This Sunday is International Women’s Day about which I know nothing beyond its notation on my calendar. However, it seemed a timely moment to share a memoir I recently finished, Hill Women by Cassie Chambers. Chambers, raised in Eastern Kentucky, in a terrain of hollows and coal mines, tries to show us a glimpse of the strong women who surrounded her as she grew up.
The Appalachian people are often either denigrated or held up as examples of whatever the writer wants to portray. Chambers aimed for a more balanced view. Yes there is poverty, but there is also resourcefulness. Yes, there are few jobs, but people aren’t eager to leave everything they know to find employment. Yes there is much domestic violence, but there is also deep family connection.
Unlike many writers, Chambers returned to Kentucky after law school intent on providing legal services to women from her home country. While she lives in Louisville now, she has been instrumental in changing some laws that adversely affected poor women. One such law required a woman divorcing an abusing husband to pay his legal fees!
I spent a year traveling the back roads of Oregon providing Head Start in home for children too scattered to come to a common classroom. The women holding those families together resembled the ones Chambers chronicles. Fierce, proud, conflicted, dealing with poverty and volatile men, they had no interest in leaving the Oregon woods for the “big city” either.
The book reminded me to hesitate to suggest that people with few employment prospects “simply move.” There is no such thing as a “simple” relocation.