Monday, March 8, 2010

Kathy Skaggs

Appalachian Country

Kathy Skaggs

prose n poems

The House in Maple Holler

When I was six months old, my parents and I moved into a three-room wood frame house built onto a two-story log house in the Maple community of Taylor County, Kentucky, about half a mile from where I live now. I loved that old house and the woods around it. One of my earliest memories is as a very small child, two or three, being out in the woods, listening to my mother call me, feeling irritated that she always wanted to know where I was. I knew where I was. I had things to do.

The log part of the house once belonged to King Solomon Skaggs, the son of Solomon Skaggs, one of the founders of Zion Separate Baptist Church. Solomon Skaggs probably built the log house, but no one knows for sure. He lived there in 1850 and ran a mill in the creek that runs in front of the house. The old deeds sometimes refer to this creek as Mill Creek and sometimes as Phelps Fork of Little Pitman Creek. Pitman Creek runs into the Green River and then on to the Mississippi.

There were two giant maple trees in the front yard which may be how Maple got its name. I always thought Solomon Skaggs probably planted those trees, or left them there when the rest of the trees were cut to clear a space for the log house. We weren’t related to Solomon or King Skaggs, except maybe distantly. King Skaggs died in 1935 and sometime after that my father’s great-uncle, Waller Shofner, ended up with the property. My parents rented the house from him for $10 a month.

The house wasn’t much but I was too young to know that. We had a wood stove in the living room with the stovepipe in the flue on the end of the house. We had a cheap colonial living room suite with brown cloth-covered cushions: a sofa, a rocking chair, an armchair, a coffee table, and two end tables. The bedroom was the next room in the line. Mama and Daddy had a three-quarter bed by the window. I had a crib across the room and later a twin bed.

The kitchen had a kerosene heater, a kitchen table and chairs, a water stand, an old Victrola, and an electric stove and refrigerator. On the water stand was a bucket of drinking water with a metal dipper. Mama washed dishes in a round dish pan and used her roasting pan for rinsing. She put the pans on the table when she did dishes and heated the water on the stove in a big teakettle. We didn’t have wall cabinets, but we did have a Hoosier cabinet, one of those freestanding cabinets with a counter on it and a sifter for the flour. According to the Amish Peddler:

In the early 1900's a Hoosier Cabinet could be found in a large percentage of homes in the United States…. "Hoosier" was the name given to a particular style of kitchen work unit, popular in the early 1900's which included an oak cabinet and many special features such as pull-out porcelain work areas, flour bins, sugar bins, tin bread drawers, and spice jars. It was an essential part of the woman’s efficient kitchen. The name "Hoosier" was derived because the Hoosier Cabinet was originally and almost exclusively made in the Hoosier state of Indiana.

Mama also had a wringer washing machine in the kitchen. Daddy would haul water for her from the creek and fill it up. She had a little submersible heater she would put in it to heat the water. She washed the light stuff first and then moved on up to the heavy clothes. She hung the clean clothes out on the clothesline. I loved waking up to the smell of chlorine bleach in the morning.

There was a front porch that ran the entire length of the house. We had an old metal settee on it. The porch was built up off the ground. Once when the creek got up, the water came right up to the edge of the porch before it started receding. The creek rushed by brown with dirt and full of trees and logs and other things that had been washed away. We never worried about the creek getting up in the house. It never had. We weren’t allowed to wade in the creek until June 1 and then at first we could only go as far as “Eugene’s Field,” about half a mile from the house. Mama says the old log house used to be bigger. There was a door going from the wood frame house to the log house, but we mostly didn’t use it. Mama used to hide our Christmas presents in the log house, and in the summertime we would play in there. It was too cold to play in there in the winter.

Outside, directly behind the kitchen, but all the way at the back of the yard, was our toilet. Just one seat. Your typical country toilet. We used toilet paper, not torn-up newspapers like you read about in books. At the end of the log house were the remains of an old smoke house. On the other end of the back yard, toward the road, was the hen house. We had chickens when I was very young. I loved those chickens, loved Mama feeding them. I still feel nostalgic for chickens and think maybe someday I’ll fix the hen house behind my house and have some chickens. Over the hen house grew a huge trumpet vine with orange flowers.

Beside the house, past the smokehouse ruins, was the garden. As my mother says, it was a very good garden, except cucumbers would not grow there. Along the road side of the garden grew what people now call day lilies, those orange flowers that bloom during the day and close up at night. We called them flags. We also called blue irises flags. And at the back of the garden was an old truck, also in ruins. But when I was very young that old truck would still start. It had a button starter which meant that I could get the engine going myself. My grandfather Beams and I would go out and sit in the truck together and he would let me start it.

The house was located on what is now called Mill Creek Road on the maps. Mill Creek Road used to go all the way through from what is now Maple Road to what is now Gravel Point Road. Two old log bridges have rotted through so you can’t drive through there anymore and it’s a difficult walk. You have to climb down into the gulley made by the creek to cross, making your way along barbed wire.

This is the house I lived in from age six months to age nine, the house I always loved, the house I lived in from the time I became conscious of myself until I lost myself when I started to school. This is where I remember when I remember being in Maple.

My earliest dreams were of this place. The first dream I remember having, when I was two or three, was of
the woods on the hill directly behind our house. I went up into the woods alone and found a little house. A witch was stirring her cauldron over a fire beside the house. When she saw me, she started chasing me all the way back to our house. I ran to the living room back door that was always kept latched but somehow then it wasn’t. I managed to shut the door just as the witch got there and latched it back. She kept scratching and banging on the door until I woke up.

