BITTERSWEET COUNTRY by Ellen Gray--Ed. Massey


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Foxfire was first, Bittersweet Country is a backup; a record of vanishing Ozark customs and specialties, collected by high school students. Until recently, the region was a land of wood cookstoves, cranky tractors, and regular companionship, where ""You worked from sun to sun""; nowadays, people are more independent, less likely to rely on each other, familiar with TVs and shopping malls. The folks interviewed here remember--though rarely prefer--the ways of the past: washing dishes at the well with homemade lye soap, using a mule and double shovel in a potato patch, giving a shivaree to newlyweds. There's a 94-year-old woman doctor, still practicing, who took charge of the cemetery and the school board; a third-generation blacksmith who feeds black walnut meats to his mice and keeps the cats away with a bean flipper; a midwife who told her women to limit dried beans in their diet (""That makes a hard-headed baby""); and a feller who jokes that the three kinds of whiskey--white mule, moonshine, and white lightning-are mostly a matter of where and when. Bittersweet Country has more summarizing background material than Fox fire, less specific information on techniques for local crafts. But it has a fine chapter on Ozark speech--pronunciation, insults, comparisons, occasional expressions--and another on square dance songs and calls. Backwoods enthusiasts (the ones who'll try persimmon bread) will end up ""grinning like a skunk eating cabbage.

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1978
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday