Appalachian Women, Living Full Throttle

My Mother

What is it about Appalachian women?

Take my mother for instance. She is 64 as of today (happy birthday, Momma!) and still a tornado of a woman.

Two weeks ago, I listened as she scolded neighborhood hoodlums from her porch in Southeast Roanoke. These were probably shirtless boys, thin to the ribs, running around in baggy jeans, maybe with knives, maybe with guns. Riotous packs carouse her neighborhood day and night. Mother doesn’t mind them until they try cutting through her corner yard.

She stopped me mid-conversation. “Woah’now,” she yelled, “There will be none of that. You get your little asses right back in that street.”

I could practically hear the boys freeze. I imagined them standing perfectly still between her porch and the back fence, their jaws drooped open because no one ever calls them out.

On my end of the line, two hundred miles away, I held my breath and waited to see what this wild woman would do. Thirty-seven years into knowing her, and I still can’t guess.

Only one of the trespassers had the cohunes to talk back. For all his adolescent bravado, he was reduced to a whiny excuse. “Buuuut she was chasin us.”

A lone girl waited for them at the edge of Mother’s yard. An Appalachian woman in training, she had these ruffians on the run. I couldn’t tell why, but now the boys were stuck between her and a crazy old lady.

I can speak from experience. Mother has whooped fellers bigger than these, and I don’t mean a polite whack on the behind. She can sling a belt and words all at once, roughing you up on the outside and the inside.

I was starting to worry for these boys. They were in for it.

Then all of sudden, she hollered back, “Well, stupid,” she said with mock indignation, “If a pretty girl is chasin ya, why don’t ya let her catch ya?”

Then she erupted with the hoarse laughter of a former-smoker, and released the boys from her verbal grip. I could hear their footfalls as they rushed back to the pavement.

“Oo’yeah, I got him good,” she said, returning her attention to me, “He’s just a’blushin.”

What could I say?

“Give ‘em Hell, Momma” was the only option. The screen door thumped behind her, and I marveled over my Mother at the other end of the line.

Living with Appalachian women is exhilarating. From minute to minute, you don’t know if you’re going to be whacked upside the head, lovingly picked on, made to massage their feet, or held like you’re the last person on Earth.

Love and fury, it all comes full throttle.

Willie Davis has written a story about women like this. His protagonist, a young man named Jesse, falls in with ladies who are wild and tender in turns. They are not above using a shovel to keep you in line or sewing up your busted head in the open air of a Hazard County porch.

Published by storySouth, “A Family of Women” captures an elusive feminine bluntness that I have long admired.

Do these ladies strike you as familiar too?

If so, tell us all about the Appalachian women that you love and/or fear.




I didn’t know how, and I didn’t want to know how, but on the first night Hannah Holiday and I spent alone together, she told me how she hit that boy with a shovel, as casually as if she were talking about last night’s dreams. To hear her tell it, the kid had had it coming for a long, long, long time. He was begging for it, practically on his knees praying for a right-thinking adult to pound some sense into him. No one liked that boy. He swore and spat at women, gave the finger to cars, and pushed little kids around, even ones as young as her daughter Abby had been, and she was just barely out of diapers at the time. Clearly, he took after his jailbird father the car thief even more than his half-mad junkie mother. Besides, the boy was so goddamn filthy that anyone could see the lice treating his upper body like a playground, leaping from his curls to his ear to the collar of that brown and yellow striped shirt he wore every single day of his life like he was some ragamuffin Charlie Brown, and she wouldn’t normally let him around her daughter if he was offering candy and flowers, because she didn’t want her to catch Ebola or some such thing. When that boy shoved her daughter down and stood over her laughing, Hannah Holiday simply did what any normal parent would do and went to scare the kid. If she aimed to hurt him, then this world would be one delinquent lighter, she can guarantee you that, because she would have cocked that shovel back and treated that boy’s head like a tee-ball, and you better believe there’d be lot of homeless lice in Hazard, Kentucky. As it was, she barely tapped the boy, but had to take him to the doctor’s on account of his bleeding. She drove him to the hospital herself, because she didn’t want any real harm to come to the boy. And if it’d really been so bad, why didn’t they charge her with anything? You can’t just go smacking kids who don’t deserve it with a shovel and not get charged for it, now can you? That right there shows a lot of what they say about her was garbage.



  • Brenda Jones-Heslep (Ferguson)

    She’s one of two women in the world that can get away with calling me Brenda Carol…..and I know I better listen when I hear it!

  • Jessie Snyder

    I’m soo going to be her when I get to that point of my life.. you should hear me around the kids my friends have. Appalachian Woman in training right here!!

  • Uncle

    Yeah Brenda, and if you hear your full name you better run or cover your butt with your hands to guard against what’s coming next!
    Way to many stories to tell here. Like walking in a deep snow with Sissy over at Momma’s one night when she scared some poor kid to death by yelling at him (in good fun) to “get out of my Ridgewood”. Or the countless times she’s fussed at our miscreant relatives. Or just putting the fear of God in my daughter from time to time when Dad’s just had it with her! Thanks! Your Momma learned from a strong Appalachian momma herself; and I see several more in training around her now.

