Foxfire 2: Ghost Stories, Spring Wild Plant Foods, Spinning and Weaving, Midwifing, Burial Customs, Corn Shuckin's, and Wagon Making. (Media Reviews).
by Eliot Wigginton (Editor) and His Students order from Amazon.com, $12.76
Turn the cover of Foxfire: 2, and you will find a black and white photo of a rough-hewn, pine board window sill edged with flower sack curtains; and on the facing page, the contents listed: "ghost stories, wild plant foods, spinning and weaving, midwifing, burial customs, corn shuckin', wagon making, and more affairs of plain living."
This, as all the Foxfire books--first published in the early 1970s--is a window into the American heritage, amazingly preserved by amateur high school photographers and writers who had little idea that they themselves were making history through their loving association with their teacher and mentor Eliot Wiggington (who taught them so well, in Rapun Gap, Georgia). Like the mysterious blue fire rising above the swamp when the dew falls, these voices, images, and knowledge are precious, vulnerable, and easy to be lost.
"Wig," as he was known to his students, taught journalism at Nacooche School and sent his kids out to capture the fleeting essence of their kinfolks' lives, before it all passed away. He dedicated his own efforts (first a magazine produced to motivate the kids to read and write) to that of his students: a will to create and survive.
The first book led to a series of volumes, which became world-renowned as the Foxfire books. They passed into, and out of, the world's attention, and now regrettably, whole generations of young people have grown up not knowing of the treasure they contain. Lest they be lost to yet another generation of "midwives and granny women," I will share some small part of their specialness. But I could not possibly condense the richness and beauty they contain in writing here. For the children you will bring into the world, and for theirs--go, experience what they contain.
Wigginton wrote in 1970, "This book is dedicated to high school kids like Carlton, Karen, David ... and thousands like them across this nation--all searching, all groping, all testing for the touchstone, the piece of serenity, the chunk of sense and place and purpose and humanity they can carry with them into a very confusing time." And so, after chapters such as "From Raising Sheep to Weaving Cloth," "How to Wash Clothes in an Iron Pot," "Spring Wild Plant Food," and "Making An Ox Yoke," comes the litany of the amazing women--those who traveled a circuit, those who taught each other, those who created their own birthing clinic in the mountains.
The young woman, Karen Cox, who wrote this piece, spoke of their rareness of heart and mind, "The midwife of bygone days had what it took to be successful in her work: true devotion." The young interviewer did such a fine job of capturing their spirits in their own words that it does not do them justice there, or here but to let them speak for themselves.
And so, we listen to Mrs. Josephine Brewer, "We had granny women (also known as neighbor ladies) ... in nearly every valley of the county.... The midwives had little midwife bags.... They weren't supposed to have any unauthorized drugs--any kind of thing that would make the patient sleepy during confinement--and they were supposed to keep their bags clean. And after each delivery they had to clean their bags.... They were also taught to put their dressings in the oven of the stove to bake them. That would kill the germs."
These women traveled long distances to receive their training, so that they in turn could train others. They learned the signs of toxemia, diabetes, and other complications to be able to make referrals. They used a large wooden box with a simulated abdomen and perineum, and "lots of books and pictures" to help the women recognize symptoms that would require a physician's intervention, or travel to a distant hospital.
"We decided that we needed a little hospital or center where people could be looked after. They could be given more care than they could get in the home. We decided to make it a maternity center." But that local center took more than twenty years to evolve in the late 1930s, and, all the while, women kept birthing babies in the hills.
"We started out with laundry baskets for little babies to be put in. Each time a little baby was expected, we had to run out, or ask Mrs. Lyon or Miss Smith to scour the countryside for another laundry basket." Some families regarded their midwives so highly that they gave baby girls the first name of the midwife as their child's middle name--resulting in multiple girls with the same middle name in the area."
In the 1930s when one woman began her life as a midwife, she reported that there were thousands of "granny wives" all over Georgia alone. At the time she was being interviewed, she reported fewer than one hundred (in the late 1960s), and many counties had none at all.
In addition to the tribute to the women themselves, their efforts, their knowledge, their gift--this wonderful chapter, as with most of the Foxfire stories, captures the gentle folks' talk of those being interviewed. As their teacher, Wig, encouraged the student writers to capture the cadence of this speech, he instilled in them a sense of pride in themselves, their elders, and the country from which they had sprung.
The entire book, not just this chapter, is worth reading. The photos of the women are captured in this chapter, but the kids did wonderfully creative photography everywhere they went--in the envisioning and in the darkroom. Don't miss the chapter on "Boogers, Witches, and Haints."
But listen now to a voice that has passed, who delivered as much the craft of storytelling, as that of bringing babies into the world: "Most of th' old womens in those days smoked cob pipes. You'd see those old ladies comin' down th' highway smokin' a cobbed pipe and with that little black bag in her hand. Our favorite old lady was called Aunt Haddy Corner, and we would see that old lady comin' way off ... and we would watch and wait till she got near, and we could see that little black bag in her hand, and we'd say, `Yonder comes Aunt Had. She's carryin' somebody a little baby'."
As the editor points out, that one little mountain lady built a city of more than 525 persons--an average American small town. Blessed be these women who have come and gone. This Foxfire, and so many of the others in the collection, should be required reading in our schools. But because it is not, go find Fox fire 2 edited and with an introduction by Eliot Wigginton and his students, and join in keeping their spirits alive in us all.
--Carol Lee is a poet, dreamer, and trekker of wolves in the North Woods; and, with her husband and two dogs, has set five children on their paths. She is the founder of the Autumn Grace Hughes Fund at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in memory of her daughter, who died in 1995 at age 2. She is on the advisory board of Griefwarehouse and Brighter Path press, which provide support for families who have experienced the death of a child (www.grief warehouse.org).
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|Author:||Saffioti-Hughes, Carol Lee|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2001|
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