Jennifer Molley Wilson

Jennifer Molley Wilson, Writer, Photographer, Vegan, Gypsy, Collector of People, Rescuer of Critters and Public Information Official, City of Bristol, Virginia; Harlan County, Kentucky native living in Bristol, Tennessee:

"When I look back on my Appalachian childhood, I am reminded that true Appalachians are forged from many countries and cultures. As for me, I’m proud to be part hillbilly and part Eastern European, with one set of grandparents making the horse ride from Capuchin, or as we pronounced it, "Cappy Sheen", Tennessee, and the other set arriving from Hungary and stoically navigating Ellis Island after fourteen days at sea.

No matter the mode of transportation, they each had the same goal…to carve out a living for their families from the rich seams of coal in Harlan County, Kentucky.

As her family left Hungary, my grandmother promised her young friends she would send them money when she got to America, because, “In America, the money grows on trees, and all you have to do is scoop it up off the ground and gather it up in your apron.”

My upbringing wasn’t a clash of cultures, but rather a tapestry of one ideal woven from many different threads. The promise that coal held for a better life. The unbridled pride of being an American. The determination to always makes things better for your family than they were for you.

I loved how our familial cultures became seamlessly intertwined, perhaps nowhere more evident than on the dinner table. My paternal grandmother’s kitchen was always filled with the fragrance of garlic and onions sizzling in the cast iron skillet, and we fed heartily on beet relish, nut rolls, sauerkraut, pirogies and other Eastern European fare. On the other side, my mamaw served up hearty mountain food; beef stew, mustard greens, cornbread, soup beans and stuffing I would refuse to eat until she assured me there were no “pieces and parts” in it (aka gizzards). I enjoyed treats of butter and brown sugar sandwiches and RC Cola floats.

Their recipes are my legacy, and I would rather have them than anything else. While photos may fade, when I tie on one of their aprons, and hold those recipes written by their own hands, I am unequivocally connected to these strong women who were so very different, yet who both provided me with a true taste of Appalachia."