In That Morning

Quay Smathers singing school

Quay Smathers

Excerpt from the Quay Smathers Memorial Singing School Website:

"Quay Smathers was born in Dutch Cove south of Canton, NC, in 1913 and lived his entire life in the community. He was a master carpenter, having built homes and churches throughout Western North Carolina that are still recognized for their craftsmanship and beauty.

Born into a musical family, Quay grew up singing shaped-notes with his family as well as playing old-time string band music with his cousins. His father, Gaston Smathers, led the historic Christian Harmony shaped-note singing at Morning Star Methodist Church in Dutch Cove until his death in 1944. Quay assumed the leadership role of the singing at only 35 years of age.

His mother, Lizzie Bracken Smathers, learned shaped-note singing from Rev. Benjamin Clark, a student of William Walker, compiler of The Christian Harmony. Quay often told the story of being awakened one night as a young boy by his mother singing "Angel Band" at the top of her lungs in her sleep.  

Quay's brother Vaughn Smathers and sister Crystal Smathers Medford also participated in the Christian Harmony singings at Morning Star, and his uncle, George "Bruz" Smathers, sang until his death at age 101.

Quay played tenor banjo and guitar in a string band with his cousins as a young man, and with his daughters and sons-in-law later in life in the popular Dutch Cove Old Time String Band. But perhaps Quay was known on an even broader scale for his tireless efforts to teach the Blue Ridge style of shaped-note singing and officiate one of the oldest continuous shaped-note singings in the entire world.

Featured in documentaries, magazines, books, and even doctoral dissertations, Quay was the recipient of the prestigious North Carolina Heritage Award in 1990. He was honored in the NC Legislature and performed at the induction ceremony for dignitaries from throughout the state. Other accolades include the Bascomb Lamar Lunsford Award from Mars Hill College as well as inclusion in the 1974 Personalities of the South for "distinguished and outstanding service and achievements in the community and state."  

Quay was in high demand to teach workshops for novice shaped-note singers at folk festivals as well as speaking at seminars for folklorists, ethno-musicologists and foreign academicians researching Early American music. He led numerous shaped-note singing schools at universities and churches, always caring more about mentoring new singers than any honors afforded to him by others.

Quay died in 1997 at age 84, and at the time many tributes were written about him in area newspapers that are still found online. Many of the  singers he taught drove from out-of-state to sing some of his favorite shaped-note hymns at his funeral.

Today, his daughter June Smathers-Jolley continues to lead the historic shaped-note singing at Morning Star United Methodist Church in Canton in her father’s place, and Elizabeth Smathers-Shaw continues to teach folk music passed down to her by her father, including shaped-note singing, in Ohio."

The girls and I attended the Quay Smathers Memorial Singing School for the second time a few weeks ago. None of us are proficient at shape-note singing, but all of us have fallen in love with the folks who do know what they're doing-namely Liz and June who are Quay Smathers' daughters.

I've known about shape-note singing for many years, but never realized there are differing styles until we attended the Quay Smathers Memorial Singing School. They have a wonderful website with tons of information about shape-note singing. The site also offers many opportunities to listen to the Blue Ridge Style of shape-note singing. You can visit the website here

For this week's picking and grinning in the kitchen spot I'm sharing my favorite song from the shape-note schools that I've attended In That Morning

The Quay Smathers Memorial Singing School shares this information about the video:

"This video features a recording of Richard Moss leading "In That Morning" at Etowah, NC - circa 1973. (Richard is in the first photograph.) The recording was made by Dr. Edith Card for her dissertation research on the performance style of Christian Harmony shaped-note singing in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the time. Moss was a master of all leaders, casting a spell on the singers and bringing out, in his words, "a sad weeping sound" to the numerous minor songs found in the book. Photographs include other old-time leaders - Quay Smathers, Lyman Clark and Leonard Westmoreland, all from the Canton, NC, area. Singings depicted are from Mountain Heritage Day at Western Carolina University and Old Folks Day at Morning Star United Methodist Church in the Dutch Cove area of Canton, birthplace of Quay Smathers and scores of other Blue Ridge style shaped-note singers. Tucked among some of the singers in these photographs are several of the QSMSS teachers - Laura Boosinger, Elizabeth Smathers-Shaw, Lynn Shaw and Zack Allen, all of whom learned at the knees of the old-timers."

