“What makes Appalachia special? People, just common people. They are different. They’re more friendly. They make you feel better about yourself. They’re not stuck up. [Appalachians are] just a different breed, a different class. You’re born with that accent, and some people lose it, but I lived in Ohio for 40 years and I never lost my accent.”
Peggy Maggard, Basket Maker; Isom, Kentucky:
“I grew up on Camp Branch. I graduated from high school in ’56. I got married and moved away in ‘56 and came back in ‘96. I was out in the wilderness 40 years (laughs).
My mother always had food. I never, ever in my life ever remember being hungry.
She did a lot of things herself; canning, homemade bread, and we raised our own chickens and killed our own pork. We always had food. We just grew up like all other kids, I guess.
[My dad] was a coal miner. He was a hard worker but he died very young. He liked to garden [and] that is why we always had so much to can. With five brothers, they’d go to the mountains and pick blackberries and we would probably can 200 quarts a year. My mom would made the best blackberry jam you ever ate, every morning with hot biscuits. I can still smell it and taste it (laughs).
[My father died in a] family feud, and senseless death is what it was. I never discuss it. I was 14. It was hard. It was hard, you know. It left my mother with very little income. She’d draw very little social security, and she had it hard. My older brother went into service and made out an allotment to her and that’s how we got by. Then when he got out, he got married, and my other brother went in service and he sent her an allotment. I never, ever remember being hungry, or without anything.
[My mother] was a strong woman (laughs). Very religious. The biggest sin to my mother was telling a fib, and I’ve stressed that all through my kids’ life, my grandkids and great-grandkids. Fibbing, lying is a sin that is listed with murder, adultery, all the other sins in the Bible. God listed liars on not entering into heaven. And she such was a stickler, my mama, on lying.
I have forgotten a lot of childhood. I’ve had too many strokes [and] I think that caused me to lose a lot of memory. I know I lost a lot of my Bible memory verses and things like that I can’t remember, but it was special having our own swimming hole. [My brothers would] always make us a big swimming hole. But the worst thing in my life was snakes. I am scared to death of snakes, and I’m fortunate since I moved back I bet I haven’t seen six snakes. I’m telling you, I hate them things!
My family is what I remember. I have three brothers that are dead. My oldest brother is living in Richmond, Indiana. That’s where he went when he got out of the service. When he got out, he married a girl from up there and they’re still married. They’ve been married sixty-some years. He’s got dementia and Alzheimer’s. He’ll forget where we’re living, but he doesn’t forget faces or anything like that.
My grandfather was Chal DeWitt Cloud, which is an Indian name. I can’t remember my grandmother on my mother’s side or my grandfather and grandmothers on my dad’s side. They died before I got old enough to remember, but my grandpa Cloud, Chal, moved to Tiffin, Ohio. His wife died and he remarried a woman from Whitesburg. She had kids that went to Tiffin, Ohio, for work so they he went, too
I saw him after I got older. I was married and had kids, and he passed away when he was in his late eighties. I don’t know if he was Indian or what. He looked like an Indian in the face. He wasn’t real dark skinned or anything, but he had that nose that reminds you of an Indian or someone. Or my ideal from seeing a picture of him from when I was little, you know (laughs).
My mama couldn’t afford [to send me to] college or anything. So I was going with my husband, who I aspired to all my life, and we went to Indiana. He got a job on the railroad, and he retired from there as an engineer. And we came back to Kentucky in ‘96 and he passed away in ‘99 from cancer.
It’s hard to leave your family, but most of all my family had moved to Indiana. Then my mother moved too, you know, after some of us got older. She came back cause my two youngest, my brother Mack and my sister Pat didn’t like to live away at all, you know, and so she came back. She never left any more. And then she passed away when she was young, 59. She had cancer and she passed away.
You know people’s lifestyles [in Indiana] were different than our lifestyles. We got made fun of over having such a speech, you know. I’d always say, ‘You sound as goofy as I do; you sound as goofy to me as I sound to you’ (laughs). That’s what I would tell them. Laugh and go on.
I had two children after I got married. I stayed at home and I did sewing. I made all my daughters’ clothes. I was always kind of handy on gifts, sewing, and crafts. I stayed at that until I retired. Then, my husband wanted to move back down to Kentucky because that’s where his family was. The only hard part about moving away was not knowing too many people.
He worked for the railroad for 40 years, and every year his vacation would be to come back to Kentucky. We never went anywhere. Well, we might go for one night to Gatlinburg or away somewhere like that. We never went, you know, like to Disney World or any big thing.
It was beautiful to see mountains [after being away]. You know there is nothing in Ohio but wind and ice and snow and rain (laughs). It was nice to see the mountains.
