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Monday, November 30, 2009


ninemile, tenn, worthington mtn in distance

An email today from a heretofore unknown relative, Diane. Her mother was a Worthington and she does genealogy, found me by the blog, and would like me to help her fill in the information about my sisters and others. She goes back to Jesse Carroll of Ninemile too. She found his grave, which is evidently not so easy to find. My great grandmother was Dora Hale of Ninemile. Diane's great grandmother was a Hale from Blout. I must remember to ask her if she got a picture of Jesse Carroll's gravestone. I'd like to see it.

This coming year I might have the transportation and the time and maybe even the money to make a 3 or 4 day visit to Bledsoe County, Tennessee, visit Pikeville, look up some people who might be kin. Cousin Wendell Walker of Ninemile told me there are no more Worthingtons left in the county by name. There are several descendants of Worthington women in the county. An outdoor bluegrass place that puts on shows through the summer of regional music is across the highway from what was Worthington land until recently. The picture above was taken at Wendell's farm, what he said was the old Sam Worthington plantation. I didn't see much difference between what he called a plantation and what we call a farm. Land with cows and chickens on it.

The time I visited Wendell, he took me across the highway to the bluegrass place, since they were making music that night. I listened to several bands. I was interested to hear the difference between the sound of this part of Tennessee in relation to what I know of the Central BlueRidge. There is a difference, but I'd have a hard time naming it. Perhaps I could say in this part of Tennessee, the part of the world where Lester Flatt came from and Charlie Louvin, they have what sounds to my ear like a more casual style. Musicians around here lay it to it, but there, they have a little bit more laid back sound. Not a whole lot, just enough for an ear that knows one region well to hear another region the first time. There is a difference, though slight.

Since I discovered my Ninemile connection, and my grandmother's people came from the same Cumberland Plateau just north of Ninemile across the Kentucky line in Pulaski County, I've sought music from both regions. Have found a fair amount from that part of Tennessee that is good. But I've not been able to find any music in Pulaski County, Kentucky, though I know there are people in that county making music. It's southeastern Kentucky. There are people there making music. When I was in Somerset I went to the Chamber of Commerce welcome center. I had to explain to the man what I meant by old-time music. He said there's no music in the county. He asked somebody else. There's no music in the county.

I've emailed places in Somerset asking, and never get an answer. After I was home, I realized I should have asked the raving crazy man sitting on a kitchen chair in the town square, which is a traffic circle, on the edge of the traffic hollering at people who drove by. If I had stopped and asked him, he could have taken me straight to some music. I could see this old boy lived very poor, had that trailer in a holler look. He was still a hillbilly and proud of it. I almost wanted to drive back to Somerset and see him. But it's a long ways. I know there is music in Pulaski County, Kentucky. I think Roy Lee Centers came from a neighboring county.

I feel something like a continual longing to get back to Ninemile, spend some time, walk on the ground, feel the land underfoot my ancestors worked in their time. I looked over some of the land that was initially Big Spring Bill's land, daddy to Jesse Carroll. In my mind's eye I saw him working a plow behind two horses. I saw the big spring that was on his land. It was a beautiful pool with big natural rock formation walls, tree roots, and the water was littered with trash, old tires and stuff. I wanted to bring a canoe and spend a day cleaning the place up. Naturally, the first thing that came to mind was this is how people new to Alleghany see things, they want to clean it up. I let that thought drop immediately. Not my business. Clear water like it was in the old days, it was a beautiful place. Probably known for its beauty, the big spring.

Half my life, now, I've lived in these mountains on Waterfall Road. I've studied the culture, not as an anthropologist, but as the world my parachute landed me in. I fell in love with the county and everyone in it the day I exhausted finding everything that was wrong with the place. When I saw that I'd found everything that's wrong with the place, then I thought, let's look at what's right with the place. I didn't even have to look. I already knew. Tears welled up and my heart fell in love at that moment with the mountain people.

This moment occurred several years before I learned I have these mountains in my blood, through Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky. When I learned I have the mountains in my blood, it was one of the great days of my life, one of the very few great days. In my Charleston years, if I'd learned I had hillbilly blood, I'd have gone for a transfusion. But I didn't know what it meant in them days. I didn't know then that hillbilly meant as fine a people as you'll find anywhere on the earth. That's Appalachia's best kept secret.


  1. I too spent time at Big Spring and felt as if i wanted to get out and clean up the trash around the beautiful spring. It is out behind the spring in the cow fields a ways back through the mud and cows and cow patties you will find the Big Spring Cemetery. It has a simple sign, wooden with Big Spring burned into it. The storms and weather had done much damage and there is no way to tell who some of the loved relatives buried there are but one day very soon, maybe the spring, I will return and I will see what, even if it's only a small amount I can do to right the stones. I do have a few pictures of that grave yard and a few stones. I will email them and if you fell the desire to share you may use them to post. I love your writing here...I connect with much of your feelings of the place and time. Diane

  2. Hi - I just happened across your page... I live in Somerset, Ky. To be honest, I don't know what "old time" music is either, but I wanted to let you know about a weekly pickin' and grinnin' jam that happens at an old, restored schoolhouse here. It's called Pisgah’s Tuesday Night Jam, every Tuesday from 6-9 p.m. at the Old Pisgah Schoolhouse (off the 914 bypass next to Pisgah Presbyterian Church.) Acoustic musicians play country, bluegrass, folk and gospel music. I've never been. I've just seen it advertised. Maybe these people could at least point you in the right direction!

  3. Thanks! That's exactly what I was looking for.