Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Flippin Towards Bugtussle
Now for anyone who used to follow The Beverly Hillbillies, the character of Jed hailed from Bugtussle (I had not remembered that fun fact, but my husband certainly has all of these years and he corrected me in saying that Granny, Jed's mother-in-law, came from Tennessee). There is no actual place in that state but Bugtussle, Kentucky is right on the north central border of Tennessee and is, allegedly, the origin of the place name selected by the show's writers and presumably where the character of Jed came from, too.
Regardless of where Jed, Jethro, Ellie Mae and Granny really hailed from in their fictional hills, as with all of the zany rural sitcoms of that era, stereotypes abounded. But wasn't it fun to watch? I always thought Mr. and Mrs. Drysdale and his sidekick, Jane Hathaway, who defined the female version of "lock jaw" elocution, were bigger rubes than the hillbillies themselves, and perhaps that was the point. If this program were to be recast today it should have hedge fund managers in McMansions paired with genuinely down home country people (which they are in comparison). Mike Huckabee could even make a special appearance and cook some squirrel and dumplings that, one of these days, we plan to try here at our house.
So imagine our surprise a few years ago when we first came to Kentucky to look for a place to live, immediately bought our first Kentucky Atlas & Gazetteer, and found Bugtussle. As it happens it is on the way to my Uncle Bob's in Lafayette (pronounced LaFAYette), Tennessee and we drove through it last Saturday. Because I had forgotten to bring my recharged camera battery, we went back today. [Have camera, will take a lot of pictures ~ just ask my long-suffering family who has to a hear a regular, "turn around! I want to stop!"]
At the Bugtussle General Store, which is all there is in downtown Bugtussle, we enjoyed talking with Shirley the store keeper (yes, Cupcakes, it's true--I believe I've found the real Shirley!) . Originally from South Dakota, she told us she is starting a Hen gathering once a month at her store: "no roosters and no chicks under sixteen" is her rule. Like me, she's found that it can be hard for country women to get together, especially when people are more dispersed here. [I am enjoying Bunco, thanks to the kindness of a new friend.]
Shirley also mentioned that Buddy Ebsen visited Bugtussle in the 1960s before filming began on The Beverly Hillbillies and that Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, often featured on the show and who sang its theme song, had played nearby with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys and then suggested the name for Jed's hometown to the writers.
The general store sells a variety of bulk foods and other products and is not touristy in any way, which is part of its charm. [I wanted a t-shirt or some such that said, "I Got Bit in Bugtussle" but they aren't marketing the place, and why should they? Besides how many nuts wander in because of making an obtuse association with a now 40-year old television program?] Nearby is Bugtussle Farm, an organic farm and CSA. We want to go back to that another time.
Along the way to Bugtussle is the community of Flippin. Well, I had to take the photo of the church sign because it was too irresistible. Whatever your religious preference, I hope you find the humor in this sign as we did. Country churches and chapels are everywhere here in Kentucky (we have three on our ridge in Nancy) and their names are often the only indication that you are in a certain place. I find it somehow comforting to see so many along the way and a fair diversity of denominations at that. I know, even for the agnostic among us, that the Bible Belt harbors a great deal of well-intentioned thought and prayer. It is "Spring Revival" time here in the hills and hollers and, while baptisms are no longer held down in the rivers and creeks, it is a time of renewal for these small congregations.
Kentucky place names are perhaps the most enchanted names I've encountered in the United States. Reading through the many names in the Gazetteer is like seeing through the "Magic Mirror" of a geographical Romper Room. There are over 12,000 named places (including features like knobs and hollows) in Kentucky and each seems uniquely inspired. I am not making fun --I am amazed by these locales as if some cosmic writer found the best and most unusual name for each of these special places: small hamlets and larger communities, knobs and ridges and hollows and creeks that have harbored homeplaces, memories, and personal histories. As I learn of these places or experience them firsthand, I want to know everything about them: their landscapes, their buildings, their histories. So I start by soaking it all into my visual and geographic memory.
You have your animal names: Raccoon, Pig, Possum, Fox, Wolf, Black Gnat, Black Snake, Bee, Beetle, Honeybee, Crowtown, Butterfly, Spider, Whippoorwill, Blue Heron, Turkey, Trout, Fish Trap, Cowcreek to name but a few.
Places with fruit or plant names: Berry, Mulberry, Cherry, Crab Orchard, Apple Grove, Peach Grove, Plum Springs, Mint Springs, Ginseng, Pumpkin Chapel and many more garden-related. [A chapel devoted to pumpkins? Isn't that the most marvelous image?] There is every tree name imaginable in every combination with a knob, grove, hill or creek.
There are first names or derivatives represented: Cynthiana, Eli, Elias, Elihu, Henry Clay, Patsey, Judy, Thomas, Charlotte Furnace, Bill Hollow, even Bobtown and NoBob (and Temple Hill), all of which have my immediate and some extended family and friends almost covered. Then there are surnames: Guy, Powell Valley, Mack Hollow, Daley, Manton, Willard, Johnson Crossroads, Pondsville etc. which all have friend and family associations. If your name or surname is English in origin it is likely to be in Kentucky.
For the foodies who I know read this blog, imagine living in these places: Lick Skillet, Beefhide, Big Bone, Chicken Bristle, Butcher Hollow, Mash Fork, Honey Grove, Mint Springs, Teaberry, Tea Cup Cliff, or Marrowbone? Imagine a home in Summer Shade, Pleasant Valley, Harmony Village, Happy, Bliss or Beauty? Or one in Cyclone, Hazard, Quicksand, Greasy Creek, Poverty or Penile? [Perhaps my favorite--and I haven't even gone through all of the names yet--is Glade. To me that has always been one of the best words in the English language. It rolls off the tongue and I imagine a cool, woodland, even magical, place.]
On the way home we stopped in Glasgow to check out some antique shops and didn't find anything we needed, which is just as well, although Temple found a decent copy of The Hole Book for which he'd been searching (an old children's book with a hole right through it that is incorporated into the story), and then took a more winding way through Columbia and back again into Casey County. [Along one several mile stretch in Adair County we drove through the settlements of Christine, Ella and Eunice. I wonder if they were sisters? Between two of these hamlets is Purdy.]
We always go the back roads if we have the time and I am the atlas or gazetteer reader while my husband drives. Young children--and adults--should learn how to read a map. Take a Sunday drive again with your family or loved one. Even in this time of higher priced gasoline, it is a way to reconnect with ourselves and each other. Forget your satellite tracking devices: open a map and explore your world, the place that you live. Happy Earth Day!