Hollow and Home: A History of Self and Place

Hollow and Home: A History of Self and Place

by E. Fred Carlisle

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Overview

Hollow and Home: A History of Self and Place by E. Fred Carlisle


Hollow and Home explores the ways the primary places in our lives shape the individuals we become. It proposes that place is a complex and dynamic phenomenon. Place refers to geographical and constructed places—location, topography, landscape, and buildings. It also refers to the psychological, social, and cultural influences at work at a given location. These elements act in concert to constitute a place.
 
Carlisle incorporates perspectives from writers like Edward S. Casey, Christian Norberg-Schulz, Yi-Fu Tuan, and Witold Rybczynski, but he applies theory with a light touch. Placing this literature in dialog with personal experience, he concentrates on two places that profoundly influenced him and enabled him to overcome a lifelong sense of always leaving his pasts behind. The first is Clover Hollow in Appalachian Virginia, where the author lived for ten years among fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-generation residents. The people and places there enabled him to value his own past and primary places in a new way. The story then turns to Carlisle’s life growing up in Delaware, Ohio. He describes in rich detail the ways the town shaped him in both enabling and disabling ways. In the end, after years of moving from place to place, Carlisle’s experience in Appalachia helped him rediscover his hometown—both the Old Delaware, where he grew up, and the New Delaware, a larger, thriving small city—as his true home.
 
The themes of the book transcend specific localities and speak to the relationship of self and place everywhere.
 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943665822
Publisher: West Virginia University Press
Publication date: 08/01/2017
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 228
Sales rank: 1,256,768
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author


E. Fred Carlisle has been writing about identity and place for years. He is the author of four previous books—two memoirs and studies of Walt Whitman and of Loren Eiseley. A former provost at Virginia Tech, he grew up in Ohio, enjoyed a long academic career, lived for a decade in the rural Virginia mountains, and now divides his time between Virginia and South Florida. Learn more at Hollow and Home.
 

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

James Melville Cox and Brookside Farm

"I'm looking for Fred Carlisle." I was sitting at my desk, reading some university policy or other dull document, and then: "I am looking for Fred Carlisle." I knew that deep, forceful, gravelly voice. I'd not heard it in decades, but I knew it. Jim Cox. James Melville Cox — my esteemed graduate professor at Indiana University. He was standing in my outer office addressing my secretary. I couldn't get there fast enough. "Jim! My God! How are you?" He smiled and grasped my hand. "I've thought of stopping by several times before; today I did." I drew him into my office that day in 1993. The renewal of our long suspended friendship began. It lasted until his death in 2012.

I once knew that Jim had grown up in Virginia and still owned his 1870s family farm, near Independence, Virginia. But I'd forgotten. We'd not talked or corresponded since my first years at Michigan State. So I did not know he had moved back to his home place in Grayson County after his retirement from Dartmouth at age sixty. Except for brief summer visits almost every year, he had been away from Brookside Farm for forty-three years.

I remember well Jim's classes at Indiana University. A deep sense of the comic and absurd — perhaps of the perverse — seemed always to drive his intelligence and his talk. He loved talking about Poe's "Imp of the Perverse" and Mark Twain's humor. In class, his eyes flashed knowingly; a wry smile flickered repeatedly across his face. He leaned over the table, shoulders hunched, chin down, moving his head from side to side as he talked. He spoke rapidly, insistently, and passionately from deep in his throat — one brilliant insight after another. In those graduate school days, we marveled and wondered, unsure sometimes whether this was amazing genius or a step or two short of madness. And when he laughed, it was at once ebullient and sardonic; it was a laugh of discovery, excitement, difference. His relentless intelligence worked on texts and ideas as no one else's did. His sense of irony exposed contradictions no one else could see. "Jim Cox has the most original mind I've ever encountered," Russ Nye, himself a distinguished literary historian at Michigan State, once told me.

I was inspired by Jim's intelligence and originality. But I did not fully appreciate his cultivated spirit of perversity or his deeply ironic vision of both North and South until we resumed our friendship. Nor did I understand the source of his ironic vision.

