20/20, you had me at “Mountains”.

on February 23, 2009 in Ze Bloggy Goodness with 22 comments by

My favorite book of all time is Christy by Catherine Marshall.  If you’ve never read it, let me give you a quick recap- a school teacher in the 1920s moves to rural Appalachia to educate a holler full of children. It is, in a word, magnificent.

I’ve read it, front to back, probably 50 times.  That is not an exaggeration.  That is a dorky fact.

My 8th grade spring break was to Cade’s Cove, TN to see where the television show was filmed. Also a dorky fact.

[Insert embarrassing story here: When I was about 23, I met Catherine Marshall’s grandson, who was dating a friend of mine.  He was maybe 19.  I shook his hand and BURST INTO TEARS. Not surprisingly, we aren’t friends on facebook and I’ve never seen him again.]

That book made me want to be a teacher.  And gave me some deep unexplainable love for the people that have tucked themselves, and their trailers and pickups and dirty clothes, in the nooks and crannies of the Appalachian mountains.

Another such book is The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers.  Oh man… that’s a good one too.  This one revolves around an old tradition of a Sin Eater, brought to the mountains by immigrants from Scotland.

I’ve been on two mission trips to the area.  In fact, one of the trips was so moving to me that I used a story from the trip in the book I just finished writing-

We went to one house where it was a mom with seven children. None of them knew how to read (including the mom). They drank water, and made us lemonade, from a puddle where the dog was standing. The slept on chairs in a house with no doors or windows. They couldn’t go to school because the bus is unable to drive up the hill and the car doesn’t ever have any gas. It was absolutely unbelievable. And what did we do? Not much- played with the kids, cleared some trash out of her yard, and repaired her porch. But the sight of that woman crying as we left, thanking us so much for even coming over to see her, forever changed me. And it’s not like this happened in India or Africa or somewhere desolate and foreign. This happened here. In our country.

The chapter itself encourages folks to use their feet to go to places where there is great need.  Sometimes that is over the ocean, sometimes that is over the Great Smoky Mountains.

So a couple of weeks ago when 20/20 did a feature called “Children of the Mountains“, you have no idea how many people emailed or called me- friends, knowing my heart for this region, making sure I saw the show. And I hadn’t.  But oh modern day technology, with you and your TV on the internet, I finally was able to see the show this weekend thanks to abc.com.

Did anyone else see it?  How can I even begin to describe what the story did to me?  To my heart?  It made me want to pack up and drive there.  I don’t know where- to the first trailer park I see once I’ve driven into the mountains.  To the first mission organization that is passing out clothing and food and hope to these neighbors.  NEIGHBORS.  People who, if they are able to get a driver’s license, have the same one that I do.  Same state.  Same radio stations.  Very VERY different lives.

[Hello my name is Annie. I am spoiled rotten and complain when I can’t afford sushi. Don’t be like me.]

I don’t know what to do about what I feel. Moving to the rural backwoods of Tennessee doesn’t really seem to be the plan that God has for me today.  So I’m not really writing this to say anything profound or make any announcement about some ministry I’m joining. I’m just sad that such poverty lives mere hours from me and I do nothing about it.  That a people group that I am truly passionate about is closer to my home than ever before and I had forgotten they existed.

Step 1 is admitting it, right?  Step 2 is doing something about it.  So maybe I will.


  1. posted on Feb 23, 2009 at 3:35 PM  |  reply

    Annie, I totally hear your heart. But I had to tell you…that I empathize with you bursting into tears when meeting Catherine Marshal’s grandson. Long story short, when I met Shannon Lowe at Blissdom…ummm…I sorta kinda did the EXACT SAME THING.

    SO embarassing!

  2. posted on Feb 23, 2009 at 3:50 PM  |  reply

    Oh, that story with Catherine Marshall’s grandson is priceless. I read Christy many times growing up, but I think I loved her book Julie more. Have you read that one? I have such fond memories of both of those books. I love how certain books can stay with you and leave footprints on your heart.

  3. posted on Feb 23, 2009 at 3:56 PM  |  reply

    I blogged about this 2 weeks ago! Like you, I’ve been so interested in this subculture since I was a little girl. Imagine my delight when I saw the Spring academic calendar with an Appalachian Studies class on the list! I live in Kentucky and had no idea that “Appalachia” was so close. The counties surrounding mine are considered distressed Appalachia counties. I was clueless.

