The Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Novels

Welcome to Marshall County. Most of the folks are friendly—a few are deadly—and it’s not always easy to know which is which. But be careful. You may find yourself falling under the spell of the mountains. It can be hard to leave.

Writing a Love Song

I tell people that my Goodweather books are, in a way, a love song to Madison County (though I changed the name to Marshall County.) I was writing about a world that is fast slipping away. My husband and I were fortunate to have moved to our farm at a time when many people were still living as they had in the early years of the century–when there was no television, no internet, no cell phones. Instead, conversation, story-telling, and homemade music on the front porch were the entertainment. These people are the backbone of my stories and readers write from all over to say that they are reminded of their aunt, their granny, their great uncle, their childhood.

But I have to write about the changes too. It seemed like one day I looked up and there were all these new homes and developments on the mountainsides, changes in Marshall and Asheville, new people of all sorts.

In Old Wounds, Elizabeth and Rosemary are visiting the museum in Cherokee and looking at an exhibit about the Trail of Tears. Elizabeth has a little rant that, to some extent, sums up my ambivalent feelings toward change:

The recording that accompanied the exhibit had just finished the bleak tale—Cherokees torn from their homes and farms and forced onto the Long Walk to the inhospitable West, but still Elizabeth stared into the diorama, saying nothing.

“Mum?” Rosemary ventured. She was alarmed to see her mother’s blue eyes swimming with tears.

Finally Elizabeth spoke. “This just really gets to me—there they were, there they’d been for time out of mind, and all of a sudden white settlers want their land. The white soldiers cut down the Cherokee’s peach trees and burn their corn . . .”

Rosemary waited as Elizabeth scrabbled in her shoulder bag for a bandana, blew her nose vigorously, and went on. “But the thing of it is—the real thing—is that it’s always happening. Like the Cherokees probably displaced some earlier, weaker tribes who had beat up on someone before that. And back when we moved to Marshall County, some of the descendants of those same first settlers who had helped get rid of the Cherokee felt threatened by how many new people were moving to the county, new people with different ideas about how things should be run. And now I’m feeling threatened by the folks moving in with mega-bucks to spend and their own vision of what the county should be. Fancy summer homes, bigger and bigger . . .gated communities that say ‘us, not you.’”

Elizabeth’s is a world full of change, with the old rubbing up against the new. Elizabeth’s world, like my own, is seeing an influx, for good or bad, of all sorts of pilgrims from all sorts of places–Florida people looking for cooler summers, Northerners looking for warmer winters, earnest organic farmers, telecommuters with jobs in far off cities, artists and artisans, New Age seekers, Latin American laborers, all adding spice and savor to what was once a familiar dish with only one ingredient.

Things always change and the good old days weren’t always good, but we can try to hold to what was good, and what it is about these mountains that brought us here or keeps us here. All around us, newcomers to the mountains are giving of themselves – working with the Friends of the DuPont Forest to ensure that the beautiful waterfalls remain open to the public, working to bring back the chestnut trees, teaching in the schools, volunteering in the libraries, working with any number of charitable organizations. These folks, I think, are what Thomas Rain Crowe calls the new natives and they are slowly but surely earning their place in these mountains by their service.

So I write about them all, from the Cherokees to the old timers whose families have been here for six, seven, eight generations, to the well-rooted transplants to the just-got-here’s.

I remember back in ’76, being introduced to a young woman whose family had lived in the same community for seven generations. As I recall, she looked at me with a wary distrust, probably the same way the Cherokees looked at her folks when they first began to move into the Cherokee’s hunting grounds. And it’s probably the same way, god forgive me, I look at some of the more recent newcomers to the area. And what changes are You going to make? the look says.

I was talking a while back with a lifelong resident of the area and the subject of her neighbor –another of those Florida people—came up. “Him?” she said, “He ain’t showed me nothin’ yet.”

By their works shall ye know them, I think she was saying. And the fact is that many, many of these new people are enriching the mountains, bringing an energy and freshness of outlook to the on-going work. Those who do it best, listen to the long-time residents, respecting their wisdom and experience and hearing their concerns. Yes, Change is inevitable, but it should be done cautiously and respectfully so that what we love about this land isn’t lost forever.

This blessed land. This little corner of the Appalachians. A place apart, a magical, maybe even holy place. It takes some of us that way.

Back when we first moved to the mountains, one of my neighbors invited me to go with her to Decoration Day at their family cemetery. A group had gathered there atop the gentle hill at the edge of our farm. It was a mild day, the first Sunday in June, under one of those crystalline blue skies that they say proves God is a Carolina fan. The invited preacher hadn’t appeared, so some of those present took turns reading from the Bible or speaking a few words. And then Sylvie, another neighbor–a short stout woman, known for her ability to outperform a man in cutting and barning tobacco-Sylvie sang Amazing Grace. Her voice was rough, with a heavy mountain twang, and she sang from her heart and her belly and her soul with the same strength she brought to the tobacco field. Her song was a shout, a statement of faith, a declaration of who she was and where she was–and an anthem for all who once were lost but now are found. It raised goose bumps on my arms and when the last fierce notes fell away, losing themselves in the trees and pastures around us, I was fighting back tears. I once was lost but now I’m found, I thought. Was blind but now I see. This is the place I’ve been looking for and here I am where I’m meant to be.

Amazing Grace–it’s here all around us in these mountains. Enough for everyone who can recognize it. May we all work to hold on to it, to preserve it, and to live amongst our neighbors, helping and being helped, and always striving to make the inevitable changes, changes for the better.