At Indiana, he taught me a lesson about sentimentality and nostalgia I have not forgotten in over fifty years. The subject was Huckleberry Finn and all those southern gestures and customs Huck observes traveling down river. Sentimentality masks cruelty. That's the lesson. Nostalgia obscures hardship and suffering. Later, Jim extended that to those still possessed by the Civil War — those who celebrate it and seek a finest hour in that vicious struggle. "It's awful," he said. "You don't want to see the war that way." They forget at the same time they remember. Their nostalgia masks the terrible destruction, suffering, and death while letting them forget — or at least suppress — the real war and all those deaths.

Over the next several years, we talked at length about his family history, the farm, the North and the South, his sense of place, and his relationship to the past. In Virginia after we'd resumed our friendship, we sat at the round table in his kitchen, opposite an old gas stove with cooking tools and pans hanging on the wall above it and where a row of sand-colored cabinets lined the wall. Jim and his wife, Marguerite, spent many of their indoor, waking hours there. I don't remember a TV or radio. Every time I visited, I walked past the handsome facade of the 1877 farmhouse, around to the far side, and entered through the kitchen door into their true living room. I never entered or left through the front door of the house.

We talked for hours at a time. Jim's hair had turned white, but his complexion reminded me of his light red hair and freckles when I first knew him. He relaxed in his chair and drank coffee as he talked and gestured. He was thoughtful and reflective, not quite the intense and driven man he was at Indiana. His smile and laugh, however, had not changed much. They still drew me in and made me pay attention — now to his conflicted, yet deep, attachment to place.

Marguerite — intense and engaged — usually sat with us or stood at the kitchen counter, a cigarette or a paring knife in her hand, as she sliced vegetables, adding from time to time her own observations. They had met at the University of Michigan and were married in 1948. Marguerite talked about the way Brookside had become a home place for her as well as their children, about the Boston stage career of Jim's mother and her return to the South, about not growing tobacco ("It wasn't a moral thing, it just ruined the soil").

As graduate students years ago at Indiana University, we marveled at the two of them — an academic, glamour couple — and their five children. I could still see in Marg's attractive, aging face and white hair, the stunning blond beauty who dazzled the male graduate students at Indiana. After every class Jim taught, we asked one another how well he had performed. He was our academic celebrity, and she was his striking match, who we all wished would visit the English Department more often.

"I knew I would never sell the farm, but I always knew I would not stay here. But somehow I also knew, if I lived, I would come back." As a young man, he felt more of "a negative relation" to his home place than "a positive attraction," and he "never yearned to come back." It was just home. He did not speak about inevitability or destiny — as in landscape is destiny — but I heard something of that; as if, given the past and place he was born to and being sole heir, he could not really choose. "It was the thing I was somehow going to have to deal with." Instead of sentimentality or nostalgia, I heard Jim describing a conflicted attachment to the farm, quite consistent with his intellectual vision.

Jim's family history goes back to a Revolutionary War lieutenant, who received a grant of land along the New River and settled in Grayson County near Independence, still the closest town to the home place and about ninety miles from where I was living in Giles County, Virginia. Jim's strongest sense of family, however, began with his grandfather. Melville Beveridge Cox enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861. After he was shot through both legs in 1863 at the Battle of White Sulphur, he returned home to Grayson County where he began acquiring land in the waters of Saddle Creek that would become the 447-acre Cox farm. He would construct a house, a mill, and a number of out buildings and operate it as a family farm.

Built around 1877, Brookside Farm is Jim's birthplace and family home — his primal place. "I remember every square foot of this place. I've been here from the beginning," he explained. "The house was always a full of people, always. My mother had to cook and garden for the entire tribe that just poured in here. They didn't stay a day or two. It was always a week."

The farm was a typical nineteenth-century, southwest Virginia farm that supplied most of the family's needs. They raised beef cattle to sell for cash in a largely cashless economy. They kept cows for milk, as well as chickens, pigs, and sheep. They grew most of their own food. "We ate ham, pork, and chicken through the winter and chicken in the summer. We also had sausage in the winter because we had no refrigeration and no electricity until 1937 when I was twelve," Jim said.

