January 3, 2012

Holler Back Girl

It was a white shed of a house. Sitting up high on the hill, the crest of Donegan Holler.

It was surrounded by a broken wood fence, with mismatched slats. An anagram of history, heritage and benign neglect. Inside, the floors of the different rooms weren’t quite connected and with each threshold you passed, you stepped further away from the world you knew and deeper into the grasp of days gone by. In the front corner of the kitchen stood a washing machine. The old timey kind. With the crank and the clothes and the ringer. Only it wasn’t old timey to them. It was just what they always knew. What had always been familiar to them. In the side bedroom resting you would find my Great Great Grandpa Murphy. He didn’t get out of bed much in those days, but he always had a handshake and some orange marshmallow circus peanuts to offer. And even though I secretly hated circus peanuts, I’d always nod, shake his soft hands and take a few. Because I liked the way it made his eyes smile. And because when you’re six years old, you take your sugar where you can get it.

Soon there would be rummy, and biscuits & gravy, and my cousins and I would run outside and not come back until it was too dark to see. We would swim in the deep green pond, take a ride in whatever homemade go cart my older cousins had concocted, get scraped up, pick ourselves back up. And keep on running. Because there were baby deer to play with and rocks to climb and adventures to be had. And the last thing I wanted, was to be left behind.

It’s been maybe fifteen years since I’ve been back to our family farm in Donegan Holler. I’ve been told that the house no longer stands. But I like to imagine that that mismatched fence is still there. As a marker to history and heritage and days gone by. And that right about now, when a biting January gale cuts in across the mountaintop….you can still hear my cousins and I laughing on the breeze.

Sometimes it’s really hard to reconcile the life I live now, with the girl who grew up in the mountains and the hollers. Not that one is bad and the other good. It’s just hard when I’m writing these stories I guess, not to feel like I’m writing about somebody else. About someone else’s life. And that the two couldn’t possibly be the same. But I think that it’s good to remember. To look back. And to pay honor to where we come from. To have both roots….and wings.

So here’s to all of us who came from so little, but looking back now realize we had so much more
To every one of us who grew up in the mountains, and the hollers, the fields, the farms, the factories and tiny one bedroom apartments everywhere
To anyone who has been knocked down and scraped up. But you’ve gotten back up and kept on running
To each of us who had to start with what we’ve got, and build from there.
Be proud of where you come from. And never forget it. For it is the foundation that has made you who you are.

And if any of you out there feel me on this, I say…..HOLLER back.

*With big thanks to my Aunt Jackie for posting this on facebook, and helping me remember.

  1. Chelsea McGowan

    Holler, my friend.
    Trailer girl here, and proud of it. :)

  2. Emilia Jane


  3. Abby Grace

    I think looking back on where I came from is something that needs to be done more often. I never stop to thank God for what I have- it always seems to be whining about what I don’t have. Thanks for the reminder, girl :)

  4. Tara Liebeck

    wow! I really felt you on that one girl, seriously <3 love it

  5. Nancy Mitchell

    This is a great post….To remember where we have came from….REALITY CHECK! Thanks J&M!

  6. Jennifer

    I LOVED this post! Not only are you a phenomenal photographer, you are an inspirational writer! Happy 2012 :)

  7. Lani Ledingham

    Loved the "looking back"! I came from a farm and even though I prefer the city now, I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for anything! Holler! Happy new year Mary!

  8. Julie Villarreal

    My grandfather too always had those orange marshamallow peanuts. To this day i think of him every time i see them. Thanks for sharing your fond memories.

  9. Katie

    You forgot the ghettos…that’s where I’m from and proud of what my mom did raising me as a single parent. Thank you for this.

  10. MM

    @Katie: true that!

  11. Dottie

    Love this! Hollaaa from this coal country girl living her dream in our nation’s capitol.

  12. Sandra Fazzino Photography

    Oh, I love this photo of you, and the story, and the value in remembering our roots, what grounds us. Although I didn’t grow up on a farm, the garden in our backyard took up a quarter of the property in CT. And I used to go camping in the summers with my grandparents up to Brattleboro, VT to celebrate family reunions with our 100 closest relatives. I’ve always felt rich because of family and friends regardless of how much
    money we actually had.

  13. Nikki

    I needed to read this today. I’m not a photographer by trade but I do document my life quite nicely with my iPhone camera. Nonetheless I stumbled upon your blog when a facebook friend of mine posted a link of one of your posts. Instantly I was hooked. Numerous times while looking for inspiration during a down moment at work I’ve pulled up your blog and have found exactly what I’ve needed. Whether it was a burst of positivity, a good chuckle, or a little mid day cry. I’ve found it here more than once. You are the type of person that I want to be one day when I finally grow up and get it all together. After a rough holiday of struggling with my past reading this today made me realize its ok to be ok with where you came from even if it vastly different from where you are and where you want to go. So thank you for always being there, without even knowing it. May every tomorrow be sweeter than today for you.

  14. Sarajane Case

    HOLLER BACK ; ) I completely relate to this and love your words!

  15. Lea Ciceraro

    Thank you for this! Remember your roots and honor it. We may be different people now, but our past is what has shaped us into who we are today.

