Before Kindles and bookmobiles, there were pack horses


I was doing some spring cleaning this weekend — OK, so I’m running about 6 months late — when I found an old, fragile copy of The Bobbsey Twins at School, published in 1913. I think I got it after my grandmother died. On the contents page, it said:


“W.P.A.” is short for Works Progress Administration, later the Works Project Administration, a federal jobs programs created in 1935 during the depths of the Great Depression.

I did a little digging and found a book called Cut Down Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Libraries of Kentucky, by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer. It turns out that the Pack Horse Library project of eastern Kentucky – and it was definitely a Kentucky thing — is considered one of the WPA’s most innovative programs. They say it was aimed at creating jobs for women.

Riding horses or mules, “the book women” might travel 80 miles a week up creek beds and foot paths to reach families who otherwise might not have had access to books (see picture below). The project lasted until 1943.

It’s easy these days to take books for granted.

In fact, one of the reasons we’re doing all this spring cleaning is because we have too many books. Our bookshelves are full, and there’s a growing stack of books in the floor by every bookcase and on the floor by the bed and in the closet. (There are none in the garage or attic, because it’s too humid here in Tennessee.)

If I want a book they don’t have at Barnes & Noble or the library, I’ll buy it online, and a UPS truck will deliver it a few days later. If the price is right, I’ll just download it.

I wonder what “the book women” would have thought about that.

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‘Pretty Babies Grow Up Ugly,’ by Dad (and me) now available for Kindle


Just passing this along, in case anyone’s interested: Dad’s written a new book. I’m the co-author (and publisher), but it’s mostly his book. (That’s him on the cover, circa 1941.)

It’s called Pretty Babies Grow Up Ugly and Other Old-Time Beliefs. It’s a book about old-time cures and superstitions from Eastern Kentucky and Southern Appalachia, including the belief the pretty babies grow up ugly (and vice versa).

If you have a Kindle or a Kindle app, it’s only $2.99. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, it’s free to borrow.

If you don’t have a Kindle or just prefer an actual, physical book, the paperback should be out in about a week.

REPOST: Why it’s a bad idea to peek at your presents


Originally posted Dec. 14, 2010.

Thing 1 (the 10-year-old) was wrapping presents last night, and Thing 2 (the 4-year-old) kept trying to peek into the room to see what she’d gotten him.

“You better not do that,” I heard Sweetie say. “Don’t you remember what happened to Uncle Joe?”

Uncle Joe is Dad’s brother. Now, I don’t know whether he tells my cousins this story or whether he even remembers it (or remembers it the same way my dad does), but I grew up hearing about what happened to Uncle Joe, and I’ve told the story to my kids.

The story goes that when they were teenagers, Dad got Joe a watch for Christmas.

Dad will do anything he can to keep you from guessing what you’re getting for Christmas. He’ll take small presents and put them in big boxes — and throw something like a pencil in the box so it’ll rattle around and keep you guessing.

So, a couple days after Dad put Joe’s watch under the tree, he noticed that it been tampered with. Someone had obviously unwrapped it — and done a bad job of wrapping it back. Dad suspected Joe, so he decided to teach Joe a lesson.

Dad returned the watch, bought Joe some socks and underwear, put them in the watch box, wrapped it with the same paper and put it back under the tree.

When he unwrapped Dad’s present on Christmas morning, in front of their parents, Joe knew he’d been busted — and, as far as I know, he never got that watch.

One time, I asked Dad, “How do you know it was Joe who unwrapped the present?”

“I just do,” he said.

“Did he ever say anything to you about it?”


“How do you know Mamaw or Papaw didn’t open it to make sure you weren’t spending too much or something?” I asked.

“Joe did it,” Dad said.

So there you go. “The Story of Uncle Joe and the Watch,” as we’ve come to call it, was a good lesson for me growing up, and it’s been a good lesson for Things 1 and 2.

They’ll shake their presents and press the paper against the box to see if they can see through it, but they know what could happen if they go so far as to peek — although, sometimes, we still need to remind them.