The only other early dream I remember was of “the Germans” landing in the cemetery near our house. In my early imagination, “the Germans” were little green men in a flying saucer, a combination of the 1940s World War II movies and the science fiction movies of the 1950s that we saw at the drive-in or I heard on TV after I went to bed.

I still dream of that old house. Sometimes in my dreams I return to the old house and go into the upstairs of the log part. Instead of being empty and abandoned, it is filled with all kinds of interesting things, trunks and boxes, old toys, the kinds of things a child in a book might find in the attic of a house, potential treasures that somehow got left behind, forgotten. I always feel a sense of expectation, of hope at what I might find hidden there. I always feel sad when I awaken, and that house is gone, and there are no treasures waiting to be discovered.


Irreparable Harm

Sometimes you don't know it's been done until later
although sometimes later you can look back
and see the exact moment it was done.
Sometimes it's only a word "no”
or "yes"
a phrase: "go on then"
abrupt as the sound of a shutting door.
Sometimes the words themselves are interminable
the silence after
an oasis of peace.
Sometimes you both try to pretend
nothing important really happened
and you go on for weeks (usually seven)
pretending but inside you know.
Sometimes though you know the exact moment
the words are spoken
that already it is too late
while his dreams crash down around you
and slivers of hope pierce your bare feet
as you walk behind him to lock the door.

You can try the things you've tried before
make lists of all the reasons why it was really his fault
ways in which you're both better off
good things you've done for him
you can call someone you haven't hurt
recently and ask for comfort and get none
no matter how much is offered
you can change your mind
but not your ways
flowers candy apologies
only temporarily
balance the shifts of power
and making amends
only works in twelve-step groups
only a miracle can change things now
but you've forfeited your right to ask for another one
and ultimately
the only thing you can do
if you care about honor at all
is to live with it.

Luxuries We Can’t Afford

It’s like getting a divorce
    and your ex-husband is rich
    and respectable and not too ugly
    and now you’re broke
    free and broke, but mostly broke

And all your friends and even your son
    say you’re just going to have to go back
    and you know they think you’re crazy
    honest and crazy but mostly crazy
    not to mention broke

And I’d-rather-kill-myself
    not to mention what-about-love?
    convinces them of nothing except
    you’re probably not safe
    on your own anyway

Which just goes to show
    you should go back, that’s all they’re saying
    they’re just trying to be helpful.

All you have to do
    is close your eyes
    and think of the health insurance.

Riding in Cars

I'm all about men, I say, I like
how hard they are. No one married.
Been there, done that, too many times.
No one younger than my sons.
No. Not ever.

    Then you arrive at my door, I let you in,
    past groceries waiting on the table, cornbread
    molding in the pan, dirty dishes in the sink,
    clothes scattered on the living room floor,
    past emails, conference calls,
    reason, reasons, rules, and fear.

I open the door. I let you in.
As simple as that.


I grew up in the Maple community of Taylor County in central Kentucky, the daughter of a sewing factory worker and an alcoholic truck driver, carpenter, and mechanic. After I graduated from high school I went away to Western Kentucky University, already pregnant by my high school boyfriend. We married during my first semester in college, but I managed to stay in school. I had another child and graduated college a semester early, winning a full scholarship to New York University Law School. After law school I moved back south with my family, eventually divorcing my husband. I’ve had many occupations: lawyer, director of a maternal and infant health outreach program in Appalachia and the lower Mississippi Delta, grant-writer, newspaper reporter, and writing teacher to name a few.

In 1995 my father, who quit drinking when I was 17, died at age 63, making me realize that life is too short not to do what we want to do. So I finally started writing, something I’d wanted to do all my life. Since then, my work has been included in two anthologies in the Kentucky Feminist Writers Series and in a variety of print and online journals such as Number One, Gertrude, Appalachian Women’s Journal, The Time Garden, Slur, Penny Dreadful Review, and The Journal of Sacred Feminine Wisdom. I’ve published two chapbooks, The Poet Laureate of People Who Hate Poetry from Time Barn Books, 2007, and The Place I Come From, Alliance Press, 1998. I have another chapbook due out in 2010 from Propaganda Press. I was Artist-in-Residence at Hopscotch House in Prospect, Kentucky in 2006, 2007, and 2008. I moved back to Maple in 1998, where I live now with my dog Brownie, next door to my mother. I make a living from my grant-writing, journalism, and even, occasionally, my poetry.

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The Poet Laureate of People Who Hate Poetry, Time Barn Books, 2007.
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tipper said...

I enjoyed greatly the pieces by Kathy Skaggs-also the ones below by David S. Pointer.

Old Fitzroy - - Dreaming blues, karlos? said...

an email I got from Catfish McDaris - - -
Hey Karl, I liked the Skaggs lady's work. She's an ok poet too. An interesting story. I liked the old green Chevy(maybe Ford)pic, I think a 52 or 53. my mom had one. It had a big knob on this big steering wheel, that she had to work around & around (power steering in those days) & she'd pat the dashboard & say good Old Whitey.
later amigo,Catfish

Anonymous said...

David S. Pointer's work is straight from the heart. He does not waste any words, going right for the meat & marrow. I predict a big future for this former Marine. Watch out. Catfish

Anonymous said...

SO proud of Kathy and all she's accomplished in her life. Proud to have her as family - Tammi Miller