Mary Ann Browning, Manufacturing Office Manager; Barboursville, West Virginia, Cabell County:
“[My name] was supposed to be Mary Annette, but I guess the nurses at the hospital didn’t like that so they put Mary Ann. I went to get my birth certificate when I went to get my driver's license and I was like, ‘I always thought my name was Annette, mom always told me it was Annette.’ There on my birth certificate it had Mary Ann and I was like okay, I like that, too.
I was born in Huntington, West Virginia, St. Mary’s Hospital. I was only like the third or fourth kid that was actually born in the hospital ‘cause I was number eight of nine. My mom had twelve kids; she had two miscarriages and two sets of twins and one died from each set.
[I’ve lived in the mountains] pretty much [all my life]. We’d get up, eat breakfast and head for the hills you know; come back, we’d fix us a lunch or something like that and we’d be out in the hills all day long. During the summers, we worked in the garden.
We lived alongside the Guyandotte River and were always going swimming, we had to get the house clean and make sure all the dishes and the beds were made and all that stuff. Then we would go swimming. It’s really weird; I learned to swim, my uncle, my dad’s brother, he took bleach jugs and tied strings around them and they fit right underneath our arms. All us little kids and mom would freak out cause she never learned to swim; her dad never would let her go swimming because she couldn’t swim, so she never wanted us to go.
After I got out of high school I went to work. During high school I worked in this program where you could work half a day and go to school. I went through that program and I got a job at a credit union. I started out there and I tell you, to this day I can name every zip code within a sixty mile radius because my first job was to type up these little plates in a, kinda like mimeograph machine, but they called it like a stenograph or something. I’d go down in the basement where all the GSA guys worked and I'd go down there and type those up. And then once a month we would send out a credit till to all the members and I’d stand in there, stamping them and sorting them by zip code. It’s amazing I still remember all those zip codes, but that was my first job.
My grandma divorced her first husband to marry my grandpa. They met at barn dances; she played the banjo and he played the fiddle and they used to go around all these old barn dances and that’s how they met.
She was the baby of the family and she was supposed to get the home place; and she had it, but all her brothers were preachers and they were giving her a really hard time. [Divorce] back then, [my grandma] was shunned; that was horrible. The family was giving her such a hard time that they gave her three hundred dollars and she moved and she gave it to my grandpa to go find a place; and he found the place where we live now.
My grandparents, they were so cool. My grandpa was ninety-three when he passed away, and his sister lived till she was ninety-seven. Him and my dad used to run a riverboat and sell fish and stuff up and down the Guyandotte River. They trapped, and I remember growing up seeing all these little boards where they would tack them up and with the skins and stuff.
I remember [my grandpa] coming in and sitting in the chair in the dining room. We lived in a little house beside them and they lived in the house in front of us; my grandpap, my grandma and my dad’s oldest brother. They lived in the big house, as we called it. [Grandpa’s brother] never married. He was funny. He would always say, ‘Confound that confounded, confounded thing’ when he would get mad.
I remember being little and him telling us stories about panthers, and wild cats and all this stuff. He was an amazing person. They all called him uncle Amaizah. When I moved out there and they were asking me, ‘Well, who are you?’ and I’d say, ‘Well, do you know uncle Amaizah? Have you ever heard of uncle Amzar?’ ‘Oh yeah, yeah! Boy, he could really tell some good stories.’
My mom left this journal that she wrote from the time that she met my dad, up through I guess maybe all of her kids getting married; so there was nine you know that lived. It’s amazing, I’ve read her story and I just sat and cried you know, cause it was rough, it was rough; I don’t know how she did it. I have three and it's just amazing.
[My mom’s journal] was really strange because she got married and my dad could do anything, but he liked to drink and he liked to hunt and stuff. He was never mean to me or anything; the only person he ever hurt was himself. That’s the kind of drunk he was. Him and his brother built the house that we live in now, and we grew up in the little four-bedroom house.