I’ll tell you something about my nephew’s wife. He went to Florida. You’ll think this is funny. His wife, he was coming in with her and she was from Cuba or somewhere, I don’t know where she’s from, but when she woke up and when she saw all the trees, she said ‘Well who prunes all these trees?’ (laughs). [My nephew] said, ‘God takes care of our trees.’ It was so funny. I still remember her saying that. It was so funny.
But it was great to see the mountains and see people you grew up with. By the time my husband retired and I was older and came back, everybody else had moved away. I didn’t know anybody hardly except family, but it was still great to come back. Mountain people are blessed. They are different from people raised anywhere else. I guess everybody has memories, but nothing like these mountain memories
All my life I always thought I’d like to make baskets. I had a drapery shop later, you know, before I came back. I did crafts. I sewed. I did hem work. I did all that for people and I said, ‘when I retire and go back, when my husband retires, I’m going to do nothing, but read my bible as much as I want and learn to make baskets.’
And I had a great teacher, Frances Whitaker. I said if I can get the basics, I can learn anything. My whole family was crafty. If she can show me the basics on how to start, I won’t need any help. I went to her to classes and I made about, I’m going to say four baskets. I like being with other people so I kept going and making them, but I started making them at home, also. I started making them and ordering my own stuff to do it with and I started going to craft shows, started selling them. I give them to everybody for Christmas, wedding gifts, baby showers, everything. I’ve been told they’re woven really tight and very well made. I never make a basket that cannot be used for something.
I’ve been [making baskets] since ’96. I had to take a little break. I didn’t get a lot made while my husband was sick with cancer, but from there as soon as he passed away, I went at it like a beaver. I love it! I could sit all day and do it!
You figure out what you’re going to make and what size you want, and then you figure out what length you’re going to need for the rib, the stakes. Then, how much you’ll need to weave it with and if you’re going to add anything for decoration.
The reed, sometimes I buy it. I can order it from where I order my supplies already dyed, but it’s cheaper if I dye it myself, with just Ritz dye. It don’t matter what they’re dyed with, if they’re in the sunlight they’re going to fade a little bit. I started staining them and a lot of people like some stain, so I stain most of them.
I can remember as a little girl growing up a man up the road from us, and I was so fascinated with what he did. He wove chairs, you know, the seats in the chairs, made baskets. It didn’t look like they could be made by hand. You know I always thought things like that was made in a factory or something. But he made them baskets and all that. Egg baskets and all that, but now I don’t make egg baskets. Nobody carries eggs, so why make a stupid egg basket? (laughs).
At one time when I was a child we had 500 chickens! We could have used an egg basket then, but you don’t need egg baskets. Like I said, I don’t make anything you can’t use, that’s not useable for something.
(What makes Appalachia special?) People, just common people. They are different. They’re more friendly. They make you feel better about yourself. They’re not stuck up. [Appalachians are] just a different breed, a different class. You’re born with that accent, and some people lose it, but I lived in Ohio for 40 years and I never lost my accent.
[Outsiders] think we are all stupid and just not very smart. It always amazed me in Ohio that people would say ‘how can you do all this?’ and whatever I set my mind to I could do it. I said, ‘actually gifts and talent comes from God.’ I’m a strong believer in God, you know, that God gives us that. I’d say we’re [Appalachians] God’s Chosen People. We’re created just the same way I think God created everybody. That’s how I feel about it. We’re all humans that God created.
I’ll tell you one way I’ll be remembered, I was the best grandmother ever in the world. I tried to be the best mother in the world (laughs) and I’m taking care of a great-grandkid. I take care of her a lot, and she’ll say, ‘Granny, you’re the only mother I’ve ever had’ because her dad and her mama separated when she was three and he got her back when she was five. But it is hard when you get my age to take care of a great-grandchild Even though [her father has] remarried, she still thinks of me as mom.
She’s 13, and it’s just lately that I’m learning to get away from her because she is getting hard to handle. At 13, they’ll think they’re 21 now. If you could see her for yourself, you’d think she’s 17 or 18. Her dad, I took care of him a lot. My daughter, had a lot of problems, mental-type problems, and I took care of Amber’s dad and he used to tell his friends if he didn’t come home, to keep from going somewhere he’d say ‘the wrath of my Granny is worse than the wrath of God, I can’t do that’ (laugh). So he still sticks and believes, you know, in a lot of things that I taught him and I’m just hoping that Amber does the same thing.
But she’s totally different. This young generation’s totally different. They’re getting so immoral, you know. They don’t see anything wrong in anything. Everything’s fine, but that’s I think due to all the breakup of the family.
I want to be remembered for all the good things I’ve done in life.”