10 June 2012

Appalachian Summer, #1 in a series

 Water Critters

Back when I was, oh, 'bout 10, we got a little falling down house out in the country. We went on weekends 'n'at, and later we moved out there. 

Anyway, down from the hills 'n 'cross our land was a crick that terminated itself in a big ole pond. We'd go swimmin' in both of 'em, crick 'n pond. Sometimes we'd be swimming buck-naked. 

There are a couple wild animals I remember having run-ins with back there . . .


These things is like rats, but big as a 'coon. Hairless tails jes' like rats. Big ol' claws you'd like to never believe. Muskrats is what you call semi-aquatic. In the water, out the water, same to them.

Three of 'em lived on our pond. 

Weird critters, looks-wise and personality-wise. Can't hardly tell what's going through their heads when they look at you. Some people think they's cute 'cause of that song, but you sure don't wanna see 'em coming at you when you're out skinny-dippin'! I remember Carol Sue, in our family, yelling out at the boys there a-swimmin', That ole muskrat's gonna git your doo-dad!

You can't hardly see these poison snakes in the woods, and it's even harder to see the haid that's 'bout to strike. This one's haid is 'bout to strike. Mean as spit, copperheads is.

Lots of times, people mistake non-poison water snakes for copperheads. Like that milk snake you see here. But then, when you see a snake that you think is a copperhead, it's not much on your mind to make sure.

We found a big ole snake a-swimming in the crick once. Maybe five foot long. As I look back, I figure it wasn't nothing more than a king snake, which wouldn't never hurt you.

But, a'course, everybody wanted it to be a copperhead so it was a copperhead.

Some of the boys got a straight hoe to kill it. They slung that there snake over a fence and, just like you mighta heard of, that snake kept moving and twirling 'round even though it was sure as fire dead!

One of the boys got it down and hacked it to pieces. Don't you know them pieces kept squirming. Makes me sick to think of.

Snapping Turtle

You'd be hard-pressed to find a soul who'd say a snapping turtle was cute. . . .

But how much damage could they do? Don't even have teeth! Well, I'm here to tell ya, that thing can snap your hand clean off with the sheer force of its jaws. Even a baby one'll try to eat you, and if it gets a-hold of a finger, that finger is gone!

Things is real hard to handle, too. Their necks is so long, they can reach 'round and get a part of you wherever you put it.

This here shows the size they can get. Well, they can get bigger but still this is big enough to show.

Ya know what we we do with these? I mean a-sides running from 'em? We eat 'em! (We eat everything. Squirrels, frogs' legs, giblets—heck, I called deer venison 'til I moved away.) Anyhow, the two guys here are getting ready to plop that fella right into that pot.

Now I'll jest run over the highlights 'bout the rest of it 'cause it can be hard to take when you wasn't born there or ain't heard it before.

First we put that turtle live in a big ole pot of boiling water where it swims 'round and 'round and empties its bladder 'n'at. (This is outside, over a wood fire. It's kinda like a party.) When it's dead we swirl it 'round some more, and then slip the skin off its neck and legs and tail 'n'at

Out it comes from the water, and we hack its head off, close up so as to harvest the neck meat. Even after you cut the head off, you gotta be careful of the claws 'cause its reflexes work for hours, jes' like that snake.

You can see how you wouldn't want it to get its claws in you, dead or alive. Plus the whole thing's just freaky, being s'posed to be dead 'n'at. All right, the rest varies as to if you want soup or supper meat so I'll stop here.

Talk about swimming, and fearin' something might get your doo-dad! I guess that was a real good thing 'bout being a girl back there.


I've attempted to write this story in the dialect of Upper Appalachia (West VA, KY, OH version). My intent is not to ridicule the dialect or its speakers: this is my home dialect. I wrote the story this way because I wanted to capture the dialect of my childhood and the dialect of the setting.

It isn't easy to transcribe the phonetics of a dialect, using the alphabet and the usual spelling conventions. What's much easier to represent than pronunciation or prosody are the characteristic lexicon and grammar; for example, 'n'at, a-swimming, we was, they is . . .

The Upper Appalachian dialect is great for reading aloud, as Twain's Southern Appalachian in Huckleberry Finn is. There are better written samples than mine on the 'net. Give them a try. Many people find it delightful both to read and listen.

Well, all right now. See you'ins. An' hey there, don't be strangers.


  1. I thought you were doing Missouri. (Mizzourah).

  2. Correction: Ozarks are also uneducated hillbillies. >:-p

    I been a-reading some about Ozark Mountaineer culture. You was right—it's real simular to where I'm from. Heck, Southern Appalachians populated those mountains when they spread west. Me an' you might could be kin!

    p. s. You'ins got Porter Wagoner, too!