Finding my direction and charting a new journey in Appalachia

CaptureThis past weekend, I participated in the fourth “Tales of the Cumberlands” event held at Breaks Interstate Park in Dickenson County, VA and on the Kentucky border.

I was asked last year to participate but had to pull out due to other obligations but this year, the event organizer, Stevie Conley asked me to try again and present a informational session on my direct line, great-great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Mullins or better known as “Brandy Jack”, a famed counterfeiter from the late 19th Century from Appalachia.

Reluctant was the operative word as I got prepared and then began to see the lineup for the event.  Featured speakers like Oakley Dean and James Baldwin, an author and historian respectively as well as descendants of the founders of the Baldwin-Felts Detective agency, Richard Crowe, author and historian, Jack Wright, musician, storyteller and historian and Luke Bauserman, writer and creator of “The Weekly Holler”, and several more noted historians and speakers.

Then there was me, sharing about Andrew Jackson Mullins, who could be considered a small part of Appalachian history to a group of people, many of them historians, some experts in their field and there I am; a small fish in a big ocean full of big fish and experts at what they know.

The experience allowed me to meet new people and also demonstrated to me that some people truly do follow my work and are interested. I was surprised and blessed to see Summer Mullins-Runyon, a woman from Dickenson County who truly cares about Appalachia. She took time out of her morning, despite her health and came to the Breaks to hear my presentation bright and early at 9:00 AM on that Friday morning. Truthfully, it nearly moved me to tears. Why? Because someone cared that much to come and hear me.

Although I have been involved in the media field for over thirty years, I still have doubts about my effectiveness as a writer, a speaker, photographer and or presenter, especially in the mountains of Appalachia.  Maybe it’s a part of that OCS (Only Child Syndrome) where everything has to be perfect and you very seldom ever settle for second best.

Although I was in the spotlight early on Friday, I had the rest of the day and almost all day Saturday to ascertain where I fit in or where my place was in the Appalachian storytelling, historian “chicken pecking” rating system or food chain.

Let’s be honest, I have confidence in my work but I don’t handle praise very well. It’s not that I am unappreciative, it’s just that I don’t handle the attention well.  I’m even more critical when nothing is said. It makes me wonder if I failed so miserably that maybe I should throw in the towel and go hide.

Saturday was quiet time until early in the afternoon when I met Luke Bauserman.  If you had asked me about a year ago who was Luke Bauserman, I couldn’t have told you a thing about him. He’s the author of the website and podcast called, “The Weekly Holler”. I won’t tell you what it is about, just go there and find out for yourself.

I learned of Luke from Steve Gilly, my co-host and partner on the “Stories: A History of Appalachia” podcast.  Steve informed me that he really liked this young writer and was impressed with his work.  Then, a short time later, Steve tells me that he is following our Twitter feed and podcast.  When I heard he was coming to the Breaks, I got excited.  I said to myself, this will be my chance to actually hear him and hopefully meet him.

He didn’t disappoint but he did surprise me and Steve, who drove up from Kingsport to hear Luke give his presentation on the legend of people living in hollow trees.  Out of the blue, Luke tells me and later tells Steve that “our podcast was on his must listen-to list”. That was neat to know but it was even more “earth shattering” when Luke wanted a picture with his “podcasting heroes”.

“Podcasting heroes”?

Are you serious?

Within seconds, he asked a lady attending the conference from Texas to snap a few pictures and within hours of the pictures being taken, Steve and I were on “The Weekly Holler’s” Facebook page.


CaptureI’m still awe struck.

Not only did I get a chance to talk with Luke, I met with a professor from Appalachian State University who is writing a book on “The Red Fox of the Cumberlands”, Doc Taylor. She and I conversed off and on about Doc Taylor and her partner also provided me connections with sources about a future podcast on moonshining, Junior Johnson and Benny Parsons. Again, awe struck that someone came asking me questions about “Brandy Jack” his connections or indirect connections with the “Killing Rock Massacre at Pound Gap”.

Maybe this weekend was the little boost “Nemo” needed to find his direction and where to go. Perhaps the weekend was the little push and the confidence builder I needed for the future. But as for today? Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and looking for that opportunity. I’m looking for that direction in which to go.

It’s like I wrote on my Facebook page earlier today: “Today, I contemplate the future and the direction of my compass while carefully plotting my steps to where fate will take me as this weekend was a rebirth, so to speak, of who I am and where I need to go.”

Thanks Summer, for coming down Friday morning to listen, take a few pictures and the gifts you gave Kim and me.  I’m so blessed to have you as a friend. Luke, thanks for taking the time to talk to me and Steve and taking your picture with your “podcasting heroes”. We’re still scratching our heads as to the title of “heroes”. Stevie, thanks for inviting me but you probably could have had four or five more presenters who could have done a way better job than me, ten times over.

Who knows, if the world is here in a 100 years, they may be having a conference in the Breaks about Appalachia again, our trials and tribulations what people like Summer, Steve, Luke, Stevie and others were doing to make sure Appalachia carried on a proud tradition.

Wouldn’t that be a “Wow!” moment?

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