A memoir of hardship and gratitude in Appalachia

Cassie Chambers tells family stories and considers the history of the people of Owsley County, Kentucky.

As a child, Cassie Chambers often visited her grandparents and her extended family, who lived about 50 miles away in the hilly outskirts of Owsley County, Kentucky. She loved spending time with her cousins and the rest of her kin, as her grandmother called them. But even during those seemingly halcyon childhood days, Chambers started to realize that her family in the hills had none of the advantages that she took for granted. She remembers, for example, using the outhouse at night while an aunt accompanied her, shining a flashlight to ward off snakes.

Later she saw a cousin leave school, marry disastrously, and have a son who was set on the same doomed path. As Chambers began to understand the poverty and lack of opportunity that beset the residents of Owsley County, she wanted to do something to help. In this deeply felt memoir, Chambers weaves family memories with the history and sociology of the area.

Her earliest memories are of Granny, who babysat her and treated her generously. Granny dropped out of school in the third grade, married Pawpaw at 15, and bore her first child at 16. As Chambers tells it, her grandparents were dirt poor. They worked as sharecroppers and could not afford a car. They rented a farmhouse in a hollow—or holler, as Appalachians call it—known as Cow Creek.