Women in Appalachia: Kaye Carver Collins shares memories of her mother and the mountains
A new partnership between BPR and the Foxfire Museum is collecting oral histories about the experiences of Appalachian women. The partnership is in conjunction with a new book – “The Foxfire book of Appalachian Women: Stories of Landscape and Community in the Mountain South.”
Foxfire Museum curator and director of education Kami Ahrens edited the book. The final chapter features Kaye Carver Collins, a resident of Rabun County whom Ahrens said is emblematic of Foxfire. Ahrens interviewed Collins in 2021.
“She shows that when she was growing up in the 60s and 70s that change was very slow in the region,” Ahrens said.
Collins remembered watching her father, an infamous moonshiner, be interviewed by Foxfire students in her younger years. She participated in the program as a teenager and later became a staff member and board member at Foxfire.
Collins shows how access to technology and services like electricity in Appalachia affected her life and impacted her community, Ahrens said
“She really kind of brings everything full circle connecting the first stories of the book into present experience in Appalachia,” she said.
Born and raised in Rabun County, Georgia, Collins recalled memories of a childhood in Appalachia.
“I was born here and if I get real lucky, I’ll die here,” Collins said in the interview. “I’m the youngest of – there’s 10 girls and one boy, I’m the youngest.”
Collins’ mother was, in her words, “unusual in a lot of ways.”
“Her mother died when she was 10 years old. She was the oldest, and she quit school. She was in the fourth grade, and she stayed home to take care of the two little brothers and her baby sister,” Collins said. “She told us that she had to stand on a chair to reach the stove to cook for them, so she’s been a hard worker for her entire life.”
Collins explained how her mother always worked outside of the home in various roles: as a cook, as a maid and at the Canton papermill. She didn’t marry until she was about 24 years old – an unusually old age for women of that era, she said.
Collins reflected on her mother’s strength against difficult odds.
“She did whatever she had to do to keep the family together,” Collins said. “Just a top-notch lady. She may have had a fourth-grade education but education isn’t everything.”
Her life and her mother’s life were intertwined with the physical landscape of their home. She talked about her connection with the mountains of Appalachia.
“Oh lord, there’s no place like them. I can be having an absolutely horrible day and then just go look at the mountains and peace comes over me,” she said.
The connection to place is a main theme of Ahrens’ book.
“I think there's something about these mountains, about this region that offers the people here something special that draws people together despite differences, despite time,” Ahrens said in an interview with BPR.
Do you have a story to share about your experience as a woman in Appalachia? Or someone else’s experience as a woman in Appalachia? We are gathering these stories as part of a partnership with Foxfire. Learn more here.