of men,” is no longer true, but today we are a proud group of people with a proud heritage, and a deep faith in our fellow man and in our God. We are still, to quote Horace Kephart, people of keen intelligence and strong initiative.


First Date

                                               First Date                                       Word Count 711

When I entered Murphy High School as a fourteen year old freshman in 1953, I met Laura Mae Brown, a beautiful and popular girl in my class. I immediately fell hopelessly in love with her. She was a cheerleader, and her parents were wealthy, high society, and members of the country club. My parents were farmers, and while not poor they were certainly not considered high society or wealthy.

We had several classes together, and she would often smile and say, “hello.” I made a point of trying to sit close to her in class. My buddies soon noticed my staring and yearning after her, and one teased me saying, “Roy, she is out of your league, quit pining after her.”

I noticed several of the football players hung out with Laura Mae, laughing, holding her hands, and putting their arms around her. Occasionally, I would see her riding through town, or hanging out at Peck’s Place, a local teen center, having a coke and burger with Brad, the captain of the football team.

Once, my friends and I were there when she came in with Brad, and as she entered she caught my eye, and smiled. One of my friends who had earlier teased me about her being out of my league noticed her smiling at me and said, “Roy, I believe Laura Mae has her eye on you.”

I ignored his remarks, and replied, “she isn’t interested in me,” but later I thought about her smile and mused about my friend’s quip, Could she be slightly interested in me? That night I played her look and smile over and over in my mind, as I tried to sleep.

The freshman year ended and as our sophomore year began I arrived, anxious to see Laura Mae, who was even more beautiful. We were in a biology class together and our teacher, Mr. Thompson, divided us, randomly, into pairs for lab partners. I said a silent prayer that I would be paired with Laura Mae, but it wasn’t to be. Instead I was paired with Cate, who my friends and I called Catie Bird because of her birdlike legs.

Cate turned out to be a blessing, because she was very intelligent and a super lab partner. Often other students, including Laura Mae, would come to our lab table for Cate to explain something or show them how to dissect a frog or a grasshopper. In those cases, I would sometimes get to talk with Laura Mae. Now and then I would show her the parts and proper methods to use in dissecting. I once asked her about Brad, “Do you still see him?” I asked. She answered, “Brad is away in college and since he’s on the football team, he doesn’t get to come home often, but I see him occasionally.”

Our junior year began, and I had finally obtained my driver’s license. Laura Mae was more beautiful than ever, and I still did everything I could to attract her. I spoke to her often, and she always flashed her beautiful smile and said, “hello.” I so much wanted to ask her out. My father had a 1949 Chevrolet truck he allowed me to use, but Laura Mae was used to Brad and his 1955 Corvette.

One day my friend, the same one who teased me as a freshman, caught me in the hall and said, “Roy, I hear Laura Mae and Brad broke up. This would be a good time for you to ask her for a date.” I was thinking about his comments, when I literally ran into her in the hall. As I helped her gather up her books, I asked her out for dinner and a movie. To my surprise she said, “Yes, I’ve been hoping you would ask me.”

I washed and polished Daddy’s old truck, picked her up at her house, and we headed out of town to a nice restaurant I had carefully picked out. On the way, the old truck’s engine sputtered and quit. I looked at the gas gage and it showed empty. I was apologizing and pondering what to when Brad in his Corvette drove up.

The last I saw was the two of them cuddled together, heading out of town.



   For the entire month of February, 2014, snow covered every section of my cattle ranch and that of neighboring ranches. Feed for the farm animals was running low, and no grass was available in the snow covered pastures. Searching for my cattle, I found several of my young calves had already frozen to death, and the remainder of my cattle was in danger of freezing and starving. I called my neighboring farmers and the Farmer’s Federation seeking help and comfort, but their circumstances were similar, and though we talked and were sympathetic to each other’s plight, no solutions came forward. Roads were impassable, snow, ice, and freezing temperatures plagued the entire region so feed for the cattle was almost nonexistent. I was spending twelve to fifteen hours a day trying to find stray cattle and drive them to the barn for food, shelter and safety.

   I often called my nearest neighbor, Betty Jean Brown, who had lost her husband several years earlier, to see how she was fairing. She also called me, but together we could think of no solutions. Due to my having lost my wife the previous winter, I looked forward to Betty’s calls and I think she looked forward to my calling her. Though we had both lost our spouses, we had never as much as had lunch together. I often saw her at church and other community meetings, but we never more than spoke to one another. On one call to her, feeling low and overwhelmed, I told Betty, “if we survive this freezing weather, I want to invite you over for dinner one night.” Betty answered, “And, I’ll take you up on your offer.” We both laughed together for the first time ever, and for the first time, I felt a romantic affection for her.

    On March 1, 2014, I awoke to see the sun shining for the first time in a month. During the day, the temperature shot up from freezing to almost fifty degrees. Snow melted enough that hay could be delivered by the Farmer’s Federation. Cattle were able to reach the barn and feed on the freshly delivered hay. For the first time in over a month, I was able to stay in my house and rest, though still alone.

   I was telephoning my neighbors, and as we laughed together and thanked God for the sunshine and rise in temperature, for the melting snow and newly delivered hay, when I heard a knock on my door. Opening the door, I was greeted by my neighbor, Betty, who said, “I know you’re not expecting me, but you did invite me to dinner if we survived this freezing weather. Due to a tree falling just up the road from my house, my power and telephone are out,” and laughing sheepishly, she said, “I knew you were trying to reach me, so here I am. I brought over two steaks from a calf I had to butcher due to its freezing. If you have a fire in the stove, we’ll cook these steaks for dinner.”

   Though, Ms. Betty Brown was not expected, she was a welcome sight and for the first time, even wearing her work clothes and boots, I noticed how beautiful she looked. I fired up the old wood stove, and together we cooked a dinner fit for a king. The steak, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and homemade biscuits would have been the envy of even Donald Trump.

   After dinner, the temperature began dropping. We called Betty’s house and the telephone was still out of order so we assumed the power was also still out. I invited Betty to spend the night and she agreed. As we sat and talked, I popped some popcorn, poured us each a glass of wine, with a sliver of cheese. At the end of the night, I asked her to marry me and our lives were changed forever.