Here it is March 12, nearly Spring, and it is snowing in North Carolina. I’m just fine being stuck inside because I am happily lost deep within the pages of a captivating book. I bought Lee Smith’s Dimestore: A Writer’s Life shortly after it came out in 2016. I know readers will understand when I say I didn’t get right to it as there were several ahead of it in my book queue. (It is true: so many books, so little time.) But I picked it up off my bookshelf a day or two ago and it is everything I hoped it to be. No, it’s more, much more.
I knew it would be an interesting memoir about a writer that I happen to like a lot and met once in the gardens where I used to work. But I didn’t know it would feel like coming home to me.
Smith grew up in Grundy, Virginia, a place I heard a lot about growing up. My Dad’s family lived in and near Grundy in his early childhood. It’s not too far from the little country town that I grew up in West Virginia (an actual state, not the western part of Virginia, as we Mountaineers so often have to clarify). Smith writes of dying coal mine towns, front porch sitting, storytelling, dimestores (like the one her Daddy owned in Grundy), schools, mental illness, and the people we call family, friends, and neighbors (in these Appalachian towns family, friends, and neighbors are usually all one and the same).
There are many sentences in Dimestore that speak directly to me. In fact, I’ve written sentences similar to Smith’s, although perhaps not with her clarity and lyricism. I feel like we share many of the same experiences of a place and its people. Place and people, that’s the heart and soul of Appalachia.
I know I will return again and again to passages like these:
“Our own Appalachian culture is as rich, and as diverse in terms of history, arts, crafts, literature, folklore, and music, for instance, as any area in this country.
But in fact, we are far richer than most. Our formidable geography acted as a natural barrier for so long, keeping others out, holding us in, allowing for the development of our rich folk culture, our distinctive speech patterns, our strong sense of tradition, and our radical individualism. Appalachian people are far more rooted than other Southerners. We still live in big, extended families that spoil children and revere old people. We will talk your ears off. We still excel in storytelling – – and I mean everybody, not just some old guy in overalls at a folk festival. I mean the woman who cuts your hair, I mean your doctor, I mean your mother.”
“The battered box contains my mother’s whole life story, in a way, with all its places and phases, all her hopes and the accommodations she made in the name of love, as I have done, as we all do.”
“Most of us [writers] are always searching, through our work and in our lives: for meaning, for love, for home.”
“The mountains that used to imprison me have become my chosen stalking ground.”
I’m only about halfway in, so I know there will be many more underlined, asterisked passages that resonate with me. Maybe I’ll share them in a follow-up post. Or maybe you would like to read them for yourselves. (Check it out at your local library or purchase here at Quail Ridge Books.)
Now please excuse me as I cover up with my Mom’s quilt and continue to get lost in a small-town, Appalachian ‘Dimestore’ on this snowy day.
A few pictures from the garden. We didn’t get much snow, just a little more than a dusting. And today it’s 49º. Welcome to North Carolina.
Is that snow on the pergola or Clematis armandii?
Snow on the hellebores,
And the fresh shoots of a Paeonia.
Have a seat, if you dare.
The southwest border with small pond still pumping.
Willie Nelson Traylor, the grandpup, enjoying the beginning of the snowfall.
The southwest border–yellow-leaved forsythia, iris, and hellebores.