Judith Vermillion, Age 84, Artist/Painter/Photographer and Cook; Whitesburg, Kentucky:
“I live up on Solomon, just a little holler right here behind us. Been living in that same house since the ’57 flood. My age? I don’t mind. I’m proud to be there. Mother always said it’s better to have birthdays than to not, so I’m 84, going on a 117. I go to the rec center every morning, still walk two miles a day, tote them bars, lift those weights, all that stuff. Maybe it is (the secret to) my longevity. Maybe it is. I just don’t know. As far as my health goes I feel very fortunate. I’m a lot healthier than most of my buddies are. I try to eat right unless I don’t want to. I drink a lot of water and I try to behave although I have got in trouble before. I consider myself fortunate. I do.
I grew up in a coal camp about 10 miles away from here. It’s called Secco, initials for South East Coal Company. When I was a teenager we moved to Whitesburg. I’ve been here ever since. I got married right out of high school and raised a family. I was widowed. He had a heart attack, an afternoon thing, no warning. I had to get a job right fast. I had to learn to drive, first thing. So we, me and my son, did a paper route. We did a morning route and an evening route. We lived on that. Then I opened a custard stand. I did that till the highway came along and took it (for a new road).
After that I ran restaurants, half a dozen different ones here in town and around. In the meantime, I did art here and yonder. I always did art of some sort. I did art as a child. We all just did art automatically. The whole family did it. We didn’t even think of it as art, we just did stuff, that’s what we called it. We quilted and I did some paintings. Then I tell people I took a fifty-year break, then I started painting again. I did a lot of the barn quilts you see around town. I think I’m over fifty something with the barn quilts.
I took up photography a long time ago. I use the computer, a scanner and a little Wal-Mart camera, a little $100 thing. I tell people you don’t need to have much, know much. You just need a push button (shutter button) and a delete. I’ve about wore that delete button out. I just have two rules to go by, I like it or I don’t like it. If I like it I keep it, if I don’t like it I delete it. That’s about all I know about photography but it’s fun. I’ve been doing it off and on forever, however long forever is. I love flowers of any sort, nature scenes, vegetables, just whatever comes along. Never know what I might see this evening. You never know what just might be out there.
Living in the mountains, it means everything. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve had brothers and sisters, other family members who have moved away, got big educations and all that but they weren’t a bit happier than I was. I doubt that they were ever as happy as I am. I wouldn’t swap with them for nothing. I like it right here. I plan to stay right here as long as the good Lord lets me.
The mountains, they’re green when they are not white. This winter the white ones just about did us in. I’ve heard people say who live away from here, when they come into the mountains for the first time they felt closed in. I just feel hugged. I consider it a blessing to be in the mountains. They are so protective of us. We don’t get the storms and the winds and the tornados and the floods as bad as they do.
I have a big garden this year. It’s one tomato plant in a pot on the front steps. Its got a few little tomatoes on it right now, some ‘bout big as your thumb. I’m happy with that. It’s my total garden for this year. It’ll be good one. It makes an awful good tomato sandwich. I take care of that big garden all by myself. I weed it. I water it and everything.
Jobs are the problem here in the mountains, just not many to pick from. No jobs around here. Its just demolished us around here. It really has. I do a lot of volunteer work around here. I work at the food pantry a lot. It is unreal how much the need has increased at the food pantry over the last year.
I still drive. I had a little Geo that was 23 years old until about two or three weeks ago. It died out there on a curve. It just died so I got me a new little car, so I said, if it lasts me 22 years I’m gonna buy me a Cadillac. When I get old and gray, you don’t know what I might do. The children are always telling me why don’t you do this or why don’t you do that. I always tell them that when I get old and gray I might do that.
Folks are friendlier here. You don’t hardly see anyone you don’t nod to, grin at or say howdy. Away from here they just don’t do that. They think you are up to something if you speak to ‘em. People outside think we are ignorant. We’re not ignorant. We might not know everything but we are not ignorant. There is a difference. I don’t know what else they (outsiders) think of us. I’m not one of them so I just don’t know. When I hear someone mispronounce Appalachia I think they don’t know everything either. They might think they do but they don’t.”