“To cope with things in my life, I write. Then I put the writing together and write songs…There’s one of them I’m going to title ‘Nearly Numb,’ I think. I might change that. (Laughs) It’s about this chick at my school that made me really mad. Oh, gosh. She was my best friend, but then she started telling them things that I didn’t want them to know about me, and so I got mad at her, and I’m writing a song about her.”
Shelbie Gilley, Age 12; Pound, Virginia:
“We live kind of out in the woods at the very end of the holler. It’s always been pretty nice, because we don’t have to deal with much city stuff. We have hills to ride our bikes on [and it’s] pretty fun, especially when it snows. It gets slick. The trees are fun, and the sky especially. We have dry land fish. I think they’re like a mushroom. They look like sponges, and they grow where it’s wet, that’s why they are called dry land fish. I like photography and my iPod. I draw a lot. Mostly like just cartoons. I’m working on a lot of stuff. I’m trying to teach myself to draw actual, realistic things, and other things besides that.
I grew up with [my grandparents] before we got a house of our own. They’ve lived around this area all their lives. They tell me stories about when they grew up, all the time. My Nana said they used to have this big rock where they were at, and their Dad had brought it to them from where he worked. I don’t really remember it that much, but they used to play on it. And my Nana would talk about her chores that she had, which were a lot of chores. She used to have to take care of the farm animals, and she used to have to wash a lot of stuff. There’s plenty of stuff that children don’t have to do these days.
[Appalachia is special because] you get to see what it’s like to grow up around great people, and you have a great history around you; all the visual stuff and a lot of music. [You learn] where all the instruments came from, who used to play them and where people came from. People used to play music while they worked. They used to play music all together, and when they wrote music they wrote music about what they did around here, and they told stories with it.
[I’ve played the banjo for] a year and a couple of months. I thought it was cooler than the guitar, and I didn’t think the fiddle would be too easy to pick up, so I wanted to start on banjo. Me and my sister, we play ‘Jimmy Brown.’ Everybody gets us to play that, so it’s pretty fun. I think the full title is ‘Jimmy Brown the Newsboy.’ We play it for her all the time for my Nana and my Poppy. They said they used to sing that all the time when they were little. It reminds them of when they used to sing it, when we play it for them.
My mom grew up in Haysi, which is forty-five minutes from our house, and my dad grew up with my Nana and Poppy, where we grew up. My mom stays at the house and cooks and cleans with us. Fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits; my mom is the best cook! She learned it from her mom, who learned it from her mom. My dad surveys.
[My saddest time was] when my dad’s brother committed suicide. This was 2013, so I was ten, I think. Oh, it was horrible. Nobody knew what to do. It took a lot of coping, a lot of us had to start going to therapy. Nobody expected this.. Oh, there were so many people at the funeral, like it was an unbelievable amount. At the funeral home, there were people in the seats, which is quite a lot of seats, and there were people lined up around there, and around this way, and there were people waiting outside, because they couldn’t fit them into the room. And on the way to the burial, oh gosh, there were so many cars. We had to have like three cops.
My happiest time was when I started learning music. When I was little I loved art, and I was like, ‘You know, I think that music’s a type of art.’ When I got a little older, I was like, ‘I want to do, since I can’t really do art that much, I want to do this type of art,’ and I started playing music, and it’s become something that I’m really good at.
We’re called the ‘Country Cabin Band.’ They pick the most advanced people out of the JAMS Program and they put us here. The JAMS Program is a program for kids who want to learn music, but can’t really afford their own instruments, and the kids that want to learn about their music from this area. We play the music from around here. ‘Mississippi Sawyer’ is fun. That one’s hard though. It’s a good banjo song to play. You have to go all the way up and down the neck of the banjo, and it’s really fast. It’s hard to play a banjo slow.
I want to play music. I’m writing my own music currently. To cope with things in my life, I write. Then I put the writing together and write songs. None of them are finished. There’s one of them I’m going to title ‘Nearly Numb,’ I think. I might change that. (Laughs) It’s about this chick at my school that made me really mad. Oh, gosh. She was my best friend, but then she started telling them things that I didn’t want them to know about me, and so I got mad at her, and I’m writing a song about her.
I want to travel the world, but home is where all my family and all the people that I love are. The people that I’ve met here, I won’t ever forget, and I’ll always come back to see if they’re still here, and if they are I’m going to stay here for a while, to stay with them.
I don’t really take the word Hillbilly as a compliment, because of how people use it. It just kind of makes me mad the way people use the terms that we use here. [People think hillbillies are] always intoxicated, with a very roguish accent.
It makes me so mad when people make fun of Appalachia. They see us as stupid, and that we’re all, like I said earlier, that we’re all intoxicated, and that we’re always drinking! Some people may be like that, but you can’t just assume that everybody’s like that. They need to understand that there’s more to this type of place. We’re good people! We’re not mean to people. We understand situations, and we’ve had it hard here.
I think it’s just generally great. I love it. It’s just a happy place. I like being here. (Pauses and listens to band starting up in the background) They’re playing one of my favorite songs right now! It makes me happy.”