    Distressed counties have;
    -unemployment rates at least 1.5 times the national average
    -poverty rates at least twice the national average

    Every class period I leave astounded! Before this class, I didn’t even know how to pronounce Appalachia properly. Thankfully, the professor of the course grew up in Appalachia and she says it’s pronounced “apple-at-cha.”

    When I moved to central KY 2 years ago, I had a hard time transitioning. I blamed my culture shock on having just moved to the middle of nowhere from a big city. This class has opened my eyes to a subculture that is literally next door.

    Let me know what and when you decide Step 2 is. I’ll be praying about the same and maybe we can meet in the middle somewhere between TN and KY!

  4. posted on Feb 23, 2009 at 4:01 PM  |  reply

    I don’t think I read “Christy” 50 times. But I did read it a lot.

    Did you ever read Catherine Marshall’s “Julie?” That topped Christy for me. (Maybe because the heroine wanted to be a reporter.)

  5. posted on Feb 23, 2009 at 4:13 PM  |  reply

    Diane Sawyer did a tremendous job reporting this story. Education of the parents would help some.

  6. ali
    posted on Feb 23, 2009 at 4:32 PM  |  reply

    My husband grew up in SE Ohio, hovering the western portion of Appalachia.
    I’m always blown away by the rampant poverty in and around his hometown.
    I grew up where folks competed in ‘best lawn’ competitions. He grew up where people used their lawns as a dumping ground. Literally, trailer upon trailer is littered with old appliances, cars, and simply trash.
    Occasionally I come by a trailer that is dressed with tons of lawn art, and I have to smile. It is evident that even some of the apparently poorest individuals still have a sense of pride in their home. I find that inspiring.
    My heart does break for many of these children who desperately lack the things I grew up taking for granted – yearly trips to the dentist, working heat, a house built on a foundation, and so much more.

  7. posted on Feb 23, 2009 at 4:34 PM  |  reply

    I loved the TV show “Christy”. I can remember pretending to be a school teacher in my long skirt and shirt with the collar up to my ears from the dress up box my grandmother handed down to me. Kellie Martin will always be Christy to me even when she plays characters on ER and Law & Order.

  8. Southern Gal
    posted on Feb 23, 2009 at 5:26 PM  |  reply

    Oh, Annie. You and I are alike in many ways. When I read this I kept saying to myself, “Me, too.” I’ve read Christy about as many times as you, but I read it aloud about three of those times to my children (with some slight editing when they were younger).

    Also, what year were you in 8th grade??? Our family vacationed in Townsend and took the trip to the location of Christy in 1995 I think. They stopped the tours right after that and I was so sad.

    And The Last Sin-Eater. My.oh.my. What is it about the mountain people that cries out to my soul?

    My husband and I supported our daughter when she went to Botswana and Panama, but my husband always says there are those in our own backyard that need us just as badly as those around the globe.
    With the economy today the opportunity to be a servant to them has never been so great. You’ll get your chance again.

  9. posted on Feb 23, 2009 at 7:35 PM  |  reply

    Annie, this post was wonderful. Sophie told me in an email that, “Annie is the real deal.” Yes ma’am. Those were her exact words. And she is right.

    Beautifully written, as usual.

  10. posted on Feb 23, 2009 at 9:25 PM  |  reply

    I am only 2 generations removed from eastern Kentucky. Only 2 generations removed from outdoor plumbing. I have relatives that still live in Pikeville, and hear stories of the way they still love. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t been back since I was a kid. I, too, watched 20/20 with awe and frustration and a need to do something – anything – to help an area less than 2 hours from my nice, cozy home in central Kentucky.

    I don’t know my next step is yet either. But I haven’t recovered from it yet.

    Thanks for writing about this subject. You warmed my heart.

    Oh, and I worked with low-income families in central Kentucky for a few years. I always told my husband about the correlation between the level of poverty and the amount of Mt Dew in the house. He thought I was kidding until Diane Sawyer said it. Maybe I should have done some real research…

  11. ginger
    posted on Feb 24, 2009 at 1:46 AM  |  reply

    I, too, have read Christy many times. (I guess that makes me pretty dorky, too. But I’m ok with that.) I have lived in the Appalachians, but not in poverty. I often feel overwhelmed by my needs in this life & then God calls to mind the people I have seen not only in Appalachia, but in Guatemala, New Mexico & Mississippi. People who live in abject, mind-blowing poverty. And I have to say, “Thank you, God, for taking care of me & my family.” I want to take my kids to minister to those in need in this area so that they can see that others don’t have as much as we do. (Check this out: The Sandwich Mission )
    Thank you, Annie, for another reminder.