Although its doubtful that I will ever become proficient at shape-note singing, there is something about the hauntingly beautiful sound that speaks to my heart.

I hope you enjoyed the video, be on the look out for more Smathers history coming later this week. And be sure to jump over to the Quay Smathers Memorial Singing School website and poke around-I know you'll enjoy your visit!


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be performing TODAY - Sunday April 30, 2017 @ 11:00 a.m. Hayesville Church of the Nazarene - Hayesville NC

*Source: Video, photo, and all quoted text: Quay Smathers Memorial Singing School website

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A Child of the Mountains

Wild honeysuckle in appalachia
  A Child of the Mountains
I am a child of the mountains,
Running barefooted where wild honeysuckle
and mountain laurel bloomed full,
Spilling over the rocks and hills.
Soft green moss carpeted my playhouse
with rocks providing couch and chair.
My family of stick people with Mommy, Poppy and children
were my playthings.
A swimming hole where Poppy taught us to swim,
Still ringing with long ago squeals of young children.
The house stands empty now on the mountain top,
While the wind carries faint sounds of children laughing
My mind slips back to those long ago days,
Reliving the days of great joys and gentle love.
I long to go back to the days when life was full,
Where wild honeysuckle and mountain laurel bloom.
written by Anita Evans Griffith
 I hope you enjoyed Anita's poem as much as I did!
p.s. The Pressley Girls will be performing tomorrow - Sunday April 30, 2017 @ 11:00 a.m. Hayesville Church of the Nazarene - Hayesville NC

Appalachian Vocabulary Test 99

Mountain talk

It's time for this month's Appalachian Vocabulary Test. I'm sharing a few videos to let you hear some of the words. To start the videos click on them and then to stop them click on them again. 

1. Jack up: to scold, find fault with, bear down on. "He kept tracking dirt in after I asked him not to a hundred times so I had to jack up on him.


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2. Jaggedy: having a ragged, frayed, or sharp edge. "Be careful, the edge of that broken jar is all jaggedy."


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3. Jaw: a person's cheek. "She was the cutest little girl you ever seen! She had those jaws that just made you want to squeeze them."

4. Jawed: to talk idly and at length. "I told him he wouldn't be so tired if he didn't set up half the night jawing with them down at the store."


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5. Job: to stab, strike, or thrust. "When the girls were little I was forever warning them not to run with sticks. I was afraid they'd job their eye out."

I'm familiar with all of this month's words, although I hear jack up used in a slightly more aggressive way like: "I'm going to have to go down there and jack him up if he don't keep his long pointy nose outta my business." 

I've also heard of jacking someone's jaw which means a fist will connect in a fierce manner with another's face. 

Hope you'll leave me a comment and tell me how you did on the test!


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be performing Sunday April 30, 2017 @ 11:00 a.m. Hayesville Church of the Nazarene - Hayesville NC

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You'll Catch Cold or You'll Take the Weed?

  You might catch cold or take the weed

A few weeks ago I received the following comment:

I came across your blog while trying to find information on a saying that a friend and I were discussing. His family is Scottish and lived in Eastern Tennessee. The term that his grandmothers used when one should not play outside in the cold and dampness was, "You'll take the weed".  Do you have any information on this particular saying? I am trying to find more about the origins and whether it was a common saying. Thanks for you help!

Fawn Horner


I have never heard anyone use the word weed in the manner Fawn described. I checked one of my favorite sources, the Online Etymology Dictionary, and this is the only definition that came remotely close:

weedy (adj.) Look up weedy at
early 15c., from weed + -y (2). In old slang, in reference to horses, "not of good blood or strength, scraggy, worthless for breeding or racing," from 1800; hence, of persons, "thin and weakly" (1852).

The definition made me wonder if describing a horse that was doing poorly could have morphed into describing a person who might be doing poorly or who might become sick from being out in the cold and damp air.

Granny is always worrying about someone taking cold-even herself. She has rules to prevent taking cold like don't wash your hair if you're going to have to go outside later in the day-you should only wash it after you're in for the night; always wear a coat with a hat or toboggan if it's windy; if you've been sick recently then by all means when you do go outside you better bundle up good or you might take cold or worse yet-a backset; and you must take all precautions against getting wet in the rain.

