I got my copy of Under a Blue Bowl
from author Scottie Prichard in Wytheville last Saturday
afternoon. I started reading it Saturday night and couldn't put it down.
Subtitled "The Life of Olive Scott Benkelman Mostly in Her Own Words," it's a wonderful combination of oral history, Appalachian culture, memoir, and biography (or maybe autobiography).
Some years back, when Scottie and her husband were living in Germany, she and her mother Olive kept in touch by exchanging cassette tapes. Olive, who led a long and remarkable life, often taped stories about growing up in Grayson County, about her ancestors, and about her life beyond Grayson County and back. After Olive's death, Scottie transcribed the tapes and compiled them into this book, which she self-published in 2007.
Olive had some pretty interesting ancestors, including her father, Dr. William Worley Scott. When I heard Scottie read the section about her grandfather, I had to have the book:
Is that a great story, or what? Under a Blue Bowl
is full of great family stories, many of which happened in Olive's childhood home of Elk Creek in Grayson County.
The book's title is from Olive's observation when she was a child: "Elk Creek was the perfect place to live when I was a child. The mountains surround our sweet valley and I thought the sky was a big blue bowl that God had turned upside down and rested securely on the mountain tops." (p. 55)
During her life, Olive goes far beyond Grayson County but eventually returns. Her first foray away from Elk Creek was when she and her friend Edith Hale went 65 miles away to attend Radford State Teachers College: "Our parents took us to catch the train in Crockett in the morning and we got into Radford in the afternoon, after stopping at every little place along the line. We knew we would not be able to come home until Christmas. It was exciting but I was scared sick. . . . My mother's butter-and-egg money sent me to school. She scrimped and saved and cut corners constantly to pay for my education. I just didn't dare spend much money. I was awful tight with my money then, and for most of my life it seems now." (p. 103)
Olive goes on to teach school in Grayson County, work at Radford College, become director of guidance at Mount Vernon High School, and have many interesting experiences in Idaho, Illinois, Florida, and—finally—back in Elk Creek. Scottie Prichard is to be commended for capturing her mother's voice and personality so clearly. The multitude of pictures —such as a photo of Olive and Edith enjoying a childhood tea party—are an added plus.
If you love Appalachian culture and history, recollections of the old-timey days, and true stories about remarkable women, odds are good you'll love this book as much as I did.
Since the book was self-published, bookstores aren't likely to have copies on their shelves. Even amazon.com
only has copies for sale from resellers. If you'd like to buy a copy, contact Scottie Prichard directly at email@example.com
Labels: Appalachian, book review, memoir