Emma Gilley

“They call us weird. They call us hillbillies. They say that we’re poor. They say all that stuff. I would want them to know that we’re not poor. We’re ordinary. We’re just like them. No different.” 

Emma Gilley, Age 11; Pound, Virginia:

[Growing up in the mountains] is fun because you have a lot of free area and a lot of hills. If you know how to ride a bike, it’s really fun, because you can ride down the hills and everything. And then you can play a lot, and it’s fun to swing on swings. When it comes winter, there’s a lot of snow, so when you go down the hills on the sled it goes like super fast. I would say that it’s really cool. You can do what you want, you can yell as loud as you want, and you can go anywhere you want. 

I don’t do sports any more. I’m a pretty ‘not normal’ person. If we were all normal, that would just be weird. But I don’t do a lot of stuff. I’m boring. 
I wouldn’t say that I’m a hillbilly. My mom and dad say that I don’t have as much of a country accent as them, and they say that I have a modern accent. I don’t do country stuff. I don’t like to go hunting. I don’t like to do all that stuff. I’m just not like my parents and or my sister, at all. 

My parents’ names are Scarlett and Forest. I love them so much. [My dad] hasn’t told me what he does. I asked what he did, and he said he doesn’t know what he does. I think he’s a surveyor, like a coal miner and all that stuff. My mom is an artist. She paints stuff for people. She’s an at-home mom. 

Painting is her job. She painted a portrait for my friend Avery, and when she gave it to her dad, her dad cried, and it was really sweet. She paints flowers and landscapes, and stuff like that. And they’re really pretty.

My grandparents live a little up the road from us and they’re very nice. I go there a lot. I love them very much. They have a big house. Well, it’s not that big. They have a normal size house. They have really big hills, and they have a dog named Milo – he’s black and white and he’s really big. They have a swing set, they have a slide and they have all this stuff we can play on, but we don’t usually play on them anymore because we’re a little too big. And they got good food. 

When we stay with them, they cook chicken and dumplings sometimes. And then in the mornings they cook biscuits and gravy with bacon and sausage, and it’s really good. I love it. 

My mamaw tells stories about how underprivileged she was when she was little because we are always on our phones and stuff. She says when she was little she didn’t have a stove or a refrigerator, and that her mom had to put water inside a cinder block thing and it would be really cold water so it would make everything cold. She said she was twelve she got power, and when she was fifteen, she got a TV. 

My papaw, he taught me some on guitar before I went to Jams, before I even started learning music. They actually got me my guitar that I use. My mamaw taught me my multiplication table. And, they taught me to be good to people. 
My papaw told me when he went to North Carolina, I think, he said that he got to be in a lot of stuff and he got to learn music from popular people. They were like old stars and stuff.  

My papaw showed me three chords. I think he showed me D, A and E minor, but those ended up being wrong. My dad taught me G and C before I went to Jams. Then I went to Jams. It was really fun there. When I first went to Jams, I was a really shy kid.  When I first walked in, I would hide behind my mom, and I wouldn’t even tell Katie [my teacher] my name. So that was a little bit weird. I’m a lot more outgoing now.  

Jams is something where you go and you learn about music. They teach you chords, they teach you songs, and at the end of the semester, everybody gets to perform in front of everybody you know. Every single semester, if you get better, then you get to move up. I started out in beginner. I’m a really fast learner, so the next semester, I went into intermediate. The intermediate people are just like four people. They get to have their own little group. The beginners are in another group. They perform differently, but on the same day. We all get to perform different songs. The beginners get to perform ‘Skip to My Lou,’ and then the intermediate people get to perform like, ‘Freight Train’ and picking songs.

I got the guitar for my eighth birthday, and I never touched it. I did not know how to play anything, and that’s what I had. I would rather play fiddle because that is a really, really pretty instrument, but I’m glad that I chose guitar because I just love my guitar. It’s fun to play. It’s awesome. If you get good, you get a lot of privileges. You get to play everywhere. You get to play for people. You get to play shows. You get to play for tips. And that’s like, awesome. 

Our band is the Country Cabin Band. They gathered everybody that went to Jams, in the intermediate class, and they brought them here. This band gets to play like five times a month at different places. You just get to learn more songs. 

[My teacher, Katie] has taught me a lot. I was her student for a year at Jams. She’s really nice, and she knows a lot about music and she’s a really good singer. She’s come up to our house and we’ve played cards. We’ve done a lot of stuff. She’s the one who told me to go to Mountain Music School, which is something that I did before this. It’s what got me into flat-picking. It’s where you pick really fast. 

Right now, my favorite song to play is, ‘Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time,’ by Panic! At the Disco, or ‘Uma Thurman’ by Fall Out Boy. [I would like to be a] professional musician. I wouldn’t put it into a specific genre. Pop punk, maybe. I don’t know. I like Appalachian old time music. I wouldn’t say I Iove country music. I don’t like country music a lot. I don’t listen to it a lot either. I like the music that we play. I want to have a band with my sister and her two friends. They said I would be on guitar; Shelby, my sister would be on singing, and her other two friends would play bass and drums.

The mountains are special to me because I’ve grown up here. A lot of childhood memories. Almost every day is happy. There’s no sad times every single day. Happy times, happy times. 

[My happiest time was] when we went to The Wilderness. It’s like Dollywood, but it has water parks. It’s like a cabin hotel. You get free pizza. There’s a wave pool. There a full water park and it’s really fun. We stayed there for a week. We went to the pool every single day. It was really fun. My sister ate a lot of pizza, and she ate fun dip, and she ate cotton candy and then she ate a lot of Skittles and M&Ms, and she ended up throwing up. 

My mom said that we’re going to live in our house right now for as long as ever, until she dies, and then she’s going to give one of us the house.  I really want to live in California though, because it has oceans and beaches and it’s really sunny over there. But the thing that I don’t like about it is it gets earthquakes a lot.   

(Outsider view of Appalachians) Some people call stuff differently. Like, in New York, they call them license plates and we call them tags. We call buggies, buggies, and they call them shopping carts. That’s a little difference. And city kids, they don’t have a lot of grass. They live in a place where there’s a lot of traffic. They don’t get to ride bikes and all that stuff. 

They call us weird. They call us hillbillies. They say that we’re poor. They say all that stuff. I would want them to know that we’re not poor. We’re ordinary. We’re just like them. No different.”