All my life I've laughed at Granny's dire warnings of taking cold, but sometimes I hear her exact admonitions come straight out of my mouth.

Several years back I used the photo at the top of this post to tell you this:

Chitter couldn't stand it, as soon as the tractor pulled out of Pap's garden she had to shed her shoes and get in it. The other girl-she was mad because I told her she couldn't do the same.

Chatter was recovering from a recent illness and I wouldn't let her go barefoot in that cold turned ground in the cool evening air because I could hear Granny in my head warning me not to.

If you've got any warnings from your mother or granny I hope you'll share them. And if you're familiar with the word weed being used as Fawn described please leave a comment and tell us about it. 


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be performing Sunday April 30, 2017 @ 11:00 a.m. Hayesville Church of the Nazarene - Hayesville NC

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Robin's Plantain

Robin's Plantain growing in WNC

I discovered a wildflower I've never seen, or at least never noticed, in my backyard last week. At first glance I thought it was Fleabane, but a closer inspection showed the petals were a lovely lavender color instead of white.

Fleabane growing in western nc
I grabbed my Wildflowers & Plant Communities book and discovered I was right in the first place, the plant is a member of the fleabane family. I didn't realize fleabane can range from white to the pale lavender of the plant I found.

Robin's Plantain is one of the common names that belongs to the plant. All fleabane is said to ward off fleas but I've never tried using the plant for anything.

The lovely grouping of wildflowers sprung up at the edge of the backyard near Wilma, our beloved beagle's grave.

Wilma was the dog we had before Ruby Sue. She's been gone nearly 15 years now. She was a true beagle and lived to chase rabbits. One evening when no one was at home the coyotes waited on her while she ran her favorite rabbit trail out the ridge from the house. I took her to the vet but there was nothing he could do, she died before morning. 

Wilma would never eat if someone was watching her. You could lay a steak beside her and she'd just sit patiently until you left before she picked it up. After the coyotes got her we were all so upset and even Pap said he ought to lay in wait till they came back down that trail. 

Funny how a group of wildflowers can take you down a road of remembering. 


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be performing Sunday April 30, 2017 @ 11:00 a.m. Hayesville Church of the Nazarene - Hayesville NC

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Two Jaybirds

Jay bird word usage in appalachia

Jaybird noun A blue jay, used in various similes.
1913 Kephart Our Sthn High 107 He’s as antic as a jay bird when he takes the notion. 1940 Hauns Hawk’s Done 7 There’s always the jay birds trying to take a bath in the water bucket. 1952 Brown NC Folklore 1,431 As happy as a jaybird … As naked as a picked jaybird … As naked as a jaybird’s ass … As saucy as a jaybird … Git along about as well as a jaybird does with a sparrer hawk … As spry as a jaybird in wild cherry time. 1956 Hall Coll. Del Rio TN As naked as a jay bird. (Wilford Metcalf) 1962 Dykeman Tall Woman 95 Mark’s always speaking of her eyes too; and the way she clings to him, the way she’s so quick to walk, and talks already like a jaybird chattering-well, he thinks she’s mighty nigh perfection itself.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


I live with two jaybirds. Even though they're sillier than any jaybird I ever did see-I wouldn't trade them for the world and all it holds.


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be performing Sudnay April 30, 2017 @ 11:00 a.m. Hayesville Church of the Nazarene - Hayesville NC

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Lettuce and Onions

Killed salad

killed salad, kilt salad noun A salad made by pouring boiling grease over lettuce or other greens. Same as wilted salad. 

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Each Spring The Deer Hunter and I look forward to the first kill lettuce of the season. Various names are used for the traditional Appalachian dish: killed lettuce, kilt lettuce, wilted lettuce, lettuce and onions, lettuce, killed salad.

Just like different families call the dish by different names-it's also cooked a little different by folks too. Today I'll share 2 of the most common recipes with you. Both recipes are the same in regards to serving. Kill Lettuce should be served immediately after making.

The dish uses fresh leaf lettuce from the garden-or even branch lettuce that grows wild along the creek and branch banks.

The way Granny taught me: Begin by picking and washing your leaves of lettuce-making sure to dry off as much water as possible. Sometimes I wash mine early in the morning and leave it drying on a towel on the counter.

