By Rod Chamberlain
This article is taken from the fall, 2005 newsletter, “View
from the Top,” at the Institute for Continuing Learning, Young Harris
College, Georgia, and is reprinted here with permission.
Does anyone on this committee have idea one for a seminar series this
summer? We’ve got the classes pretty well lined up, but what will
lure members away from their gardens, and, even more important, what will
appeal to non-members? Aren’t you all getting tired of seeing the
same old faces at ICL?
So the Curriculum Committee thrashed and thrashed until someone said,
“What about a series of informal discussions by local old-timers?”
Since no one came up with anything better, the idea was hatched, and John
Roberts, always quick with a well turned phrase, said, “We’ll
call it Listen to Our Mountains.”
Well, if the Curriculum Committee says so itself, it came off very well:
five interesting, varied sessions that attracted close to 400 attendees
and has produced a long list of folks who, we hope, will want to become
The idea was to have the old timers from five different areas of ICL-land,
and it was John Roberts’ suggestion that representatives of the
very oldest inhabitants of our mountain valleys, the Cherokees, should
kick off the series. Although you can’t call Nancy and Tony Plemmons
old timers, they sure are Cherokees: Nancy is full-blooded and her husband
Tony is one-half. Their talk was fascinating: adherents to the Indian
oral history tradition, they talked and answered questions for two hours
about their religious practices, their tribal customs, their link to this
area – Towns and Clayton Counties are their aboriginal homelands.
Remarkably, as they discussed the hideous privations their people have
been subjected to – from before the Trail of Tears until the present
– Nancy and Tony showed not one bit of rancor, “Our people
are survivors,” Nancy proudly declared.
On the second Saturday we had a delightful change of pace. David Brose
the folklorist at the John C. Campbell School, talked for the first hour
about the Appalachian culture in general terms and, on a more intimate
level, about how he, an Ohio boy hitchhiking to college with a banjo strapped
to his shoulder, became a folklorist. Then he joined old-time Towns Countians
Howard Cunningham and Don Fox, brother of former YHC music professor Bill
Fox, in an hour of old time strumming and picking. A grand show!
Suches – remote, high-altitude Suches – was the subject of
the third session, with Bud Braddock moderating a free wheeling discussion
of Suches life seventy to eighty years ago. Clyde Harkins, Sidney Stover
and J.M. Wilkins talked about school days, working days, farming and free
range cattle and hogs – plus courting the girls.
Four folks from Clay County described the old times in Hayesville, Tusquittee
and Brasstown, each with a different slant. Clay Logan emceed the group.
Becky Smith talked of her large family and of the notorious occupants
of Fort Hembree – two different subjects.
She also recounted the story of the moonshine-making “Permit.”
It seems that some old-time wag got the use of a new fangled typewriter
and issued a “Permit to Make Moonshine,” and gave it to a
friend of his. The notice was so official-looking that the moon shiner
relocated his still right alongside the highway, tacking his permit on
the wall. The revenuers had to advise him how he’d been taken as
they busted up the still.
Jim Padgett next described and illustrated old Hayesville, including
sketches of some of the characters who lived and worked around that picturesque
town square. A different slant was offered by Ellie Wilson, who moved
to Clay County in 1941 from New York City, of all places, to work at the
John C. Campbell School. Bass Hyatt, whose family has farmed in the area
for generations, next talked about the life of the farmer, then and now.
ICL’s own Jan Bennett, a native of the Ivy Log area, led the final
group in a richly illustrated tour of Union County with fascinating and
amusing comments by her octogenarian uncle, Dale Elliott and her cousin,
Charles Hill. It’s amazing to realize how radically, in the short
span of Jan’s life, Union County has changed. A trip from Ivy Log
to Blairsville over the dirt road was a half-day affair and the trip north
to Culberson, the stop on the Murphy-to-Atlanta railroad, involved horses
What a debt ICL owes to those participants! They all prepared and presented
a wealth of historical information and personal vignettes. To show our
thanks, we’re preparing DVD’s of all of the sessions and will
present them to the participants. Also, the Historical Societies of Union,
Towns and Clay Cand the Young Harris Library – all of whom contributed
to the cost of the videotaping – will receive copies for their archives
and single copies and complete sets will be available for purchase too.