"I worked so hard as a kid all summer in the hayfields, cutting, gathering, and stacking the hay, shocking some to put up in the barn," he continued. "We used teams of horses for all our farm work. Driving horses is a big thing when you're a kid. You learn to handle a team pretty early — how to go out and get them in the pasture, bring them in, harness them, and then hitch them up. We never did have a tractor or hay baler."

Jim explained how the farm worked when we walked from building to building and through nearby fields. We would look into the red-brick, pitched-roof spring and smoke houses; pass the old frame, shed-roof henhouse and the saddle-notched, drive-through corncrib; and then head to the red, gambrel-roofed barn with its open hay mow door and on to the old mill. Jim identified with these buildings. They represented in material terms the home, farm, and rural world that shaped the boy and man he became. He wanted me to see the structures and imagine the life he'd led and know the place he'd returned to.

The mill is an "astonishing" structure, according to the National Historic Register. It "was probably finished before the house," Jim explained, "and it began operating right away in 1877." It was painted a deep red on the outside — well kept in that sense — but the interior and the operating machinery had really impressed the Register: "Nearly all of the equipment survives in situ, and in good condition." Even the French silk sifters were still intact.

Inside, the mill was dry, dusty, dim, and so quiet with a faint smell of aged wood in the air. The only sound was Jim's voice as he showed me the equipment: the two pairs of millstones — one for wheat, one for corn — the roller equipment and its system of belts and belt wheels, the bins, hoppers, troughs, storage units, and so on. Then outside, we walked past the mill wheel and the millrace coming from Saddle Creek. "With a little repair and replacement, this mill could probably operate today," he suggested.

We passed most of our time together in the house where he was born and grew up — his primal place — his original corner of the world. If I may be philosophic for a moment about houses: "Our house," Gaston Bachelard writes, "is our first universe It is body and soul. ... [It is] the topography of our intimate being." In Christian Norberg-Schulz's terms, "The place is the concrete manifestation of man's dwelling [in-the-world], and his identity depends on him belonging to places."

The style and structure of the house were typical of late nineteenth-century farm dwellings in southwest Virginia. It is a three-story frame structure built into a bank so that the front, facing the road, shows just two stories. It is three rooms (or bays) wide. On the second, or main, level, the central bay is the entrance hallway that runs from front to back and opens into each room. A shallow extension to the rear contains smaller rooms that also open onto the hallway, or central passage. It is early Georgian in style — or a modified I-plan house. Tall chimneys stand at each end and serve as interior fireplaces. A two-story porch extends fully across the face of the house. Like others from the era, it fronted directly on a road — the Grayson County Turnpike. This common vernacular architecture characterized many of the houses in Giles County, where I lived and which I will write about in later chapters.

In 1918, the family opened an automotive service station adjacent to the house and along the turnpike. That board-and-batten frame building still stands, but it's not been a service station for many decades. The mill and the station served both the Cox family and their neighbors as part of a modest cash economy. In 1932–33, a paved U.S. Route 58, stretching from the Virginia coast to its coalfields, bypassed the house and station and, in doing so, anticipated basic changes in rural life.

These family farms and associated small businesses had largely disappeared by the mid-twentieth century. Farmers were earning money from off-the-farm work. More and more food became readily available in stores and supplied what people used to raise on their own. Food could be better preserved with electricity and refrigeration, as roads and transportation improved. Small family farms were no longer necessary or profitable. The mountainous terrain of the region did not lend itself to cash crop production. So farmers turned almost exclusively to raising and selling beef cattle. They grew corn for silage, grass for hay, and maintained open land for grazing.

Even though farming practices changed, the power of Brookside Farm as Jim Cox's home place did not. He explained that "the farm was very vital to my thoughts — it is a kind of space [here] in the mountains which I always associate with freedom." For all his academic success and his devotion to his own family, Jim must have thought of himself as a permanent outsider in the North — ready to bolt if it became more than he could stand or ready to return if for some reason things did not work out. The farm gave him a sense of psychological, as well as geographic, space and economic security. "You don't have to take it. You don't have to be abused because you have a place to go. If you got in a pinch, I could really make it here."

