“I feel like that Appalachia is a magnifying glass for the rest of the country’s issues.”
Rebecca Tucker, Educator; Somerset, Kentucky:
“I was raised in Somerset. I’ve got family that goes back four generations if not more, but that’s as far back as the stories usually [go]. I’ve got a whole mess of family in Somerset, a big family, and lots of folks that get together every year. The high school I went to was the same high school my grandpa went to. I’ve got a lot of support in that community. Between my family and my hometown church I grew up in, it seems like every time I go back people are happy to see me so it’s a good place to be raised.
I grew up on a farm. Our farm bordered a trailer park, and for some reason my family didn’t encourage me to go play in the trailer park and so I just played in the farm. We had a pond, had creeks and trees to climb and we would just ramble all over the farm and hang out inside. I played video games a lot with my brother and sister. We played Zelda until our fingers fell off. [We did] typical stuff and typical kids, I think that all over the nation do except maybe a bit more outside stuff every once in a while.
It’s a real basic farm. My dad calls himself a bad farmer. He has some cows, and right now the cows just roam free across the farm. We have an electric fence that’s not turned on. We have a fence around the perimeter. We haven’t mowed the lawn all summer, so I guess that makes it good. The cows keep the lawn kind of short and fertilized, nice and heavily and fertilized. We’ve got some honeybees right now and none of us are really good at any of it, but its fun to do. We extracted honey last week and that was fun and it’s cool to see all that. I’ve learned a lot from my dad. He’s part of the Kentucky State Bee Association and so he learns a lot from those groups. There’s a bee group in Pulaski County. They all trade information; they get together and talk about bee keeping and how to take care of the bees. He got me a jacket so that I could go out and help him and I’ve been stung the last three times I’ve been out there.
We [raised a garden] last year. We’re real lazy this summer. What we did instead of having a garden, we bought into a CSA from Community Supported Agriculture in Pulaski County. It’s only been recently that I moved back to Somerset. I was living in Jackson County and commuting to Clay County and then some things changed and then we went back, we’re staying at my dad’s farm right now, with him.
I graduated in 2005, and I went straight into Berea College. I didn’t want to go to Berea at first, because it’s only forty-five minutes away from Somerset. I didn’t want to go to school so close to home. I was interested at first going to UK or even father, but Berea ended up being the only school I applied to and it was a really good fit. Berea is a really small community, and they really support the students and make it a positive environment to grow up.
After Berea, I went straight into my Master’s program at University of Kentucky. I got my Master’s there in Public Policy. I had an awesome time learning about Public Policy and I really felt at that point, I’m ready; I’m going to go work in [the] non-profit world, or I’m going to go work for the Legislative Research Commission or I’m going to go work in some local government. Instead, my husband and I got married right after I graduated from my Master’s Program, and we went to South Korea and lived there for two years.
People say, ‘how was it living in South Korea?’ You didn’t have to worry about anything. We didn’t have to have a car; you had public transportation anywhere we wanted to go, we had health insurance from our employer. We didn’t have much vacation while we were there, but it was fun to live there and easy to live there. You miss a lot of stuff when you are gone that far away [and] you can’t come home.
The longest vacation we had while we were there was ten days in a row, and by the time you get a seven thousand mile plane flight back to America, you can’t spend ten days. It’s too far. We missed funerals, birthdays, Christmases; missed everything, so we decided to come back. We both applied for jobs with Berea, we both got accepted and we both started working for Berea again. We started working in Clay County. I was a teacher [in Korea]. We were both English as a second language instructors. [I taught] mostly to kindergartners but I’ve taught all the way up to eighteen years old. I taught a little bit of everything. It was fun.
I think being raised in Appalachia gives you a different perspective on things. I grew up with Appalachian activists, is what I like to say. My parents were super involved with KFTC, the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, all throughout my childhood. So, my childhood was spent going to protest and rallies and going to conferences and playing with all the other hippie kids that go to those kinds of conferences and workshops.
For me, being an Appalachian means not taking no for an answer, and trying to figure out how to make things work, even if it’s difficult. Appalachians/hillbillies whatever you want to say, they find ways to make things work for them. For some that means turning to other sources of income that may not be very productive for the rest of society, and for others it means protesting for clean water rights, but [they are] trying to find ways to make things work for them.