  12. christine
    posted on Feb 24, 2009 at 7:08 AM  |  reply

    Annie, I agree with your post and many of the comments. As a 2nd step fyi, on Good Morning America a few days later they did a follow up. The little girl who wanted the boots got them–someone who saw the show sent them. The high school football player got three offers of full ride scholarships from different colleges, and there was one more, that I can’t think of this early. We can make a difference and some have. Bless you.

  13. Debs
    posted on Feb 24, 2009 at 8:38 AM  |  reply

    First thought, “there’s going to be an awakening”…second thought I have NEVER understood why there has not been a more concentrated mission effort here in our own country! Maybe that is part of the “Change” that America needs!Awesome post Annie….get ready for something to break in this area!

  14. posted on Feb 24, 2009 at 10:35 AM  |  reply

    our university sent mission trips to that area. my roomate went. i should have.

  15. posted on Feb 24, 2009 at 10:53 AM  |  reply

    Thanks for letting me know about this. I’m not familiar with the mountain people, but I’m going to watch the show online this week.

    My heart can always use a good stirring up!

    God bless.

  16. posted on Feb 24, 2009 at 11:08 AM  |  reply

    Two things come to mind with this post.

    First — I was an RA for two summers for KY’s Governor’s Scholars Program. The second summer, I had a young man on my hall who was from outside Pikeville (pronounced “Pikevull”). He had the hardest time settling in and enjoying the program because all he could think about was that he was not going to be at home to help his dad with the tobacco harvesting that provided the greatest portion of his family’s annual income. He felt he was letting them down. I encouraged him that his family wanted him at GSP because they understood how incredible an opportunity it was.

    Second — a classmate of mine from Asbury is a doctor. He could have practiced anywhere he wanted, but he married a girl from Manchester and decided to join a general practice outside Corbin to serve the rural population. (Asburians change the world!)

  17. posted on Feb 24, 2009 at 11:24 AM  |  reply

    So good, Annie. We are probably taking the middle schoolers on a mission trip to this area this summer. It has been on my heart for a long time! I did watch the special, too…the church where they went, the offering that was posted…it just overwhelmed me knowing what comes in at St. James every week. $1.80 versus what is given in any other part of the country…it is unbelievable.
    Thanks for this blog! You are amazing! :o)

  18. posted on Feb 24, 2009 at 12:18 PM  |  reply

    it is sad that people in this day and age live n such horrible conditions. it’s all around us, though. we need to pray for these people!!

  19. Dee
    posted on Feb 26, 2009 at 11:26 PM  |  reply

    Your post inspired me to write my own post about this area and the mark it left on my life having been born there. I appreciate your tender heart for the people of the mountains.

  20. HP
    posted on Mar 01, 2009 at 11:24 PM  |  reply

    I sat glued to the TV watching that 20/20 special (because that’s what cool single girls do on Friday nights) and it absolutely broke my heart. And reminded me (again) of how blessed beyond measure and selfish with those blessings I am. I haven’t been able to get those people in that region off my mind since…and even though it’s uncomfortable at times when I’m in Target perusing the Dollar Spot just because I can, I’m glad it’s uncomfortable. Thanks for sharing this!

  21. posted on Mar 04, 2009 at 9:05 AM  |  reply

    Annie, I just stumbled across your blog thanks to the suggestion of Google reader. Your opening cracked me up because while I have never read this book, my family owns land down the road from where the story actually happened that inspired Catherine Marshall and sometimes my dad goes to the luncheon they have every year in “Christy Holler”. No joke. But also having land in that area I see some of what ABC displayed. And it is heartbreaking. And I’m thankful it reminds all of us how good we truly have it even when the economy wants us to think we don’t. And it reminds of the fact that we don’t have to look any further than our backyard to see where we can serve Him.

  22. Debbie Ruff
    posted on Dec 10, 2009 at 12:19 AM  |  reply

    I am late in finding this but just in case anyone is interested, there is an annual Christy Festival in Townsend around June now I think. Many of the actors who were in the series and the movie of Christy still attend. I understand that Catherine Marshall’s son, Peter attended last year in honor of the 100th anniversary of his grandmother’s, Leonora, arrival at the mission. You might want to check it out?

    How refreshing it has been to read all of the comments here! God bless!

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