The home place also gave Jim a center — a heritage and an identity — yet it caused him great anxiety, made even more intense because of the way he became heir. "My brother was killed in a laboratory accident in Michigan. He was electrocuted in 1943. I had just finished my freshman year at the University of Michigan. I went into the Navy that fall. All that time, I knew I would probably come back. I knew I was going to inherit the farm if I didn't get killed myself." From that moment, Jim not only became sole heir, but he inherited the past and tradition of his family. It gave him security and independence. It also imposed a burden he would never be free of. It forced him into a relationship with his family and the South he might otherwise have eluded.

Jim knew the South well and thought often of his family and his southern identity. But he did not sentimentalize it. "A southerner should be ironic about his own country," Jim explained, both the North and South. A young man grows up southern but resists immersion in that identity, keeps his distance, and then leaves. He spends most of his adult life in the North, and in many ways shares northern liberal values, yet recognizes he is always an outsider — and a southerner. Eventually he returns. He comes home to his primal place.

His parents were liberal and committed to the New Deal. They rejected "this Dixiecrat crap," according to Jim, as well as the history of slavery, the Civil War, and segregation. "Any liberal in the South already feels morally guilty." So even before he went North, Jim felt somewhat estranged from the history and values of the South.

He also recognized the comic and ironic, as well as the painful, aspects of the southern boy, with his accent intact, going North and then having to prove himself. "Yankees can be just awful, being complacent in their beliefs. They hear a southern accent and you practically have to prove you have a mind!" He also had to prove his politics, since in those days, many northerners believed no one from the South could possibly be liberal. "I wanted to beliberal. I wanted to be northern in that sense. But a southerner sort of wants to prove he's more liberal. He has to outdo. He says, 'Goddammit, I'll show you how to be liberal.'" He assumed a "spirit of perversity," challenging northern ignorance about the South, making race much more prominent in his teaching than he had before, and sometimes, in silent amusement, simply letting northerners make fools of themselves.

"Anyone who has lost must have some humor. In a way, the southerner can't do anything but remember." Without humor and irony, however, the loser becomes obsessed with the loss and keeps replaying the game, reenacting the war, as if to say in losing we achieved our finest hour — courage, loyalty, determination — and actually "won." The loser becomes sentimental and nostalgic and invents a history and a war that somehow makes him proud.

At some point, "you just have to throw it over and wade out of it." You "would know somehow that your people were on the wrong side." You can't defend slavery or segregation. You understand the cruelty and destructiveness of the war. At the same time, you understand something about blood relationships and kinship the northerner doesn't. You have a sense of place few northerners have.

You can live a life defined by irony — by desire and resistance, attraction and distance, sympathy and candor, understanding and realism. You can live both in and out of the game, watching and wondering at it, laughing and anguishing over it. You also live knowing you have a home, a place, and a past. You are secure. You are free — free from the past and place, yet free to live with the past and at your primal place, passionately engaged, valuing your home and the South greatly, but mindful and ironic about it as well.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Hollow And Home"
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Copyright © 2017 West Virginia University Press.
Excerpted by permission of West Virginia University Press.
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Table of Contents

List of Photographs and Illustrations,
Acknowledgments,
The Place Is the Thing,
1. James Melville Cox and Brookside Farm,
2. Placeless in America,
HOLLOW,
3. Clover Hollow: Our Sanctuary,
4. Three Meadow Mountain: Homage and Innovation,
5. Clover Hollow: The Place,
6. The 1875 Lafon Home Place,
7. The 1892 Givens Home Place,
8. Outsiders Fitting In,
9. Interlude,
HOME,
10. A Boy from Columbus. A Man of Delaware, Ohio,
11. 208 West Lincoln Avenue,
12. The Delaware City Schools,
North Elementary,
Frank B. Willis High School,
13. Downtown Delaware,
14. The Road Out: Ohio Wesleyan University,
15. A Moveable Place,
16. New Delaware: The Place Is Still the Thing,
17. Oaknoll Farm: Elizabeth Adair Obenshain,
Notes,
Index,

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