Most of the United States have little idea what Appalachian Mountain culture really is. Listening to life stories is what I did for 52 years of studying and practicing medicine in these West Virginia hills. I learned much about the folk we proudly call “Mountaineers.” Now I wish to share the story of learning in our small rural school houses. How did we get our learning but keep our burning?
A guide to abundant living? Certainly!
The premise of the pioneers who are our ancestors simply was to go beyond the Eastern American seashores and the spacious Piedmont plains of colonial Virginia up into the ancient Appalachian Mountains to forge a full and secure life.
We began our storytelling with an important column of the remarkable tale told by Dr. Debra Harrison, Assistant Superintendent of Upshur County Schools, of her own education in the village of Hampton. Her school days truly set the course for her productive life of service for students who followed her. I thank journalism student Allia Shaver for carefully listening and recording.
What strikes me is that “Dr. Debra” answers well the core question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (Mary Oliver, Poem 133: The Summer Day).
Actually, an important point about Dr. Debra Harrison’s education is how humble her beginning and how high she climbed the education mountain, earning a doctorate in education. To me this is like Abraham Lincoln mastering reading in the light of a log cabin fireplace blaze, then going on to become one of our greatest Presidents of the United States of America. The trajectory from Hampton Elementary School to co-administrating seven elementary schools, a middle school and a high school must be noted to be stellar.
Next, I recall when a former West Virginia State Governor wanted to change our state slogan to “Open for Business” from “Wild and Wonderful”! Our citizens, including our students, went ballistic. We wanted nothing to do with a tame statement identified with us. In our hearts we knew who we are— Wild and Wonderful!
Finally, how fitting to begin our history of closed rural schools with the place where Dr. Harrison began her lifelong pursuit of education at Hampton. Buried high on the hill in the Hampton Cemetery is one of the Pringle Brothers. Samuel and John Pringle abandoned their post at Fort Pitt at the confluence of the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River forming the mighty Ohio River. They paddled their canoes up the river named by the American Indian Unami language that roughly translates to “Falling Banks.” The name was given to the river as a reference to its high banks that erode easily and are loose and muddy in some areas. Finally, the Pringle Brothers paddled up the Buckhannon River named for the Delaware Indian Chief, Buckhongahelas. They lived several years in a giant Sycamore tree before going east to the Virginia colony, convincing wives and other pioneers to join them in this rich river delta community establishing the first city, Buckhannon, west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Thus, our Lessons Learned Columns celebrating our rural county school’s roots begin with the humble beginnings of a Hampton School Mam educating our esteemed Upshur County Schools Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Debra Harrison. Laugh with us; cry with us; marvel with us. My lesson learned comes from my Grandfather Paul L. Flanagan, who grasped my hand as we walked a forest trail. Along the way he showed this barefoot boy an acorn of a native oak. He pointed out how small the acorn was that I could squeeze in my tiny fist. Then he pointed to a massive oak tree growing in the fertile soil along the Buckhannon River. To this day his words still echo in my mind: “From tiny acorns grow mighty oaks!”