Sharon Dixon Ison, Insurance Agent, Roots in Perry County (Little Leatherwood) and Letcher County (Isom), Lives in Lexington, Kentucky:
“I was born in Northern Indiana. Lived there until I was 14. My dad left the mountains to seek work instead of working in a coal mine. He worked in the steel mills in Gary, Indiana. We would go back and forth, to and from the mountains. He would get laid off. We would move back and forth several times. When I was 14, we moved to Lexington, Kentucky. It was great because we were closer to home (in the mountains) to our people.
When we lived in Indiana, mom and dad would take off in a heartbeat; just throw stuff into suitcases to come back to the mountains. I can remember taking off in the dead of winter, one lane traffic out of Chicago, on 421, snowy, blizzard conditions. For us, it was a 16 to 18 hour drive to get back home to the mountains. We would go down after dad got off work on Fridays and come back on Sundays so he could go to work. Stay the weekend, then come back north. These trips back and forth, mom and dad did them like they were just down the street. They didn’t think anything about it.
We always enjoyed coming home. We tried to come home as much as possible, throughout the year, holidays, summer etc. When we left the mountains to head back up, it was always emotional for both my mom and my dad, for us as a family. They hated departing; they hated to leave the mountains. They always missed home. But, at that time there wasn’t any work here other than the coal mines. Leaving was always a difficult time, but you always looked forward to the next time.
I always looked forward to coming back. Both my grandmas would make fresh cornbread, had homemade butter, fresh milk, chicken and dumplings, fried pies, fresh vegetables and things like that. They just kept cooking and cooking (when we were here). It was such a good time.
I remember as a young girl helping my grandmother with her laundry using her wringer washing machine. Pushing the clothes through there. It was always fun. It was always good and happy times.
My maternal grandmother Sparkman was a midwife going all over Eastern Kentucky delivering babies. My grandfather Sparkman was a miner. They also raised a big garden, had six kids. They had to supplement their living off their crops, the food they put away. They raised hogs, chickens, goats etc. as well.
My paternal grandparents, the Dixons; my grandfather Dixon was a schoolteacher. He taught grades one through eight in a one-room schoolhouse several places in Eastern Kentucky. He would leave and be gone for a couple of weeks, teaching school. He would come home on the weekends when he could. They had twelve children. My grandmother Dixon would take care of the kids and the farm. She would make sure all the jobs were done. I heard that she worked like a man. All my grandparents did. They all worked really hard.
My grandfather and his brother were also known to make moonshine. It was well know to be pretty good stuff. My grandmother would put it on horseback around her saddle and cover it with her dress, riding across the mountain to Cumberland, Kentucky, Harlan County to sell it. The federal people wouldn’t bother a woman, wouldn’t look up her dress, and wouldn’t pull her dress up. She could cart quite a bit of moonshine. They did get caught once, but they did pretty well with it.
Even though I now live in Lexington, this is where my heart is. I want my children to know my people. I don’t want them to meet them at the end of a casket. It is important that my children, my grandchildren, know about the mountains, the culture, where their roots are. If I don’t tell them, nobody will. I don’t want them to learn about the region through all this distorted stuff (through the media). I want them to know what it really is. I want them to know that it is their people. We are a peculiar people. We cherish holding on to our traditions. That’s part of who makes us who we are. Even if people leave here, for the most part they don’t forget. They know where they come from and I think that is so important in life. I just want my children to know their people. I want them to know they are from somewhere that cares. I want them to keep that connection with our people and home.“