Category Archives: memories

Musing on the Museum of Appalachia

A couple of weekends ago, I was visiting my old friends Bobby and Teresa Fulcher in East Tennessee, one of my old stomping grounds and the inspiration for my novel, Seasonal.  Bobby, who had served as my supervisor on the Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project in summer of 1980, took me on a marathon nostalgia tour through the highways and byways of my youthful fieldwork days.  This included a tour of the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, TN.

The Museum is a wonderfully eclectic collection of the stuff of life, with leanings toward old-timey, traditional items such as quilts, baskets, wittlings, weavings, and that sort of thing.  It is the brainchild and more or less obsession of John Rice Irwin, who I visited at least once during my summer research to get some leads.  Say what you will about John Rice (and some people have said a lot, not all of it positive), he amassed a collection of artifacts that boggle the mind and cause one to marvel at the unending creativity and skill of East Tennessee folk.  Interpretation is not a strong point, especially if one is looking for the unobjective curatorial view.  But, if you just want to see a whole lot of East Tennessee stuff from people’s barns, attics and hidey-holes, John Rice has assembled it here for your viewing pleasure.

I had interviewed some of the craftspeople and musicians represented, as Bobby pointed out.  Memories were cloudy on some of them, but others brought back fond memories, such as whiling away an afternoon chatting with former coal miner and woodworker Troy Webb and purchasing several of his amazing “water dog” carvings.

One object that captured my imagination was Asa Jackson’s Fabulous Perpetual Motion Machine dating back to the mid-1800s  The Museum allowed a gentleman named Dave Brown to study the wheel and sketch it extensively, resulting in a book, but apparently this has brought us no closer to knowing if the wheel, when in working order, really had the capability of creating perpetual motion.

The wheel for me is a sort of metaphor for the hyperactivity of collecting frenzy that John Rice Irwin himself must have been capable of before becoming too feeble to pursue his life’s work.

This item was not labeled and I still haven’t figured out what it might be. Any ideas??

The result is something that, like the machine, is a curiosity with no clear purpose but with a great wealth of largely untapped and possibly unending potential.  Just what will become of The Museum of Appalachia and its vast collection in the future is unclear.  So, if you find yourself in East Tennessee with several hours of leisure, make a visit while it is still intact.  Be prepared to be amazed.

Senses and Memories Part Two: As the Stomach Turns

Earlier this week, I ate a weird combination of foods and ended up with an upset stomach. The next day, I turned to my go-to comfort food to calm it down:  noodles with butter and a generous sprinkling of salt, which to me is the definition of the term “totally bland but utterly delicious.”  

I also craved a Coke, and not just for the bubbles.  When we were kids, my mom used to give us “Coke syrup” when we had an upset stomach.  Yes, this was a thing back in the day, and you can still get it at sales outlets that market nostalgia like the Vermont Country Store.

  No scientific proof, apparently, confirms Coke, flat or bubbly, in syrup form or straight from the can or bottle, as an actual cure for an upset stomach.  But, as this web site points out, it may make you FEEL BETTER none the less, if, for instance, your mom used to give it to you as a kid for this purpose.  One trusts one’s mom to know what she’s doing when you are young, right?  When she said, “This will make you feel better,” in a soothing voice, you were bound to at least attempt to feel better.

What foods and/or drinks from your childhood ease a crummy tummy?

 

Makeshift Memories

What’s makeshift is not the memories, actually, but the method of delivering them.  In the past week, I have encountered two memory projects of interest – one at our local library and the other at a memorial service.  I was most closely involved w
ith #2, but #1 caught my fancy as well.  Let’s start there.

This, in case you can’t tell from the photo, is a listening station of World War II memories from local20160402_131302 citizens.  It is almost retro in its simplicity.  I couldn’t resist trying it out.  There’s a boom box, and you pick one of four thematic edited recordings.  I picked one on victory gardens.  The sound was fine, and the story was well edited, and the directions (just put on the headphones and pick the track) were clear.  There was also a transcript of the story.  In this world of everything online and high(er) tech, the hands-on quality of this method of delivery was refreshing.   Bravo, Arlington County Public Library!

The second example was at a very moving memorial for recently passed Smithsonian Under Secretary for Education, Claudine Brown.  My friend Diana recruited me (very willingly of course) and her interns to help with the crafting of a participatory memory quilt made from paper.  The premise was, again, very simple and even lower tech than the listening station:  attach 20160404_172631heart-shaped post it notes to attractive squares of craft paper and let anyone so moved write/draw a message or symbol or some combination in honor of Claudine.  The squares were hole-punched in the middle of each of the four sides, and then connected to each other with pipe cleaner pieces.  As you can see, the display method was also simple:  we borrowed a yellow (Claudine’s favorite color) tablecloth from the caterers of the event, and covered a big sheet of alligator board (from a sign left over from the 2004 World War II Memorial opening event, which was hanging around in our office, somehow very fitting!)  and balanced it on several chairs.  It was a little curvy, a little funky, but still very beautiful in its own way.

The only trick was getting the table cloth out from under in order to return it to the caterers.  But we managed, and hopefully the quilt will have an afterlife.  I am sure Claudine would have liked the ingenuity and simplicity.  She probably would have approved of the library listening station too.