Next-cut up several green onions and mix with torn lettuce in a bowl-adding salt and pepper to taste.

Pour hot bacon or salt pork (Pap and Granny call it streaked meat) grease over the lettuce onion mixture. Be prepared for lots of hissing and popping when the grease hits the lettuce. Stir and serve quickly. It doesn't take much grease-a little bit goes a long way. I've found hot olive oil works well too.


Miss Cindy's family made Kill Lettuce by a different recipe-but one that is also common throughout Appalachia:

I learned from Dad how to make wilted/killed lettuce.

Cook a few slices of bacon and crumble it in a bowl on top of the torn lettuce and cut green onions (cut onions including the tops). Add salt and pepper. Heat the remaining bacon grease and pour it on the greens then add vinegar or lemon juice to the hot pan and swirl it then pour it on the greens. Toss the bowl contents to mix and eat immediately...with cornbread. The lettuce is so fragile that it doesn't take much grease to wilt it and the lemon/vinegar is hot so it helps to wilt it as well.


Our favorite way to eat kill lettuce is with cornbread and soup beans (pinto beans). The other day we had it with hamburgers-it was pretty good that way too, actually it ain't bad with a piece of light bread.

Ever kill your lettuce?


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Walking My Lord Up Calvary's Hill

Walking my Lord up Calvary's Hill
Photo by Trevis Hicks

We learned a new song for Easter, but didn't get it put up on youtube in time for me to share it with you last Sunday. Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper had a super hit with Walking My Lord Up Calvary's Hill back in the day. Over the years a lot of other folks have performed the song too, including bluegrass star Rhonda Vincent. 

Ruby Mae Barber Moody penned Walking My Lord Up Calvary's Hill along with many other gospel songs including the very popular southern gospel song My Real Home.

We've taken to playing on Granny's back porch lately. She likes it because she can hear us from her chair where she sits crotcheting. If we get to talking or stop playing for some other reason she'll come to the door and say "I'm coming out here to see what the hold up is."

Hope you enjoyed the late Easter song!


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Overheard in Appalachia

"I didn't know you liked pretzels."

"Yeah I like them. How could you not they're salty sticks."



Overheard: snippets of conversation I overhear in Southern Appalachia

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Empty Houses

Empty houses

"There were several old house sites above our old home on Wiggins Creek. My mother could remember when an Indian family lived in one of them. I can remember stacks of stones used as foundations and rotting log sills and joists still in place. Strangely enough there were no chimleys attached.

One old homesite was below our house. It was the old Tom Southards Place. It had a chimley but only a small one that you could run a stovepipe into. The unique thing about that place was an outdoor stove about 20 feet from the house. The house was almost gone but the outdoor stove was still in good shape. It had two eyes like woodstoves have and a little chimley in the back. We couldn't play around the house for fear of stepping on nails but we built fires in the stove and tried cooking.

Just above our old house on the middle fork was a small house built of logs and chinked with concrete. It has stone pillars supporting it, huge stone steps in front and a big stone fireplace on the end. There were yellow bells flanking the steps and a row of daffodils in front of that. The house was finished inside entirely with tongue and grooved wormy chestnut. It had nice six over six windows with hidden counterweights so you didn't have prop them open with a stick. It even had locks on the windows. It had a bathroom but no fixtures. It had a sink in the kitchen but no water to it and no drain leading out. It had cabinets built of the same wormy chestnut. The window and door facings were made of wormy chestnut as were all the baseboards, crown and corner moldings.

The house was built in the early to mid '40s. I don't know who built it or what they intended to do with it (I never thought to ask my daddy) but I do know somebody had a lot of money in it. The strangest thing about the house was that nobody ever lived there. Somebody might have stayed there for a night or two because the fireplace had been used. Maybe coon or bear hunters warmed themselves there but nobody ever "lived" there. A house with nobody in it is has no cause to stand  and will soon yield to the elements. In the mid 80's Ray Dehart got permission to tear house down.

When we divided up my father's property sometime in the 1990's, the surveyor discovered that the house had actually been on daddy's place. It was long gone by then. My brother Harold now owns the footprint where the sad little house once waited for a family to make it a home."

~ Ed Ammons - June 2016



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