I had the good fortune of becoming very close with a hillbilly family in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. I know I can use the word, "hillbilly" because it's just who they are and they are proud of it.
Rather than tell that entire story here I wanted to answer this week's legacy question about "What if I could visit a deceased friend or family member".
After meeting these remarkable mountain people I learned a lot about humble living and also about how isolated people view the world outside. Christine, Justin and Tyler (my wife and sons) got to know them quite well too.
It was a bizarre set of circumstances that brought our lives together which resulted in a book called, "The Disappearing Cemetery". If you haven't read it you're missing an an amazing journey spanning 3000 years that brought the Cormier and Duckett families together in the remote mountains of east Tennessee, an incredible view of history.
The Ducketts were one of 3 families to settle in these mountains. Because of the strange way we all met, our entire family was adopted by the Ducketts which was a unique privilege not many people enjoy. We heard some of the most amazing stories about logging the Unicoi mountains and running moonshine. I mean this was the real "McCoy" right from the people who lived it.
Here's Herbert Duckett plowing with his trusty jackass, Jackson
Herbert Duckett was the patriarch and my good friend. It takes a lot for hillbillies to trust anyone from the outside. This is what was so special. We earned it in a most peculiar way. Herbert could tell colorful stories that few people would ever know happened in America. He and his sweet wife, Francis, allowed Christine and Justin to record some of his stories that spanned from his early childhood through his later years.
Herbert had a way of talking that was a bit hard to understand and he certainly had difficulty at times following my speedy words and foreign dialect. Herbert died about a year ago but we managed to capture his voice and personality on tape. It's a bit crude but it's there for his family and future generations to hear. I would venture to say there are very few actual live recordings of real hillbillies, a piece of American history that is nearly gone forever.
I'm going to begin publishing these recordings here for us all to enjoy in the coming weeks. But, here's a little one-minute snipit of Herbert talking about how his Daddy died. If you haven't already, please press the play button on the audio player at the top of this story.
Listen to his dialect closely.
Here's a photo of Herbert and his trusty jack named "Jackson". We trekked for miles and miles together up into the deep back woods.
So, to answer the question, I would definitely love to visit with Herbert again if it were at all possible. He is definitely missed but now he will be remembered.
If you've heard the audio at the top of this page you learned that Herbert's Daddy was killed when a stack of logs slid off the logging truck he was sitting atop and took him into the creek.
Years later, while we were looking for historic photos of the old downtown of Tellico Plains, we were shown some great old photos. I took them to Herbert for his perspective about old downtown back then. When I handed this photo to him he sat back and said in his hillbilly dialect, "Oh Tom, see that truck right there in the front of this picture? That's the truck my Daddy was killed on." I was stunned. Here I was tryng to get him to reminisce about the old town and I brought him what is probably the only photo in existence of the logging truck his Daddy worked and was killed on.
Here is that photo
I will be sending a link to this story to Herbert's extended family who now are well educated and use email and internet technology just like anyone else these days. When they hear his voice, read this story and see the pictures they will have a priceless piece of their family history at their fingertips. Christine and I are honored to give them this gift of legacy. This is what we do!
What a wonderful story, Tom. I can really relate to your sentence, " I know I can use the word, "hillbilly" because it's just who they are and they are proud of it." My older son - the one at Yale - doesn't mind being called a redneck because that's just what he is : ) We homeschooled in the poorest county in Georgia and we lived in the middle of nowhere in that county [no driving after it rained as the roads were dirt and sorry dirt ones at that] and my kids have been the subject of more jokes than you can imagine. Yeap, I can see being proud of being a hillbilly and a redneck -- not too many folks qualify for either of those terms these days.
Thanks Karen. I know there are thousands who suffered the same stigma. I wouldn't have known without having such an experience, which is why I hope this story does some healing for them and some enlightenment for others
That is a tremendously interesting story. I LOVE stories of "hillbillies" and although I can't honestly call myself one now, I can say that ALL of my ancestors were hillbillies. They "hailed" from S. Carolina, Alabama, and Arkansas. Most hillbillies are hard-working, God-fearing, productive citizens.
Just like my adopteed brother in law that recently passed away . He was from East Texas 20 miles from Louisiana . Half Cajun and very pround of it . A very heavy dialect . WhenI first met him he was working for the city as their " DAWG CATCHER" Their is another story about Cajun but that will come later
I miss Herbert. He was always nice to me and my many friends that came up to the "cabin". I could always count on a laugh or two from him! I do wish he was still with us so I could learn some more of the local knowledge that he knew! Thanks for sharing this Dad!
Good old Herbert would come to the back door of the cabin and I'd say hi Herbert, how are you and he'd say huh? The I'd say doin alright and he'd say ya doin alright! It's the way you had to ask things that Herbert would understand that I miss. Etter I was was another one of his terms, just precious and so missed.