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 ICL members.

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 or mules.

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.




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