  • little brother mike

    ooo lord all the stories i have but thats for another post i do know full name i run away like uncle says or hang the phone bye saying love u mom got to go .I my self have Appalachian Woman in training two and one who is only 13 has it down amasingly my wife who is also a Appalachian woman even though not born here in the Appalachians

  • Diane Hill Zimmerman

    I just stumbled across your webpage and, after reading a couple of nice articles, dove into “Appalachian Women: Living Full Throttle.” I was born and bred in West Virginia (a reader or editor of this site will know that’s WEST Virginia and it’s no where near Roanoke) and lived there until 1998. I would never have left but my children did and took the grandchildren with them. Anyway, I’m reminded of my Grandma Mary Smith. Throughout her life she shouldered responsibilities that would have killed a lesser woman but one story pretty well sums her up.
    During the GREAT Depression (not this piddly little thing we’ve been going through since 2008) my grandparents were forced to come back home to Brown, WV, in Harrison County, from Pittsburgh where no work was available. Grandpa took a job in the coal mine, though he was lucky to get 2-3 days a week. He worked shifts so wasn’t always home at night. Grandma armed herself with a pistol and if anyone came to the door that she couldn’t identify, she’d warn them and then shoot right through the door if they didn’t leave quick enough. She was concerned with all the hobos who passed through, most of whom were harmless but hungry, but she wasn’t taking any chances. When other’s were home with her she fed anyone but woe betide anyone who didn’t identify themselves quickly if it was night and she was alone with the children. She took in boarders, female school teachers from the nearby two-room school, and nearly killed one of them when she was otherwise engaged and didn’t answer after being walked home from a date. She shot through the door but fortunately they were standing far enough apart at that point that they weren’t hurt. My mom and I were both born in that house and inherited enough “full throttle-ness” to take on our own life challenges.

  • Jon P. Painter

    That was somw woman, take care of yourself first, then help others..

  • Jo Hatton

    One of my favorite comments was one my grandmother made about her daughter-in-law, my wonderful mother. She said ” If I had an elephant to skin I’d just hand Maxine the knife”. That was my mama, she didn’t back down from a circle saw !
    .Born in Perry County, Kentucky, her wonderful laugh, smile, and faith made her an Appalachian woman to admire.

  • Gail

    I loved your story about your mama. I moved to town a few years ago. Now that I am grey haired, I, have called out the neighborhood hoodlums. The one who backtalked me, took off his shirt, and puffed out his chest. I almost cracked up, he didn’t even have chest hair. I realized they weren’t used to being called on their behavior. Later they egged my trailer.
    I keep a dog and a gun, just like my great grandma carried in her bread basket for the walk to church in Raleigh County, West Virginia. It was the depression era, times were hard, and people were hungry, hobos were traveling on the trains that snaked thru the communities.

  • Roger Tingler

    That lady sounds alot like deceased wife I saw her make women twice her size back down one day. I am from W. Va. and those women mean what they say.

  • Eunice Vincent

    Regarding “Appalachian Women, Living Full Throttle”, I would like to spin a little yarn (a true one) about a woman I knew. She was a Hatfield prior to her marriage, and with that surname, she carried all that you might expect. She could shoot a chicken hawk out of the sky, wring a chicken’s neck, shoot rats in a dry creek bed, blow the head off a snake, cook food like something Heaven might serve, and be as loving and gentle as any woman could be. She put others before herself and was ever coming to someone’s rescue, whether it was pulling teeth for the neighbor’s children, (using wire pliers to do so), or attending the birth of that same neighbor’s baby, working furiously to get the babe to breathe her first breath by dipping her first in warm water and then in cold water, until the cold water finally caused enough shock to the baby to get her to catch her breath.
    She faced fear every day that her husband went to work in the deep, dark, dampness of a coal mine, never knowing if he would make it back home at the end of his shift. She drove model T’s and was an expert at using the crank to get them started. Later in life, she drove her Chevrolet as a “medical transport”, taking a relative from Logan County, WV, to Salem, VA’s Veteran’s Hospital more than once to get him “dried out”. It was nothing for her to take neighbors to the local doctor, to the Piggly Wiggly, or to pick up their “commodities” when it was distribution day.
    She has gone on to her Heavenly reward, and I suspect ti will be a handsome one, as she hears God say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”
    By the way, that woman was my mother!

  • Kylie Perdue

    She and my dad were the only 2 people that ever do and did call me Kylie Morgan. And let me be the first to say that if I heard that from aunt Sandy I best start listening. It usually didn’t mean it was a good thing. Even though it ment trouble I kinda miss hearing it..I miss her everyday..she just wasn’t my aunt she was my mom. She was a mom to everyone. She was an amazing woman and I know she’s up in heaven looking down on us and making sure we are okay ’cause that’s just in her nature. I miss her so much. I love you Aunt Sandy??

  • Mark Lynn Ferguson

    Such a sweet thing to say, and good timing. Did you know today is my momma’s birthday?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will never be published or shared, and required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).