Pam Howell, I work for the head start preschool program, an anti-poverty program for three and four year olds, finance person; Marion, Virginia:
“I grew up in the very country part of something they called Adwolf. We didn’t lock our doors at night; we stayed out and played and caught June bugs, lightning bugs and told ghost stories. To me, it was a wonderful childhood.
I’ve never lived anywhere else. I’m a small town girl and I like to keep small town. What makes [Appalachian culture] special to me is, I think everybody is kinda a neighbor. Even people that you maybe [don’t] know that well lend a helping hand.
We’re all involved here today with an animal rescue group and the Humane Society. We’re trying to help homeless animals. People are out here just opening up their pocketbooks and helping us. You don’t meet many strangers here.[Working with the Humane Society] is very enriching for me because I’m a big animal lover and I don’t like to see the animals in the shelter get put down ‘cause there is too many. We work really hard to find them homes, rescues and foster homes for animals also. It’s just something I’ve loved all my life. I’ve been an animal person; I was the person who found the hurt frogs and all that.
There was always something going on at my house. The worst thing that I ever did was; there was a coon hunter that lived in my neighborhood and he kept a raccoon caged in a cage to use as bait for his dogs to train them. So I caught him not home one day and I let his raccoon go. I just couldn’t handle that. Even though I’m from Appalachia, I’m not a hunter. I always have been [an animal lover].
[Appalachian perception] I think they think we’re a little bit ignorant and maybe not well educated and that we all eat cornbread and beans all day long. I have some friends in DC and other places and I’ve educated them a lot. I’ve had them down here and they all love it down here, by the way, when they come. Letting people know there’s people here like everywhere else. They’re hardworking, they’re educated; they’re members of their community; they go out and try to do things.
There’s a lot of art and culture here that they don’t even realize exists. There is very talented musical people here; artistic people. I would just like for [people that don’t live in the mountains] to know that it’s not hillbillies. Let’s just put it that way. We’re not hillbillies.
[The word hillbilly] use to offend me when I was a child. I had cousins from Pennsylvania, who would come down and they would call me a hillbilly and it would make me cry. In my mind a hillbilly was this barefoot person with a corncob pipe and no teeth and he ciphered on his fingers like Jethro on the Beverly Hillbillies. So it did offend me when I was little. [As an adult] I’m kinda proud of it. I have people when I have to call other places they’ll say, ‘You must be from the south.’ I’ll say, ‘Yes I am.’
I like to read a lot but I’m not really artistic, unfortunately. Reading and the cinema. I’m a big movie buff. I like them all; independent films, any of the major releases, and I have a soft spot for the Disney Pixar pictures.
We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up and I was a child of divorce. It was not a popular thing in the early seventies. Children like that felt a little outcast. We didn’t have all the things that our friends had. I don’t know if that had anything to do with southern culture because that goes on everywhere, but I would say that was the saddest part of my life; living through my parent’s divorce. When they actually divorced I was twelve. Things had gone on for a while. My dad owned a fuel oil company; heating oil. Later on, I think he owned a gas station and some other things.
My father remarried and had other children that were treated different, in my perspective. But guess what? On down the line, before his death, me and him, you know forgiveness is important. We had a great relationship and we were adults. I think he saw [in] retrospect that maybe he didn’t live his life the way he should have. I felt a lot better about it as I grew older.
I just think there’s richness here. This is where a lot of things began. There wouldn’t be country music if it weren’t for the immigrants and people that were here in Southwest Virginia that started all of that. You see Riverdance in Ireland; that’s cloggin’ okay? I think [people] need to see that is part of American culture just as much our history as anything that went on with the Mayflower and New York City. It started here. These were the first pioneers and they did everything themselves.
I don’t know how to do anything anymore, but my mother, she could cook, can, whatever it was, she knew how to do it. Some of that’s been lost generation to generation. I didn’t [grow up on a farm] but my grandparents had a farm, [and] I did grow up in the country. We had gardens and we had blackberry bushes. We crawled in the woods and we hunted them and that kind of thing.
I wouldn’t complain about my life.
I’m married and have two children and five grandchildren. All those are good things, but probably the thing I’m the proudest of is my oldest daughter is now a nurse practitioner; she’s one step away from being a doctor. My other daughter is in school to be a veterinarian tech. My grandchildren are bright. My daughters were scholars and they made wonderful grades and went on to higher education.
I didn’t get to, but that’s another story. I’d liked to maybe have had an early education. I wouldn’t want to trade my marriage or my kids or anything for all of that; but if I could have found a way to add it in.”