I recently borrowed “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek”, by Kim Michele Richardson from our local online library.
I had no preconceived ideas of what this book was about, other than a horse-riding library woman in the Appalachian Mountains. But, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek quickly brought me into the life of Cussy Mary Carter and pulled me into a world I had no idea existed. I found myself intrigued. I kept having to stop my reading in order to use Google for topics such as “blue people of Kentucky” and the “WPA”.
When we first meet Cussy, she is awaiting the arrival of yet another potential husband invited to visit by her father. They argue about why it is necessary for her to marry, but ultimately her father wins and the “courting candle” is set on the porch to await the suiter’s arrival. The courting candle had a heavy spiral core that held the candle and allowed her father to raise or lower it based on how much he liked the man. The taller the candle, the more time for the visit. Cussy typically lowered it all the way down after her father left porch to eliminate the potential for a long visit and thus, hopefully, discourage the proposed union.
I love it when a book teaches me something new, and challenges me to see things in a different light. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek definitely delivered in that regard!
Did you know?
- The Pack Horse Library Project by the WPA operated between 1935 and 1943. The riders were predominately unmarried women who during this time-span delivered reading material to +100,000 people. The job was extremely hard with many dangers along the trail.
Did you know?
- There were people living in Kentucky known as the “blue Fugates”.
- These people descended from a line of “blue people” that immigrated from France in 1820 and settled in Eastern Kentucky?
- Were you aware of the disease called methemoglobinemia, which is a blood disorder that causes the appearance of blue-tinged skin?
- Did you know – that while rare – this genetic blue skin existed as late as 1975?
And did you know?
- These people were treated even worse than those whose skin was black?
- Many were subjected to cruel and inhumane medical procedures to try and determine the cause of their skin color…and find a cure.
- And, the blue women with this genetic trait were considered unmarriable and unworthy.
What are you more surprised about? That there actually were “blue” people living in Kentucky in the 1930’s to 1940’s? Or that they were considered the lowest human form of “colored”.
While reading, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, I found myself unable to avoid comparing the treatment and life of Cussy to those of African Americans throughout our country’s history. She endured discrimination in every aspect of her life. She was shunned by all, which is why the job of riding in the remote regions of Kentucky delivering books to the back-woods cabins was a perfect fit for her.
Cussy’s mother had determined she would be educated to read which was rare for “colored” women of that time. The author gives readers a glimpse into her inner character as she creates “scrapbooks” of recipes and pictures to share with those on her route that couldn’t read. She made time during her deliveries to stop for a “spell”, sit down and read to those who did not have that treasured ability. She persevered and overcame to help those patrons on her route.
But this book also weaves us a story of so many different aspects of Cussy’s life. Her job, her miner father, the passing of her mother, and her unfortunate first marriage. It also shares in detail the story of the deadly medical procedures she subjected herself to in order to obtain the “whiteness” she thought would bring her love and acceptance.
While I read in horror the treatment that Cussy endured based on her color, I was reminded again and again that all people are worthy of “life and pursuit of happiness”, regardless of their color.
Author, Kim Michele Richardson created a story – and a character that challenged me to think beyond the bubble of my “white” world and walk in someone else’s shoes. Someone of color. Someone blue!
I am reminded of a poem by Manuela McPhee, called If You Could Walk in my Shoes,
If you could walk in my shoes,
You would see, I paid my dues,
I worked hard my whole life through,
Even though, I no longer do.
You would see how hard I tried,
You would see how hard I cried,
Can’t you see, my condition is real,
Even though you can’t see what I feel.
Your support could lift me up,
That would be amazing luck,
My disability; you can’t see,
But I need you to believe in me.
Trust me when I say,
A friend could make my day,
Please lend me a helping hand,
With your support, I can stand.
A little help goes a long way,
A good friend won’t turn away,
A little kind word can lift my soul,
A little kind word can make me whole.
Manuela McPhee, May 23, 2009
Please lend me a helping hand…with your support, I can stand!
This book dared me to look outside of my safe, ivory tower. It compelled me to look at those around me who are hurting due to their religion, race, color, sexual orientation…the list goes on and on. Regardless of your ability to relate or understand, they are hurting. There should be no response other than…your loving helping hand.
My command is this: Love each other, as I have loved you.John 15:12
Believe it. Embrace it. Live it.
Alta M Conrad says
I have heard from a cousin that my Grandparents (George & Mary Howell) are mentioned in a book about Hood River where they lived. I have ordered a copy of your book in the hopes that yours is the one.
Connie Nice says
Alta, were you able to find them in the Images of America Hood River book? If not, the other option is the volumes put out by the Historical Society back in the 80’s. The History Museum has all of these books in their reference library. Also – check on the photo blog website at http://historichoodriver.com/. They might have some images you can find in the search box. The History Museum also has extensive reference files on many early families of Hood River. Good luck in your search.