Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Generational compassion still lives, in Georgia mountains

There is a terrific story today, coming from the northern Georgia mountains. It seems that there is a long-standing literary project which collects stories, old wives tales and knowledge from the old-timers there, called "Firefox". Through Firefox, teen aged students interview elderly Appalachian residents, and these stories of everyday life then, of yesteryear, are published in a Foxfire magazine.

Great idea~!!

But during an interview with one elderly mountain man, these young journalists found themselves wanting to become a part of his story--
below is their very heartwarming, loving story.
This will certainly restore your faith in this ole world, what these teens are doing.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 05/01/07

TIGER, Ga. — This wonderfully weird mountain story — one of the more curious that folks here have heard in ages — began as a run-of-the-mill mountain story.

Two teenagers from Rabun County High School in the state's northeast corner sat down a few months ago with 73-year-old Sammy Green to record his life story for Foxfire magazine, a nationally renowned student publication begun here four decades ago to chronicle and preserve Appalachian culture. After two hours of unspooling his life — a hardscrabble, bittersweet tale — Green waited for the students to turn off their tape recorder.

Something was eating at him. He had no family — no wife, no kids, and parents and siblings all dead — and no money, living the last eight years with a family who provided food and a roof over his head. So there was no money and no kin to bury him. He'd likely be cremated, he said, and like a lot of churchgoing mountain folk, he believed that would doom him to an eternity in hell. A pine box and a dirt plot were all that could redeem him.

The two teens were so taken by Green's story that they decided to find money to bury Green, who at the time seemed in decent health. "They had such passion," said Joyce Green (no relation), the students' Foxfire facilitator. "I was surprised. Usually we do a story and it's just a story."

The campaign to bury Green — who a week after the interview collapsed with pneumonia and now is under hospice care — is the talk of these mountains and beyond, touching even people in Atlanta who own mountain getaways.

Ninth-graders in a Rabun High shop class are building Green a pine casket, getting plans and measurements off the Internet. An Elberton granite company donated a headstone. A country church gave a cemetery plot. A funeral home director offered a cut-rate service. People have dropped loose change and penny rolls in gallon jugs labeled "Benefit to Bury Sammy" at area banks, gas stations and Donna's Beauty Shop in nearby Mountain City.

A bluegrass barbecue fund-raiser is planned next month at the Wal-Mart parking lot in Clayton. The students need $3,100 to bury Green — that's with embalming; it's $2,800 without — and they're now only $500 short.

"People do benefits when somebody's sick and need help with medical bills. This is different, but not much different. They're worried about their bills and Sammy's worried about his. It's just a different bill we're helping pay."
She then added in local parlance: "Until you hear the story, you're bumfuzzled."

Things are different up here.
Foxfire thrives here. It was started in 1966 by Eliot Wigginton, a young teacher trying to connect with mountain kids whose grandparents logged with oxen, whittled chandeliers out of ax handles and wagon wheels. The kids were sent out to explore the region's crafts, lore and fast-fading characters. They returned with ear-ache remedies (apply warm urine), moonshine stories and handed-down mountain wisdom ("If you kill a toad, your cow will go dry").

It was all collected in a magazine named Foxfire. Joyce Green, who also teaches business at Rabun High, said the program remains relevant in a place where "hillbilly is not an ugly word." An Appalachian Word Wall in her classroom lists local colloquialisms in danger of disappearing: "paper poke" (sack), "bobwar" (barbwire), "haint" (ghost). "I still say 'fried okree' and 'salat,' " said Green, 55, the first in her family to graduate from college. "I always tell students, 'Don't get above your raisin'.'

Sammy Green was born May 12, 1933, in nearby Murphy, N.C., one of six children. His father ground corn at a watermill and Green was pulled from school in the second grade. He hunted squirrels for food, shooting 27 in one day. He was baptized as a teenager in 35-degree weather.

He never learned to read or write.

He worked three years at a steel mill in Marietta, then returned to North Carolina and cut pulp wood for most of his life. He paid for his parents' burials, walking 16 miles for a headstone. Eight years ago a family of Southern gospel singers met him at a country church and took him in.
"We didn't want to see him go into a nursing home," said Sherri Gragg, 35, with whom Green lives in Clarkesville, south of Clayton. "He's just a special person. He's so loving and high-spirited." Those high spirits endeared Green to the students who interviewed him — as did his tales of hiding money in a "'baccer can" (tobacco can) and his down-home description of his father eating squirrel ("He could just run that hind leg through his mouth...").

"Everybody picks out the same qualities about him," Best said. "His humor, and the way he's able to smile even though he had a hard life."

The ninth-grade boys began building his casket — the old-style, wide-shouldered type seen in movie westerns — and were a little freaked out when presented with the project. Now they hardly notice the coffin sitting on a table in the middle of the class.

"You don't ever see this. It's awesome," said Chris Ellenburg, 15, a sophomore admiring the work. "It has to make him [Green] feel better. It'd make me feel better. I'd like to know people care."

Mr. Green spends most days in bed now, hooked up to an oxygen tank, Gragg said. He suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a deteriorating lung ailment that hampers breathing. Nurses from Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center visit several times a week. "Who knows when his day is? At least everything is in order. He's content with it [death]. Doesn't bother him at all."

That contentment has spread through these mountains. The effort to bury a poor, uneducated man who few know and none are kin to is a reminder for many of what living here is supposed to be about.

"It's like old times, when you pitched in and helped out," said Gail Ramey, a school security guard and Rabun County native. Her husband, who works construction, recently built a coffin, lined with a quilt, as a favor to a family they know. "You can't go wrong by doin' good to people. These students are learning to do good without expecting any reward from it.
"It's called compassion," she added. "There's not a lot of it in the world these days."

Foxfire magazine

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