There was a kitchen, a living room, a bedroom and my mom and dad’s bedroom. And all us girls slept in that bedroom and there were only two boys so they slept in the living room. She had one of these old sofa beds that when you’d bend it over this way and it would slide apart and go flat and my brothers slept in there. I had one sister got married when she was thirteen, but Lord, she looked like she was twenty. Mom got a lot of flack for that. ‘Oh yeah, her mama let her sister marry when she was thirteen.’ Other than that, my mom was a really wonderful person. I don’t know how she put up with all of us.
I asked her one time, ‘Mom, I don’t know how you ever stood nine kids.’ She said, ‘Oh, I’d much rather have them younger, ‘cause the older they get, the more heartache they bring. At least when they were little I can control what they do.’ The older they get the choices and things they make broke her heart, but she was a wonderful person.
I think about when she had her miscarriage; it was snow and she went out to the outhouse back then ‘cause that’s what they had, and just broke her heart. My dad was on the riverboat with my grandpa fishing and she had to go through all that by herself. She did a lot of stuff for us and done without a lot. You know, nine kids. It wasn’t as bad for me because I was on the lower forty or four you know. When my other sister’s were going to school it was hard for them ‘cause back then you had to wear a nice dress or shirt, skirt, pantyhose, shoes; all this stuff and I don’t know how they did it. It was rough.
When she died, we had her service in a little church across the river from us and there were people standing out in the grass in the yard [and] up in the balconies. The preacher said, ‘I have never seen this church this filled before. What an amazing person.’
She wrote a lot of poetry about her family and growing up; [she] was always writing and doing something. At Christmas I remember she would always take pictures and when we’d go back after Christmas she would have a little book; she’d go through it and cut out all these little sayings. ‘My clan’ and all this stuff. Little funny things to put as captions on the pictures. She would write a story about what happened like ‘This one came and brought me this.’ It was like a little story every year. We’ve got probably about nine or ten of them so each one of the kids have one.
When [my ex-husband and I] got divorced, [he] was so horrible; I wouldn’t take none of his crap. He would stop by my Mom’s and tell her all kinds of stuff, ‘I’m gonna do this and I’m gonna do that.’ He was a jerk. She would call, and I hate him to this day. He didn’t have to hurt my mom. That was the one thing I guess I never forgave him for. You get into that kind of situation and it doesn’t happen overnight; it’s kind of gradual. They use your kids and they use all these things against you. I’m glad that I got out of that situation and I don’t take that crap anymore. I don't, and I’m a stronger person for it.
[Meeting Raymond] I worked with his sister and I’d just split up with my ex-husband. His sister, Nell, said ‘You need to date my brother.’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I saw him.’ I paid the payables and I processed his checks. Our office had upgraded the cable, going digital, and moved our office, that’s when I worked at the cable office, from Wayne to Milton. Contract work.
We started dating. Well, we went bowling and I was like, ‘Oh no, that’s where I met my first husband.’ That was in August, and in September we were at this function where HBO and all these different cable channels used to come in and they would take us out to dinners and sponsor all these things. We were sitting in the parking lot getting ready to leave and just looked at him and I was like, ‘I love you!’ and he was like, “Really? I love you too!’
I can’t believe it you know; I’ve been married for fourteen years and we’d only been dating less than a month. We met in ‘89 and got married June 11th, 1994. We dated five years and lived together two years ‘cause I had three kids and he was working in Missouri, all over the place.
He would travel twelve hours to come and see me. The moment I knew that he really loved me [was] my next door neighbor’s daughter had married this guy that was in the Army and got stationed in Honolulu. She had never flown. Her grandpa, [who] was like my Dad’s first cousin called and asked me if I would fly out there with her if he paid for the trip and everything. I was like, ‘Let me check and see if I can get a babysitter.’
I called Raymond and he came down and watched them. He would drive three and a half hours to get to work. [He’d] get the kids up and fix them breakfast and come back home in time to fix them dinner. I was like, ‘This man truly loves me; who else would that for me to go to Hawaii? He’s a keeper.’
