What is it about Appalachian women?
Take my mother for instance. She is 64 as of today (happy birthday, Momma!) and still a tornado of a woman.
Two weeks ago, I listened as she scolded neighborhood hoodlums from her porch in Southeast Roanoke. These were probably shirtless boys, thin to the ribs, running around in baggy jeans, maybe with knives, maybe with guns. Riotous packs carouse her neighborhood day and night. Mother doesn’t mind them until they try cutting through her corner yard.
She stopped me mid-conversation. “Woah’now,” she yelled, “There will be none of that. You get your little asses right back in that street.”
I could practically hear the boys freeze. I imagined them standing perfectly still between her porch and the back fence, their jaws drooped open because no one ever calls them out.
On my end of the line, two hundred miles away, I held my breath and waited to see what this wild woman would do. Thirty-seven years into knowing her, and I still can’t guess.
Only one of the trespassers had the cohunes to talk back. For all his adolescent bravado, he was reduced to a whiny excuse. “Buuuut she was chasin us.”
A lone girl waited for them at the edge of Mother’s yard. An Appalachian woman in training, she had these ruffians on the run. I couldn’t tell why, but now the boys were stuck between her and a crazy old lady.
I can speak from experience. Mother has whooped fellers bigger than these, and I don’t mean a polite whack on the behind. She can sling a belt and words all at once, roughing you up on the outside and the inside.
I was starting to worry for these boys. They were in for it.
Then all of sudden, she hollered back, “Well, stupid,” she said with mock indignation, “If a pretty girl is chasin ya, why don’t ya let her catch ya?”
Then she erupted with the hoarse laughter of a former-smoker, and released the boys from her verbal grip. I could hear their footfalls as they rushed back to the pavement.
“Oo’yeah, I got him good,” she said, returning her attention to me, “He’s just a’blushin.”
What could I say?
“Give ‘em Hell, Momma” was the only option. The screen door thumped behind her, and I marveled over my Mother at the other end of the line.
Living with Appalachian women is exhilarating. From minute to minute, you don’t know if you’re going to be whacked upside the head, lovingly picked on, made to massage their feet, or held like you’re the last person on Earth.
Love and fury, it all comes full throttle.
Willie Davis has written a story about women like this. His protagonist, a young man named Jesse, falls in with ladies who are wild and tender in turns. They are not above using a shovel to keep you in line or sewing up your busted head in the open air of a Hazard County porch.
Published by storySouth, “A Family of Women” captures an elusive feminine bluntness that I have long admired.
Do these ladies strike you as familiar too?
If so, tell us all about the Appalachian women that you love and/or fear.
I didn’t know how, and I didn’t want to know how, but on the first night Hannah Holiday and I spent alone together, she told me how she hit that boy with a shovel, as casually as if she were talking about last night’s dreams. To hear her tell it, the kid had had it coming for a long, long, long time. He was begging for it, practically on his knees praying for a right-thinking adult to pound some sense into him. No one liked that boy. He swore and spat at women, gave the finger to cars, and pushed little kids around, even ones as young as her daughter Abby had been, and she was just barely out of diapers at the time. Clearly, he took after his jailbird father the car thief even more than his half-mad junkie mother. Besides, the boy was so goddamn filthy that anyone could see the lice treating his upper body like a playground, leaping from his curls to his ear to the collar of that brown and yellow striped shirt he wore every single day of his life like he was some ragamuffin Charlie Brown, and she wouldn’t normally let him around her daughter if he was offering candy and flowers, because she didn’t want her to catch Ebola or some such thing. When that boy shoved her daughter down and stood over her laughing, Hannah Holiday simply did what any normal parent would do and went to scare the kid. If she aimed to hurt him, then this world would be one delinquent lighter, she can guarantee you that, because she would have cocked that shovel back and treated that boy’s head like a tee-ball, and you better believe there’d be lot of homeless lice in Hazard, Kentucky. As it was, she barely tapped the boy, but had to take him to the doctor’s on account of his bleeding. She drove him to the hospital herself, because she didn’t want any real harm to come to the boy. And if it’d really been so bad, why didn’t they charge her with anything? You can’t just go smacking kids who don’t deserve it with a shovel and not get charged for it, now can you? That right there shows a lot of what they say about her was garbage.