Repairing Homes in Central Appalachia
My first lessons, in the ever-evolving lessons, of acceptance of people where they are, just as they are, came from my Grandmother Cornett when I was very young, particularly when she asked me, as a five year old, to help with her Head Start class. I don't recall that I was much help, but I do remember basking in the love she spread throughout the room. As a 14 year old, this was underscored by the mentors and leaders in what would become multi-summer, spiritual and educational experiences for me, responding to requests from families, living deep in the hollows of the mountains, to work with them, to find donated materials in order to help to repair and to make safe their homes.
On a practical level, I learned to roof, to tear up floors, to tear down and build new outhouses, to build a simple bridge, to raise money to replace a coal-laced well, a sole source of drinking water for one of the families and ... the beginnings of a fascination with using power tools.
On a soul level, I was shown the importance of recognizing cultural, social and economic barriers and the importance of continually self-reflecting to avoid patronizing or "savior" actions or words of pity and the joy of connecting with the families in mutually respectful ways. While the parents might be initially hesitant to engage in conversation, the children were the reliable welcomers ... their curiosity, their eagerness to learn and to show their treasures, to help out, whether it be making caulking "worms" for me as I replaced window panes and then taking on the painting of the frames or hammering nails or taking a break with us to play keep away or taking my hand to show me flowers behind the house or asking me to read a book. And then the conversations with the elders, who shared their stories - one grandfather showed me how to hunt for ginseng in the woods - and who asked about ours. My guitar became another ice-breaker, as we shared songs back and forth, songs like Will the Circle Be Unbroken or Simple Gifts or Pass it On or If I Had a Hammer, songs about hope and love and community and trying to do the right thing ... I was happy to share one of these summers with each of my friends Amy Ettinger Burkett and Katy McCormick.
These experiences were formative and I continue to be grateful for their influence on how I navigate the world and the big and continuing and sometimes difficult and embarrassing lessons about self-editing, about letting go of outdated ideas, and about being open to learning new ones that might change the way I look at the world as a whole or how I interact with others.
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A place to decant my brain, to capture inspiration and share fresh insights. [Posts from 2015 onward]