Robin Wentz

“A little girl, the first day of school I asked her what bus she rode, and she said, ‘At yaller un.’ (Laughs).

Robin Wentz, Retired Schoolteacher, Playwright; Grayson, Kentucky:

“[I taught] ‘turd’ grade (laughs). [Been retired] five years. I have been on the Board of Directors at the Grayson Gallery and Art Center, I substitute teach, and then I have homebound children. I’ve got into playwriting, and I wrote a play called “Traipsin’ Woman: The Jean Thomas Story” and performed it. I got a grant for $10,000 to bring the east and west parts of Carter County [Kentucky] together in a project last summer.

My mother was Lucille Marshall, from Willard, Kentucky. During the ‘50s, the sewing factory in Olive Hill was really big, so her and her sister and cousin got a little apartment in Olive Hill and they all met Olive Hill boys. So, my father’s from the west end and my mother’s from the east end of the county. They had four children [and] we all grew up here. Growin’ up here was always [a] neighborhood environment. You could ride your bike up and down the main highways. We camped out a lot as children, and built forts. Lots of ballgames and ridin’ horses.

I didn’t decide [to be a teacher] until I went to Morehead to take some childcare classes in college. I loved every minute of it. I love the children. When I first started teaching, I took it to heart and worried about the kids eating. Being from Appalachia, I did not realize that children were coming to school hungry. I always worked around the system and did things my way. 

I did a lot of singing to the kids and lovin’ on ‘em. Appalachian stories. A little girl, the first day of school, I asked her what bus she rode, and she said, “‘At yaller un” [That yellow one] (laughs). 

With Facebook, I keep in touch with a lot of my students, especially this year. I had Brianna Colley Shaffer. Both of my students married each other. She’s a new teacher this year. We kept in contact. She thanked me, and said that I had touched her life and made her hope she could be as good a teacher as me. I’m really close to a lot of my students. Another little student has a lot of health problems, and she helped me write a song about Grayson. We recorded it two years ago. Still being from this town, I get a lot of hugs in the grocery stores. 

I want people to remember that I was a good, caring teacher.

To me, [being] Appalachian is having close family roots. I’m still real close to my cousins and my aunts and uncles. I think that more than anything, close family. My grandparents [were] from Willard, Kentucky. My grandmother, Sarah Pennington Marshall, she liked to squirrel hunt and fish. I’ve watched her wring many a chicken neck, and then watched her go fry it for Sunday dinner. Papaw, Austin ‘Hot Pipe’ Marshall, worked in the coalmines. Hot Pipe, he had a temper. I’ve been called Hot Pipe quite a few times (laughs). He built bridges after [working in the coalmines]. He had black lung. I was there [at my grandparents’] every week. We all were. All the cousins, aunts and uncles were there every Sunday. We’d play in the barns and jump out the windows and climb up the apple trees and ride the limbs down. Papaw’d come out, ‘Get out of my cherry tree!’ We still talk about that.

We have a lot of singers in our family, [and] there was always spiritual singing. So, we had a lot of song and good food; lots of babies. She’s [Grandma’s] a really good cook, country cook. Fried chicken, chocolate pie, and green beans. We would go out in the cellar after playin’ on the hillside. We’d go in the cellar and get an ear of pickled corn out of the churn. I don’t know how you make pickled corn! Pickled corn, the way my mom fixes it is, she fries it and puts bacon grease in it and just a little bit of sugar. Good with soup beans.

My mom and her family grew up poor. My mom danced and they put her in a play. They took what money they had and ordered her a pair of real black, black patent leather shoes out of Sears. She danced and danced in those at the school play. I like that one [story].

I’m a hillbilly. That means I talk country. I give hugs. I don’t meet a stranger. I’m hard-workin’. I’ve thought about that a lot [the way outsiders view us]. I’m in the grant writing business. I think the outsiders think of us as dumb hillbillies, maybe lazy, and not successful in life. The truth is, that Appalachian people are the most down-to-earth people. They take pride in their community and love their family.

The art gallery [Grayson Gallery & Art Center] has been here for three years. We renovated the old firehouse. I think it has brought out artists in people who never knew they were an artist. It allows the people in this area to have a place to bring their art and see art from around our region. Our community, in the past few years, has brought out so many talented artists. Hopefully, through social media, this is getting out. What talented artists and what hard-working people we have in this community. 

(Traditions passed down) Storytelling. They [my grandparents] did a lot of that when they were young. Through my storytelling, I wrote a play called “The Traipsin’ Woman: The Jean Thomas Story.” The play was performed through a grant, through Brushy Fork Institution in Berea, Kentucky. It told the story of Jean Thomas from Boyd County. She was a court stenographer in the ‘30s. She traveled with judges and loggers all over Southern Appalachia. When she would get into a town, she was interested in the music and the stories of Appalachia, so she wrote books and kept very accurate records of their music. My play was the classroom setting. They would teach about the folk dances and the music during that time. Then it would do a flashback to a wedding scene in the ‘30s, and dancin’ the Virginia Reel. And then it’d flash back to the classroom again to set up for the next scene, which we told of the blind fiddler from Morehead that became world renowned. Played for the Queen of England. (Whispers) I can’t remember [his name].

It was a cold spring at my grandmother’s house. The chickens – called ‘em little biddies – the little biddies was freezing, so she made ‘em clothes (laughs). They were all running around with little outfits on. They had company one day, and she was embarrassed. But the joke was that the rooster was chasing the hens, and you should have seen him trying to get his galluses down, chasing those hens.”