National Geographic : 1943 Dec
Home Folk around Historic Cumberland Gap By LEO A. BORAH WJith Illustrations from Photographs by Joe Clark from Three Lions THIS is a simple story of a people humble in station vet proud in spirit the descendants of the 18th-century pioneers whose "wagons broke down" at Cum berland Gap. With profound respect for honest poverty and wondering admiration for courage that laughs at adversity, I tell of these "hillbillies" as they are. The mountaineers who live near Cumber land Gap in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Vir ginia ask no pity. Although some of them live at what the average American would consider hardly a subsistence level, they scorn charity. They are the most self-reliant people I have ever met. Until the coming of the railroads and high ways a few years ago they were isolated from the rest of the country, wresting a living from the rugged hills, cherishing the traditions and customs of their Scotch-Irish and English ancestors, happy despite the lack of almost everything regarded as necessaries of life by more fortunate Americans. Only smugness can laugh at them; understanding laughs with them. "Just Ask for Joe" When photographer Joe Clark, scion of one of the oldest Tennessee mountain families, learned that a GEOGRAPHIC writer was coming to visit his people, he wrote, "Tell him just to ask for Joe or Pappy's Boy at Cumberland Gap; or if he'll tell me when he is coming, I'll have my brother Junebug meet him. All anybody needs to locate a Clark at Cumber land Gap is the first name" (page 742). With no more information than that, I got off the Knoxville-Lexington bus at Cum berland Gap and stood beside my bag on the sidewalk. A car passed hurrying in pursuit of the vanishing bus. Just as I was picking up my bag to go in search of a hotel, the car returned. "Are you from the GEOGRAPHIC?" a young woman in the car asked. I said I was, and Joe Clark got out to greet me. "We'll go out to the house," he said. "But first we thought we'd stop over at Brooks' place to get a shower. You see, we don't have running water at the farm." The young woman said, "I'm Mrs. Clark. Joe hasn't got used to introducing his wife yet." Joe was apologetic. "We were just married a week ago today," he grinned. Two mountaineer brothers operate a garage in Cumberland Gap. Here Joe stopped to have a leaky tire repaired. "This is Junebug's car," he explained, "and it doesn't carry a spare. Junebug has an order for some new tires, but they haven't come in yet. It's a little risky driving with only four tires, and all of 'em about worn out." From what Joe had written, I expected his father's home to be a log cabin. It turned out to be a trim white bungalow on the paved highway. As we stepped across a cool porch into the comfortable living room, a young-looking woman came from the kitchen to greet us. "Well, mama," said Joe, "this is Mr. Borah." Joe's mother is only 16 years older than her eldest son. At a bountifully laden table in the kitchen I "returned thanks" at Joe's request. There was a platter of beefsteak flanked by a half dozen dishes of vegetables, gravy, corn bread, and homemade butter. For a sweet there was a bowl of apple butter. "We Grow 'Most Everything We Use" "How does rationing affect you?" I asked Mrs. Clark. "Well," she said, "we sell some butter, but no one has told us what to do with the ration tickets we collect. We get along pretty well on sugar and meat. There are so many of us that we have points enough for all we have to buy. We grow 'most everything we use." As Joe and his wife and I started out that afternoon, Mrs. Clark urged me to come back to stay the night. She had prepared the "best room" for me, but if I stayed Joe and his wife would have to move into other quarters. I refused to oust the bride and bridegroom from their proper place and insisted on going to town for the night. No matter how humble the home or how meager the sleeping space, every mountaineer we visited invited us to come in and stay. To Joe's city-bred wife the formula her husband used in taking leave of the farm folk was a source of amusement. She could not understand why Joe didn't just say good bye. Instead, he went through a sort of ritual.