I’ve got some of that [hillbilly ingenuity]. You should see the things that we’ve made on the farm to replicate other ideas. My dad wanted to make a chicken coop, and he took the ends of two bed frames and put them on the ends of the chicken coop and then had a rail fence in between the metal bed frames like twin beds on the ends. That was the chicken coop. The chickens all got eaten by hawks or something, so now the chicken coop just sits in the yard and the cows eat around it. I take it from my dad I guess. He keeps everything in the basement. You can’t hardly walk down there for all the junk, but he always finds a use for it. It’s frustrating because I want things to be a little bit more organized, but it’s also, it’s resourcefulness. You can always use what’s there and not have to buy something new.
We have a lot of poverty, we have a lot of violence and things that can be seen on the surface. These things exist in other parts of the country, but it might be below a layer. You can focus on the group of people that you want, but in Appalachia it’s out in the open. Everybody sees everybody’s business. Maybe it’s because there’s not as many people in the area. Or maybe it’s because people like telling stories on other people, I don’t know why, but I feel like that Appalachia is a magnifying glass for the rest of the country’s issues. So, when Appalachia has intense poverty it’s there, it’s present and people talk about it and they poke fun at it because they don’t know how else to address it, because addressing it means talking about it seriously, and being able to come up with a plan of action and nobody knows what to do, because they think everything has been tried. The war on poverty has been going on for fifty years now, and it’s not anywhere close to being finished or being concluded. I feel like a lot of folks use Appalachia to make fun of because they are scared to actually talk about the problems.
[Appalachia in 10 to 20 years] I think about different communities within Central Appalachia. I think about Whitesburg and Berea and how different how those areas are from Manchester, where I’m working right now. I see Whitesburg and Berea as being more progressive towns, more accepting but I also know that the opinions of those towns in other areas [is] they see people from those towns as being elitist or being not Appalachian or being not necessarily associated with what they consider Appalachia. There has to be a space for everybody to be able to feel like they are accepted in their community. I would like to see more Whitesburgs and Bereas because I felt so at home there, but I know that other people don’t necessarily feel at home there. So it’s hard to say.
Sustainable agri-tourism would be a big benefit to our area, just because it’s been successful in parts of West Virginia, parts of Tennessee and if it can be successful there, why can’t it be successful in Eastern Kentucky? I feel that using the information revolution of having broadband internet across the region would do a lot for our area, and perhaps there’s a lot of hillbilly ingenuity, so there’s a lot of folks that are good at making stuff and good at creating things in Appalachia. Whether it be traditional hand craft goods, or music, or making something artistic and being able to utilize the power of the internet to be more entrepreneurial in Appalachia [so] that you don’t have to have a store front in Lexington, or a store front in Louisville to be an entrepreneur. You can do it from Letcher County and be able to sell it online. If you have a good or service that people want, then it can be marketed as such. It can happen.
I don’t know [if I will live in the mountains all my life]. If you’d asked me when I was in high school, ‘Rebecca, do you want to live in Appalachia?’ the answer would have been one hundred percent no. I want to go live all over the world. It’s fun to go visit Denmark, and I’ve not been to Denmark yet, [but] I could imagine visiting Denmark, and saying, ‘wow, I really like having all these bikes and I want to live here and hang out here and be part of a progressive country, not just a progressive city or progressive town, but a progressive country.’ I could see myself doing that, but right now, I’m living in Somerset and it’s pretty nice, and I’ve considered living in Whitesburg for the upcoming couple of years, and I think that’d be pretty fun. Whitesburg is a nice town.
[My heart] has got wanderlust. I always feel like I’ll travel and I’ll go visit places. I spent five weeks backpacking through Europe, ten weeks in Southeast Asia and I know that I will take more jaunts like that because I’ve got that wanderlust gene. I’ve got that desire to go see places and that’s where I’m prepared to spend my money, it’s my hobby. But I like living in the mountains. I remember being in Korea and every once in a while I’d go hiking and Korea is actually really similar as far as the trees and the climate as Appalachia. They are real similar in latitude. I’d go hiking in the mountains sometimes, and I’d put some Old Crow Medicine Show on my IPod and I would listen to that and I don’t get homesick, but I would get nostalgic and I’d feel warmth inside, I don’t even know how to explain it even. I’d feel comfortable and happy about that style of music and remember my Mom was real involved with the Master Musicians’ Festival, it’s a big festival in Somerset, and I would remember all of those times of going to the festival every year, and listening to the bluegrass music and hanging out with my whole family and community. There’s something to that. Something to having roots.
I would like to be known as a good friend, a positive mentor. Right now, I work in a high school and so I work with a lot of students and if you ask me every day do you make an amazing impact on a bunch of students, then no, I can’t do that. But there’s some students that I‘ve positively impacted and encouraged and I know that they can come to me with anything they want to talk about, so that feels like that’s worth something.”