Douglas Smith

Douglas Smith, Flea Market Vendor; lives between Rose Hill and Ewing, Virginia:

My family are from Smith, Kentucky; Harlan County. [My family ended up in Detroit] for work in the auto industry. My father worked from twelve years old in the log woods. At seventeen, he went to Detroit and worked in the auto industry. He worked for Chevrolet Gear and Axle. I worked for Chevrolet for a couple of years before the all buyouts and everything happened. 

I was twenty years old [when I came back to the mountains because] basically this is home. 

(Growing up in Detroit) There actually was a few [people from the mountains there]. Actual downtown Detroit was a pretty rough place to live. At one time, you could sleep with your doors open or sleep on your lawn in the summertime, but that all changed after a while. I stayed behind locked doors, mostly. If you went to the store, the local party store, you would usually get chased; but you would never tell your parents such a thing because they wouldn't let you go back to the store, so you dealt with it. 

It’s a very beautiful place [here]. I can’t say if I wasn’t where I’m at now that I would stay here, but I’m blessed to be where I’m at [and] I’m very thankful for that. I couldn’t think of another place in the world I’d rather be. 

People aren’t as different as they used to be because you’ve got your internet, and people have changed. You don’t expect as much maybe down here [as] you would in the city. Something that’s different down here [is] the availability of services or merchandise is a little rougher here. Like I said, with the internet and stuff, you can mail order and get anything you want. In other words, the gap has closed a lot. [The internet] has turned a few people into couch potatoes outside of that, it’s a tool to be used just like any other tool. I know a few people that can’t get their nose out of the internet.

I play lead guitar. I started playing at ten, but basically as a novice, just a few chords. [I got] actually serious to play lead at sixteen. My grandmother, on my father’s side, I never got to hear her play, but she won contests and everything in pickin’ banjo. I didn’t even know that for years. A prize back then was maybe some chickens, or a pig, or something like that. My dad could play guitar pretty good. He wasn’t too knowledgeable, but what he knew, he played good. My grandfather, on his side, could play piano, which is another thing I didn’t know until he was in a nursing home and I heard him playing on the piano one day. 

I play basically a little bit of everything, but now me personally I’d rather play the harder stuff, hard rock and stuff. It’s more challenging. Here, if you’re gonna go out and play, you gotta mix it up. People have requests, ‘I wanna hear country.’ Some wanna hear rock. Classic rock is very big here. Getting’ back to the internet, I use the internet a lot to search [music]. I like new stuff, I don’t like to stay in a rut. Around here, we play a lot of classic rock like AC/DC. People always eat that up. 

I’m about as back in the hills and mountain as anybody could possibly be; so if you want to look at it that way, I’m definitely a hillbilly. All my friends and my neighbors refer to me as the ‘mountain man.’ I’ve got about one hundred forty acres between a valley and top of the mountain. My property goes to the top of the mountain. It’s very secluded. I do a lot of my own harvesting as far as deer and little bit of small game, but mostly deer. It’s very nutritious. 

I [also] have property in Smith, Kentucky. That’s the old home place. I’ve got the deed [and it] deeds back to 1902. On the deed it says ‘poles.’ You don’t have yardage, or anything like that; it’s still spelled out in poles, from one rock to a tree or whatever, so many poles. It’s a nice place. I don't visit it much because of where I’m at. Actually, it’s a stone’s throw away from where I live. As the crow flies, I could be there in ten minutes, but it’d take me an hour and a half to get there ‘cause I’d have to go ‘round the mountain or across the mountain. To me, it’s something that’ll pass on to my nephews. It’s always good to have an ace in the hole, as they say. 

(Appalachian traditions passed onto you from your parents) Just good ‘ole fashioned principles. I’ll tell you something I don’t believe, is philosophy. You can have a discussion with somebody and they want to hear a philosophical view. I always tell them I’m a biblical Christian, that I get my principles from the Bible and I could sit and philosophize ‘bout all kinds of things, but that doesn’t make it true. You know what I mean? Philosophy is just an opinion. I’m more of a ‘show me’ person. I don’t think [religion in this culture] is important enough because you have too many philosophizing about it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe just because I was raised that way; because I don't believe in a lot of the things I was taught when I was raised. I did my own research and I believe in facts. Look at it scientifically, analytical, and if it bears out then it’s true. 

[Outsiders] I’m sure they do [make fun of us]. I’ve had my own experience with people doing such things. I’d rode a horse to the nearest party store [here], and I’d tied the horse across the highway ‘cause I didn't want him to get hit, or anything. I walked over to the party store and ran into a friend of mine. He had two friends that had come in from California, and he introduced me to them. They hadn’t seen each other in a while, and they all probably had a few too many beers. The first thing his friend said to me, asked me if I wanted to chew tobacco. I commented that I didn’t use tobacco and he commented again. I just let it slide and went about my way. It was obvious he had a set stereotypical view of what southern people did.

Politics is a very big issue in the mountains. I’d rather not say too much, but if you wanted to hear some of the craziest things you’ve ever [heard] in your life, you’d have to look into the political and judicial branch of the government. You could have all kinds of laughs. You don’t have a lot of free thinkers [here in the mountains], they rely a little bit too much on their politics and on their judicial systems. Most people would rather avoid the rough waters than to stand up for their own rights. I think everybody suffers. That’s just another form of tyranny. We all suffer from that whether you know it or not. 

People are people pretty much everywhere you go. You’re always gonna run into somebody with a stereotypical view, and you’re gonna run into people that are just set in their ways; but people can change. I found that myself, you get what you put into an effort. If you treat people properly, they may be your enemy to start with, but by the time you’re done, if you’ll stick in there and be nice to people, what goes around comes around. It’s a very good rule to live by. 

Sometimes you can’t always follow that, but it’s a very good rule to treat people as you want to be treated and you’ll bring people around. You can call it Karma, you can call it what you want, but what you do to somebody else --- nobody gets away with anything. Everything you do in your life you’ll pay for someway, somewhere down the road.”