The Greengrocer’s Shop

Whistler | The Greengrocer’s Shop, Paris | circa 1887-1890 | Oil on panel | 14 x 23.4 cms | 5 1/2 x 9 ins | Hunterian Art Gallery | Glasgow | United Kingdom

The time turned from eastern to central time and everything seemed to be in slow motion. There were slow sung hymns and a slow setting sun, and I caught myself tapping my fingers against my thumb.

Sitting behind me in church was a lady in her eighties. I spent an hour after potluck looking at every page of the 2020 Baker Street Heirloom Seeds catalog she gave me. I imagined myself cooking all those products of the earth, fried green tomatoes with goat cheese sauce with a side of okra and peas.

We met inside a church member’s home in middle Tennessee. Immediately. my head started to expand like a balloon, or maybe it was my hair untamed in the humid air without product. I felt flighty. I stood in that makeshift cabin five minutes too long, deliberately poisoning my mind.

The mile long driveway should have given me the first hint of mountain living, but it didn’t. The gravels and puddles meandered up the mountain and seemed something only a horse could manage, although Rachel’s Yukon made it to the top without labored breathing. The drive up looked like a junk yard, a common fate of woodlots, with stationary cars missing both windows and windshields.

Their property was tilted on the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau. There were children I recognized from church living there who called him, Pa, and her, Mimi. Mimi has been delivering babies without a license, a doula, they call her, for many years.

There were several mold contaminated structures on the property including a pole barn, two makeshift cabins and two outhouses. No electricity. No running water. They poured jugs of pumped spring water over their head to shower off. Too many moving parts for me. It requires a rare soul to choose a moldy hole in the wall as home, and moss, lichen, and dampness as companions.

Mountain folk may be righteously self-reliant, showing us the road to survival, but they’re also profoundly interdependent – with both nature and the surrounding communities. Most everything they want can be obtained by way of their own two hands and feet.

At times, I’ve looked at their way of living as a fault, but lately I have reconsidered them as having a deep sense of themselves at odds with the world outside the Appalachian Mountains. If they start out flighty – seeds blowing in the wind – many land near the peaks they love best.

— §tacy §weeney