  16. Shefali Lindsey

    So, I have FINALLY had some time to catch up reading some of my favorite blogs, and OH MY GOODNESS! I love all the posts. Times Square, chasing dreams and never forgetting your roots. Insanely beautiful. Happy New Year to both of you and much love!!!

  17. athena p

    I live in my mother’s basement. With my husband and two daughters. We moved home – back to my hometown – after chasing a dream to Austin, Texas only to realize that a dream wasn’t worth chasing if it didn’t have family in it. (And, well, in the interest of full disclosure, we also moved back so I could follow a new dream. A bigger one. A dream that still makes me shake when I think of it – it’s THAT big. My dream of photography. As a business. As my business. As art. For me. For my daughters. But I digress). We gave up everything to move back to where I came from. A tiny one-light town in a house that my mother owns by the skin of her teeth and the dirt under her nails. The only house my mother’s ever owned. The only one I ever lived in growing up – and we didn’t move into it until I was a teen. I came from little – but a whole lot of love – and made something of myself. Only to find that I was living the life "people" imagined. The one you’re taught to want in High School and college. A high-br0w career. Nice suits and new cars and too-big houses. But I wasn’t living MY life. I wasn’t being me. So I gave it up. My husband and me. Gave every last bit of it back. And we’re starting over. With nothing. Hoping this time to make it so.much.more. So yeah, Mary, I’ll HOLLER.

    I’m thirty years old and I finally know who I am and what I want in life. I don’t know how I’m going to get there – or if I ever will – but I know that I’m going to try like hell. I’m going to run, fall down, get scraped up, and keep on going. Until there’s nothing left. And I hope, beyond all hope, that when I get to that place, when I look back and reflect, that it will be with my dream in my hand. But if it’s not – well, I’ll still HOLLER that I had the chance to try.

    Life is always only what you make of it. And what you get back for your effort, is what Life makes of you.

  18. Kristen Wheeler

    Can I get an Amen???

  19. Christa

    Holla back from east coast fishing villages too :)

  20. Erin Oveis Brant

    "To have both roots….and wings" This is just the reminder I needed today. I have goosebumps all over my skin and tears in my eyes. Thank you, Mary! xo

  21. Stephanie Stewart

    Mary, not only are you a truly talented photographer, you have a way with the pen, well with the keyboard, that makes me hear your voice when I read your words. Love it!

  22. Lauren Wakefield

    Amazing post. My grandpa had a farm and we used to find more adventures than we could handle. A big HOLLER back for never forgetting where we came from. :)

  23. heather corporan

    Oh Mary. This post has brought me to tears this evening yet healed a small portion of my spirit. My roots were meger, I grew wings, but circumstances and life have recently brought myself and three kids back down to ‘roots’….so thank you….for reminding me to be proud of where I came from, embrace where I am…and know that my wings will some day return…and I will soar once again. Much <3

  24. Sherrie Hartman

    always love your posts, Mary…sometimes I feel the same way…Donegan Holler…wow, you sure can take me back w/ your words. Love you and am proud to "Holler Back" w/ you!

  25. Christy

    Oh Mary. This is fabulous. And if this isn’t the story of my life – then I don’t know what is! (Except mine was in a tiny farm town – technically a village – in Wisconsin.) Growing up with 5 kids, and not a lot (but my parents never let us know it) – we all sure have come a long way. I’m so happy to have grounded, humble roots and to have the love & support of my family who taught me to fly! XO!

  26. Shannon Rosan

    Roots and wings…so very true. Thank you for sharing.

  27. Alison

    Where I am from definitely shaped me. Every day I wished to get out of that small town because I knew there was so much more in the world and I was going to go do it. Every chance I got, I left and couldn’t wait unti lI didn’t have to go back again. I can still name more than half the families as I drive through town 20 years later. While it is where I come from, it did more to teach me what and who I did not want to become and how different I want things to be for my own children.

  28. ashley barnett

    Poking cows with swiss army knives so they would MOOOOVE (see what I did there?!) out of the way so we could uncut their hay bales, herding the cattle with our horses like we were in old westerns, the smell of freshly "fertilized" hay fields every summer, hiding behind hay bales and shrieking at spiders….. I miss miss miss my farms days :) Thanks for the reminder.

  29. Cindy

    You always post something that speaks to my heart. Thank you. Love, A farmer’s daughter. :)

  30. Kare

    Oh my, I love this more than you can imagine!

  31. Chris Cornwell

    Hi Mary! You are the FIRST person-photographer I’ve ‘read’ who have mentioned mountaintop and hollers! I’m here amongst the ‘hollers’ and the internet is just next door so to speak. It’s amazing how we all can interact like we’re neighbors and yet be states or worlds apart. Where is your ‘holler’? I’m based in Kentucky : )

  32. MM

    @Chris: originally from WV, now we’re in CT! Holler!

  33. Jackie

    Mary, you are very welcome, I’m so proud of you. Love you.

  34. Mark

    Came across your blog today and enjoyed this post. Are you referring to Donegan Holler in Nicholas County? If so, I love it there. Sad but magical to see the chimneys and coal furnaces peeking from the trees.

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