When my mom passed away [was one of my saddest times]. She had been sick; she had multiple myeloma. She kept saying she was on the verge of it. Before that, my dad got Alzheimer’s. He drank a lot, so he had the alcohol dementia, too. It was kind of like losing him twice when he passed away because he got to where he didn’t know us.
She passed away very quickly. I was in my middle forties and at the same time my son had just turned thirteen and he wanted to move to Virginia with his dad. My oldest daughter had graduated and she was going to Marshall in September. All this stuff just happened at once.
Getting back to my mom; she was in the hospital and they were all trying to save her and I had to go to the airport to pay for a ticket for my brother to fly him from California and while I was gone she passed away. In a way, I think it was a good thing that I wasn’t there to see her go.
A couple days before that she had told me, ‘Whatever you do I want you to keep the family gettin’ together.’ Usually, when parents pass away, especially the mother, the brothers and sisters each kind of go their own way. So she said, ‘Promise me you’ll keep all of them together.’ We always got together [during] Thanksgiving, Christmas, in the summer.
We was a really close knit family. I’ve tried to do that. We have a family reunion every fourth of July. We tell everybody, ‘We’ve got hamburgers, hot dogs [and] you’re welcome to come.’ We never know who’s going to come. It may be a different branch of the family, but we always have a good time.
When my kids were born [was a happy time in my life] and being with Raymond. We went on vacation [for the] first time we’ve got to go and just get away. This year, we wanted to go to Mount Rushmore. That was our main target so we left first of May and went all over the place. We got to Deadwood and it was so funny ‘cause Raymond was thinking it was going to be an old western town. We opened the door and [it] had the bar and all these lights and slot machines everywhere. I was like, ‘What the heck?’ It’s all gambling.
It’s funny, when I was growing up, we lived four miles out of Barboursville and going to school I was always a country bumpkin and never in the ‘in crowd’ because I lived out in the country. After they all graduated and went to school they’re all in a little sub-division up above my house. A little ‘ole place not even a half an acre [and] right beside each other, and all these people I went to school with, they live in the colony. It’s cool to live in the colony.
[Raymond] is the best thing that ever happened to my children, my grandkids and me. He’s just a wonderful man and his mother was the same way. He’s got stop and go. He does amazing things and I don’t know how in the world he does what he does. He has Crohn's Disease. He went through heck [and] it’s just amazing he can still get up and go. I’m getting hit with arthritis and leg cramps, and he’s gone through that for years and just keeps right on trucking.
[Outsiders] When I was young and went to Cleveland; my older sisters were living in Cleveland and one lived in Columbus, and I think in Cleveland I went to the store to get something for her. We got everything was on the counter and I said, ‘Do you have a poke?’ and she said, ‘A what?’ and I was like, ‘A poke to put this in there?’ and she said, ‘You must be from West Virginia, you mean a bag?’ and I was like.’Yeah, a poke!’
I’m definitely a hillbilly and always will be. [A hillbilly means to me] to respect other people, I respect myself, I respect the land. I love having a garden, I love having a flower garden. I love being a part of the state of West Virginia and the mountains. My dad used to love to hunt and fish. Growing up hunting and fishing and the mountains that was a part of all of our lives. I was eighteen before I ever got to go anywhere on a big trip. Yeah, I’m a hillbilly.
We sit out on the porch, our porch is 20x32. We’ve got bird feeders and hummingbird feeders and I plant all these flowers that the birds like and we’ll sit out there just to see the green. Raymond mows the grass and we’ve got a big field and see all kinds of stuff. There’s deer that come around and we’ll see that and we’ve had to chase them off because they ate our sunflowers. We had one that was just getting ready to bloom with the head and we went out there and it had chewed that thing all to pieces; all the way down to where it was like four foot tall. We got our revenge.
[True Appalachia] is about people helping people. People caring about people [and] having empathy. You know your neighbor and [are] always there to offer a helping hand ‘cause you never know, you might need one, and they’ll be there for it. I’ve always believed, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and it’s always seemed to work out for me.”