Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | October 20, 2015

Big Stone Gap

Big Stone Gap is better than the movie.

Big Stone Gap is better than the movie.

Went to see Big Stone Gap today to connect to Appalachia.  My late wife, Nellie, was from Beckley, West Virginia.  Born in Naoma on Coal River.  The movie was about 1978.   We’d been married 3 years by then.  Loved the scenery.  Love those mountains.  Love the people from those mountains.  The movie was something less.

The writer and director is a native of Big Stone Gap.  Her Italian family came down from Pennsylvania to Virginia.  Probably like the Italian families my wife grew up with in Beckley.

The story may have been taken from fact, but played a little too much to what could be mocked by an outsider.  I think.  And, I’m an outsider.   My family is Southern to the eyeballs.  We are rednecks, not hillbilly.  Nellie bristled whenever I said that.  She didn’t like such characterization at all.  She let me know in no uncertain terms.

I was proud of her being from West Virginia.  She had much better taste in all things artistic, culinary, and fashion than I did.  She acted more refined than me.  Yet, she was all mountain woman – courageous – when needed, passionate, loving, forthright, laughing and fierce, hard as nails – when needed.  Kind, giving, devoted to family and friends adopted as family – and devoutly Evangelical Christian.

That Christian root, strong Baptists, that runs deep into the hills didn’t come out in the movie.  The drinking that’s there did.

The movie got the speech patterns and the way words are put together very well.  Like, “duh-dn’t” which is Southern, going beyond the hills, means “doesn’t”.  But, the accents, while not bad, could have been better.  They weren’t quite authentic.  The best I’ve ever heard on film was Laura Dern in ‘October Sky’.  A real southern Appalachian accent is rich and natural.  It isn’t as twangy as Texas or as luxuriant as the Deep South.  It’s in almost every syllable of every word – when it’s the real thing.  The movie made a nice try.

The cameo by Jerry or Terry Kilgore was a hoot – when Delegate “Kilgore” was visiting the local bigwig.

They mentioned Melungeons a lot.  That was fun.  I’ve known about them since I was a young man.  Probably heard about them from my Mother.  I don’t recall.  Thought more were in Tennessee and Kentucky than Wise and Lee Counties, Virginia.  Learn something every day – when I looked it up again.  Melungeons are part-black, white and Indian.  Some claim to be descendants of Portugese sailors who were shipwrecked and traded by Indian tribes inland to the Appalachia.

My wife wasn’t Melungeon.  She was English, German, a whole lot of Scot-Irish and a little Indian.  You could see the Celtic in her always and the Indian in the Summer.  She was a proud West Virginian.  Even though her ancestors fought for the Union (making my kids the children of a ‘mixed’ marriage), she called the West Virginians from Wheeling and those parts, “Yankees.”

The movie meandered, still, I loved seeing the mountains.  Liked knowing the movie was about folks a few counties south of where Nellie was born and raised.  Loved it being in our time together.

Bruce Hornsby sang about an "Appalachian girl".  Three generations of women proud to be from those hills.

Bruce Hornsby sang about an “Appalachian girl”. Three generations of women proud to be from those hills.



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