Pam Robinson

Pam Robinson, Teacher at Wise County Christian School; St. Paul, Virginia:

"I am from the flatlands of Alabama. We came up here when I was thirteen years old for my mom to work for a coal company over in Wise County. [I’d] never been exposed to the mountains in my life ‘til we moved here. 

I remember just being in awe, just seeing the mountains. I had never seen mountains like that; even though I had lived all over the south and even lived overseas. [I lived in] Saudi Arabia. My mother’s second husband was a chemical engineer for an oil company. We moved over there with him, and lived for a short period of time and when they divorced, we moved back. We got here because she came back and needed a job. [I’ve lived in the mountains] thirty-eight years. 

I remember when I moved here, I’d hear people talk about soup beans. And I thought, well I’ve never heard of a soup bean in my life. Well, as soon as I went to somebody’s house and had some, I’ve been eating them all my life, but down south we called them pintos. That’s just all we called them, but they called them soup beans. 

It seems like every area has a little way that they do things just a little different, you know. I love cooking. I love to cook for my family and I can, I canned some beets earlier in the week. 

I went to school at Appalachia, Virginia, Appalachia High School. I played basketball and was a cheerleader and walked home most of the time back then. Of course, it was a lot safer for kids back then. I liked it. We got out when it snowed, stayed out until two or three o’clock in morning if they were cancelling school the next day. 

[My mother] was a draftsman for Westmoreland Coal Company, a draftsperson. Actually that’s how I started out. I was going to finish and go into engineering and started with that, and worked with that for many years and just decided that I wanted something more fulfilling, and I felt like the Lord was calling me to work with kids, so I kinda switched/changed tracks. 

Back in the late ‘70s, there weren’t a lot of women at all [draftspersons]. It took us a little while to adjust, because she was divorced and then a woman leading a home and then plus in kind of of a man’s job. It was a period of adjustment when we first moved up here. But, it all worked out and worked out very well. She worked there until Westmoreland shut down. It was a good thing --- it took care of us. She was able to raise us up on her own. My dad was not in the picture, financially or otherwise. So it was good.

My mother‘s a gifted artist, and went to a lot of the craft shows all around. I did that all my life with her. [We] traveled somewhere doing shows, Railroad Days at Appalachia and different things like that. We had a good life. I enjoyed it there. 

My mom does a lot of pen and ink portraits. She works in a lot of different mediums. She does oil. She doesn’t do as well as she used to…she’s getting older and having health problems and can’t do quite as much. The old Appalachian School that burned, she did a pen and ink of that and they made note cards and all that and sold them through the town and several of the historical places there and landmarks and things she did in pen and ink. 

[My mother] moved to Ohio two years ago. She said ‘Pam, you’ve took care of me for forty-nine years. I’m gonna go live near your sister and let her take care of me the rest.’ She moved up to Columbus, Ohio two years ago. It’s been culture shock for her up there.

To me living in so many different places, when I came here, there is a difference in the people. The morals tend to be a little stronger than other places that I lived. I don’t care for the negative connotation of ‘hillbillies.’ I think people here, their culture, their music, their arts things that I enjoy about the mountains, I think’s what people need to see and not the negative. To me that’s what makes a hillbilly, I would call it more a “mountain billy” or something. But I consider myself one; I’ve lived here longer than I ever lived anywhere in my life. It’s more home.

I am a born again Christian and I teach in a Christian school. To me, that’s important. As a whole, I don’t think we look at things like the rest of the world does. Our family, what your family means to you, your faith, those things are here, and that’s a good quality. People stick together, and you don’t see that all over the United States or in the South. That stick togetherness, help each other, you know, building your life on something that means something, your faith and raising your kids that way. That’s what’s important, I think.

There is so much culture here. Culture is its own type of intelligence, if you understand what I mean. You can read books and study all day, but if what you learn doesn’t mean something and translate in your life, it’s worthless. I‘m all about education. 

(Media portrayal) I don’t like us portrayed that way. These redneck country boys, jacked up trucks and drinking and all we do is feud and things, I don’t like that because I don’t think that is true. I don’t think that exemplifies the majority of the people here.

I like all the different flavors of speech. I love the way different people talk. So many different influences, it’s not ‘hicky,’ as I hear people say. There’s lots of lovely dialects here. I love to hear the way different people talk. That was one thing that fascinated me when I came here. Because they’ve asked me to talk, where I was from Alabama and I have kinda adapted to more like, I think, the people here. I think that’s very unique. 

The family bonds, that’s part of the culture, the music and the dance, it’s different. You can’t go to New York City and get what you get over at the Carter Fold. I don’t care what you paid for it. You just don’t get the same experience.

I like to scrapbook. I like to do anything with my kids. I love my kids. Very devoted to the Lord, my church, my ministry at school. It’s not a job, it’s a ministry and I like to tell people about the Lord, especially children. I am turned towards them. I like to go fishing, anything outdoors.

I’ve got three [children]. I have got one that is thirty-one. She is a registered nurse, and she is finishing up her Bachelor’s right now. She had to leave and go to school as soon as she saw her boy showed today {at the Rich Valley Fair], she left to go to college at Bristol and she’ll graduate in December. I have got a son that is thirteen, and I’ve got a daughter that is twelve. Then my thirty one year old has two little boys, so I’ve two grandsons, one that’s seven and one that’s three. They are all very unique, but they were all born here so they are authentic hillbillies. I am adopted, but they are authentic hillbillies.

(Raising cows for show) Our heifers look a little different than some of the other’s because our heifers go back into the field to breed, and we don’t want ‘em too fat so we keep ‘em on grass, mostly during the summer. We don’t throw a lot of show feed to them. They [the children] have just gotten interested. My son is very interested in everything agriculture related, so they decided to get into [it] this this year. 

He was the first one that had shown an animal at the Bristol Steer and Heifer Show in about thirty something years in Wise County, so he made the paper there and they were thrilled just to get it jump started again with the kids. We have a very small farm, just about twenty acres, and he is raising him three little steers. He‘s doing it all himself. He sells them, and turns the money over and buys more. 

His heifer actually came from my son-in-law and his dad. They told him to pick out whatever you want, you raise her and show her and enjoy her, and we’ll turn her back in the field. We have a garden and my daughter has two old horses she fools with. We don’t show those big time or anything, but they like to ride them and enjoy them.

They are little, rotten, dirty farm kids I call them. They like to get out and get into something all the time. It’s a pretty good life I think…pretty good.

[Coming home from Ohio] I feel comforted. I can go back to Alabama and visit my family there and not having the mountains, I am okay with that because it has a certain familiarity. But now, when I go to Ohio I feel very out of place, nervous and it’s like when we come back out of southern Ohio and back into Kentucky those mountains just start growing and I think about things and I think comforting would be a good word. It makes me feel good to be home. 

Some of the things we saw the last time we went were a little disturbing because a lot of the coal yards that were up there are just leveled. And it breaks my heart because we know a lot of people that don’t have jobs because that’s going downhill. But it’s comforting to me. I mean I consider this home. It took me a few years, because Alabama was always home. But now I realize this, I’ve been here so long and there is something here that I don’t have down there, I guess. This is home for me, you know."