A series of excerpts from my memoir, In the Shadow of the Valley, as I share some of my favorite snippets.
From the Prologue, and shared with permission:
Life was different in our holler, I came to learn. And we were definitely living in a holler, not a hollow like you might read about in the dictionary or see on a fancy map. Merriam-Webster’s will tell you it’s a small valley or basin. The dictionary can also tell you it’s a depressed or low part of a surface; an unfilled space. But what it can’t tell you is what that means, where the depression becomes visible in the land, what is inhabiting all that unfilled space.
Only people who were raised in hollers can do that.
A holler is a place where you very likely grew up in spitting distance of a relative, or at least close enough to see their house when the leaves had fallen for the year. It’s a place where the sun takes a little longer to show itself in the morning and falls to sleep behind the hills a little sooner. Someone’s always discovering the treasures buried in hollers — lumber, mineral rights, gas rights — and when they’re not ravaging the forests we explored as children, unsupervised and unafraid, or muddling the clear streams where we splashed and found fossils and learned to pick up crawdads without getting pinched, when they’re not ravaging our minds with OxyContin and cheap heroin and low-paying jobs and Mountain Dew and broken schools, it is us doing the ravaging: pulling our guns out or throwing fists, taking a beating in front of the kids, or searching desperately through Dad’s dresser while he’s gone, knowing there’s something in there that will get us high.
But the holler is more than that, too. The holler is quintessential Appalachia — the perfect symbol for this complex physical and cultural landscape. Here, the word is everything — it is saturated and dripping with history and sorrow and, still, beauty — a living paradox of place wrapping its arms around you in verdant honeysuckle vines that hold you close, that never let go.
Before my dad’s friend burned our house down, I could have taken you to the holler where I grew up. We could have stood on our old front porch to witness the Appalachian Eden sprawled around us, a patchwork of color and beauty and memory. If we looked to the left…