I’m from coal country. To say that our economy has taken a hit over the past few years would be the understatement of the century. Coal has, excuse the pun, fueled our area for decades.
But, as I’m sure most know, the coal industry is dying. I won’t get into the politics of why in this post, but it’s dying.
So what are we to do? When you’re out and about, talking to people you run into in the grocery store, or even on social media, the main complaint is that “they need to do something to get more jobs back here.” I have so many questions about this comment. I know that the person who is saying it (and haven’t we all said it?) means well. I know that they are just as frustrated and as fed up with our little part of the country being overlooked, time and time again. We’re one of the poorest areas in the NATION. Not just the state, but the NATION. Yet, I still can’t get behind the statement.
Who is “they”? What, exactly, do they need to do? How are “they” going to wave their wand and magically get more jobs to appear?
Again, this all goes back to politics. And you know what? I’m not a fan of politics. It’s divisive. It’s a lot of name-calling, blame-gaming, ugly wars that are fought in ivory towers far away from the real world. So, again, I’m not going to delve into the political spectrum of this whole issue.
I’m going to delve into the heart issue.
We are, for the most part, a people that have been here for a while. A long while. My mom (the genealogist of the family, don’t ask me to name names), can trace our family back to the 1790’s (and maybe even later, like I said, don’t ask me) settling in the area. So, for our family to have been here this entire time, we’ve had to have perseverance. We’ve had to have spunk. We’ve had to have pure eastern Kentucky bullheadedness. And that’s exactly what we need to continue to have.
We need to make our way. WE need to pave the path for future generations to make our area relevant again. Coal isn’t going to do that for us anymore. So we need to step up and do it for ourselves.
I can hear you now, scratching your heads, or even getting a little testy with what I’m saying, but stick with me.
I realize that I come with a unique view, and a unique opportunity. I am a 3rd generation quilter. I was raised in the quilt shop that my mother and my grandmother opened on our family farm. I, in turn, am raising my four daughters in that same quilt shop. I have a successful local and internet business. Again, I know I’m lucky in that I already had a venue…. but I think, if we work hard at it, a lot of other people would have venue’s, too.
We have so much talent in these hills. So many true arts. The arts and craft industry is dying across the country. The booming craft festivals I went to as a child with my family are slowly turning into more commercial festivals, or going away completely. No one is passing on their craft to their children anymore. Or, if they are, their children aren’t doing anything with it. This needs to change!
If your grandmother quilts, take a weekend or two and go learn from her.
If your mother knits, take a weekend and go learn from her.
If your Dad makes the best bookshelves around, let him teach you how. If your great Aunt Ida cans all her homegrown vegetables, let her teach you about gardening and canning.
We are a people that have roots that run deep in this area. We have a history of gardening, woodworking, broommaking, candle dipping, sewing, quilting, knitting, crocheting, weaving, canning, and so much more. We are losing our history. We are losing our ties to the area, and we’re moving away in droves. We’re uprooting ourselves, instead of burrowing the roots in deeper.
I don’t have all the answers. I just know that I would love to see more gardening classes, cooking classes, basic sewing classes offered to our teens. We push college, and we’re totally neglecting the every day skills that are solely lacking.
At our quilt shop, we don’t do any clothing alterations. We keep pretty busy doing our own thing, but I have told many a person that if someone would learn how to do alterations, they could make a killing in our small little town. How many other of those skill gaps are there? How many other things from our heritage would be in high demand?
If you aren’t from eastern Kentucky, you can still help. Search us out. Find us on Etsy. Find us on Facebook. Give us your business. If you are from EKY, SHOP LOCAL. I had a customer today who stated several times that she was unaware that anyone was making T-Shirt quilts in the area, until someone pointed her my way. Lack of advertising on my part? Maybe. But I’m so thankful she chose a local shop to spend her money at. It saves us both time and hassle.
Know where you come from. Embrace where you come from. Learn everything you can about where you come from. I think if we, as a whole, strive to do that… we’ll come out okay. But if we continue turning our backs on our heritage, on our ancestors hopes and dreams, I’m not so sure. I hope, for my girls sakes, that we can revitalize eastern Kentucky.