Another Spring arrives in Appalachia Ohio. It’s 2020. Both of my grandmothers reside in Heaven now, but the early flowers, budding trees, and frosty mornings bring remembrance of these two pioneer ladies. Strong as bark on a tree, yet as gentle as rose petals.
Spring brings out the nostalgia in me. And I reread the prose of Jesse Stuart as the weather turns. His stories remind me of my grandmother’s. And the Appalachian bubble my family and relatives lived, worked, and played in.
Come Gentle Spring,a collection of twenty short stories, was first published in 1969. The title clearly reflects Jesse Stuart’s philosophy of life, the joy and hopefulness he feels for humanity, symbolized by the coming to Spring. Jesse Stuart’s works always seem to focus on the essential goodness of humanity. He depicts a simple world where people exist the best they can. He focuses on the positive and life-enriching qualities of laughter, joy, respect, kindness, and love.
Jesse Hilton Stuart was an American writer known for writing short stories, poetry, and novels about Southern Appalachia. Born and raised in Greenup County, Kentucky, Stuart relied heavily on the rural locale of Northeastern Kentucky for his writings. Stuart was named the Poet Laureate of Kentucky in 1954.
Every River on Earth; Writing from Appalachian Ohio,a book of regional poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from forty contemporary writers is edited by Neil Carpathios. The pages ignite a longing for the former days of childhood in my grandparent’s hollow.
Returning to the aforementioned books, my mind drifts back to a simpler time in rural Scioto County. Itching to plant gardens, country folks rushed to till the dirt at the beginning of Spring. But planting happened after the first frost. Mamaw Hila would often stroll around her yard as if visiting the first buds of the season—with her granddaughters following close behind.
Mamaw Lyde welcomed the Spring at her Minford Greenhouse along with her daughters, Shirley, Judy, and Betty. The cousins were allowed to poke holes in the dirt and plant seedlings. But nobody could plant seeds as fast as Lyde.
As usual, I find my way to the female authors of Appalachia. The words of the resilient females in my family tree resonate deep into the marrow of my bones. And I am comforted by the tales in the following book.
Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia is a landmark anthology that brings together the work of 105 Appalachian women writers, including Dorothy Allison, Harriette Simpson Arnow, Annie Dillard, Nikki Giovanni, Denise Giardina, Barbara Kingsolver, Jayne Anne Phillips, Janice Holt Giles, George Ella Lyon, Sharyn McCrumb, and Lee Smith. Editors Sandra L. Ballard and Patricia L. Hudson offer a diverse sampling of time periods and genres, established authors and emerging voices. From regional favorites to national bestsellers, this unprecedented gathering of Appalachian voices displays the remarkable talent of the region’s women writers who’ve made their mark at home and across the globe.
Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” captures the essence of an ideal America, one of open fields and endless possibilities. But when Copland began his Pulitzer Prize-winning ballet score in 1942, he couldn’t have foreseen that it would become one of the most inspiring and symbolic works of the century.
Each Spring, I long to visit my granny’s cozy country kitchen, but I cannot not. It is occupied by another. My memories will have to suffice. The smell of coffee and cobbler. The crinkly sound of the newspaper as the pages turned. The comfort of being in her company. Couldn’t someone have told me to hold on tight to that moment—that it would be gone when the balmy summer breezes approached. Spring continues to arrive like clockwork, but it’s not my gentle Appalachian Springtime from years past.
But Spring does blow in The Women of Appalachia Project. A program that encourages participation from women of diverse backgrounds, ages and experiences to come together, inviting submissions of spoken word and fine art, shared in public forums and annual chapbooks. Artists share culture and experiences at arranged venues, embrace issues of marginalization and stereotype; creating a force, unified and non-violently confrontational, to show the whole women, beyond superficial factors often used to judge her. “Women Speak” will be held March 28, 2020, at the Athena Cinema, Ohio University in Athens. Visit www.womenofappalachia.com.
Spring, you come for the living—not for the dead.
Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Southern Ohio.