American Hollow
April 27, 2001 12:16 PM   Subscribe

American Hollow - The Bowling family has lived in the same rural hollow in Kentucky for seven generations. The Washington Post tells their story using the Bowlings' own words (including audio clips) and photographs with a Web site you might expect from PBS. Urban Americans (and others, too) might be surprised to learn that there are many, many families in the U.S. who still live like the Bowlings.

"It's 1998 and we just last year put running water in the house, into my kitchen sink. We did it ourselves. We bought line, hooked into Iree's well, dug up a ditch and ran it to the house. But I still need a bathroom and a septic tank. I got a rinse tub that we take a bath in. I'd rather have a bathtub, but meanwhile I can make do."
posted by ewagoner (8 comments total)
Just after graduating high school (summer of 1988), I went with a church group (back before I was born again into atheism) on its annual missionary trip to the "hollers" of West Virginia. It was like seeing a foreign country. The one thing the trip taught me was how ridiculously privileged my peers and I were, and how patronizing the Catholic church really is. The people we met there needed food and shelter, and a decent education of reading and science. We gave them Bible study on how, if they went to church every week, they would be rewarded after they died. Then we went home--bitching the whole time about how the A.C. on the bus was broken.
posted by jpoulos at 12:28 PM on April 27, 2001

A strong argument against cutting the Appalachian Regional Commission funding as submitted in the budget by Bush, Inc.?
posted by nofundy at 12:29 PM on April 27, 2001

I find this story puts me in four camps simultaneously;

1) Well, they're the noble savages, happy as hogs living out their lives and making do with what they have. That's nice. Kinda like the Clampets.

2) Lazy freaking bums don't have a High School Diploma in the bunch, so what should they expect me to feel about them? (OK - One HS Diploma in the whole 'holler'; which gets you exactly the same down there as it ever got up here in the 80's - squat)

3) Boy, I really have a lot of good stuff compared to these guys. I feel guilty.

4) I could take the whole town in a game of applicable and practical knowledge, dead drunk, with half my brain tied behind my back. That's why I can get good stuff - I have something to contribute to society, and don't go grubbin for roots in the hills like a piggy.

I may be un-PC on this, but I'm absolutely sincere on all counts. It's a very weird feeling to be so equally split on this, and feel both justified and predjudiced in equal rations.

A good brain exercise, ewagoner
posted by Perigee at 1:08 PM on April 27, 2001

Wow, great link. These kinds of families are common throughout appalachia. In fact, I come from one of them (my branch actually came down off the mountain in the early part of the century). In fact, I still have distant relations whose daily lives resemble the Bowlings--and they too seem happy. On the whole, I'd rather be what and where I am, but darned if I don't miss that food and the big family environment from time to time.
posted by trox at 1:31 PM on April 27, 2001

on its annual missionary trip to the "hollers" of West Virginia...

Wherein, exactly? It's a bigger state than most people think. I was born and raised in WV, and yet I have never been anywhere near a "holler" like the ones described. Not that I disagree about their existence, but they're not typical of West Virginia, much as some would like to believe otherwise. And you can find places like this in almost every other state as well.
posted by aaron at 2:13 PM on April 27, 2001

Welfare? good than are not black folks or they would get called lots of names instead of being quaint, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men types. What do they do for cable connection? yea. I know. Don't say it about me.
posted by Postroad at 2:43 PM on April 27, 2001

This family seems to have a serious history of alcoholism and spousal abuse. A lot of accidents. The one woman who, "wasn't right" after a rock fell out of a tree and hit her on the head. Yeah right. She also had a husband who beat the hell out of her. The great grandmother was beaten her entire life. One of the men, a drunk, was hit by a car and couldn't read, write, or count afterward. I hate to sound cold, but is there evidence that he could do any of those things before the accident? The family scholar got her GED in Kentucky. She was one of the three sisters from Cincinnati that married into the family. You don't see many people like this anymore, but that is largely because in the early part of the last century there was a conscious effort to get rid of them. Seriously. Look up the Oliver Wendell Holmes "three generations of imbeciles is enough" Supreme Court decision. While I'm not that harsh, it does seem clear to me that the taxpayers of West Virginia will be paying for these people and their descendents for centuries to come unless there is some sort of intervention. I'm not sure what the solution is. You can say that they aren't really bothering anyone, but one of their in-laws was arrested for murder, and violence does tend to run in their family, so I don't think you could just integrate these people into society as a whole.

Sorry for sounding extreme. I'm not. Like I said, I don't know what we can do about this.
posted by hwright at 3:00 PM on April 27, 2001

I have to say that I think it's wonderful that people like this choose to isolate themselves and live off the land. It's less than wonderful that welfare money is subsidizing the effort, though.
posted by dogmatic at 3:07 PM on April 27, 2001

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