Book review: Mountain Born

Leicester – Jean Boone Benfield grew up in the Leicester community during the 1940s and 50s. In her book, Mountain Born, A Recollection of Life and Language In Western North Carolina, Benfield retells her memories of life in rural Leicester.

In Mountain Born Benfield recalls life in Leicester from an adolescent point of view with adult knowledge to tell what it all meant to her. She not only tells her life from way back when, she also uses the vernacular from the very politically incorrect days (which is a nice way to say you might find some of the passages offensive.)

Farm life for a poor rural family was hard, as you find out reading about growing up in Leicester and, for those from Leicester, you visualize the places and the situations she describes. For older readers it will bring back memories and for younger readers it will help them understand the world of their parents and grandparents.

A glance at the index will help readers understand what’s in store for them as they digest the book page by page. The book is sectioned off into three divisions. Section one is “A Country Life,” which covers five chapters and roughly 50-plus pages. “Family Life,” “Around the House,” “On the Land,” “Traditions and Superstitions,” and “Asheville and Buncombe” are all pretty much good titles of the chapters and what they cover in each.

Section two is “Vittles” and if you think its about food, you’d be right, covering nine chapters in about 60 pages with chapter headings such as “Gatherings” (a recollection of events that had meals at the center of attention), “The Staff of Life” (breads), “From Farmyard, Woods and Waters” (where the food came from), “A Mess” (stuff about gardens and their bounty), “Pickings” (the rural social life around seasonal foods), along with a few other chapters that made mountain life in Leicester unique.

Section three is entitled “Distant Voices,” which covers about 115 pages or just under half of the 240-page book. This part of the book is devoted to conveying the peculiar way the mountain folks of the mid-20th century had of saying things.

“Political Correctness be damn,” Benfield might have said if she’d subtitled some of these sayings you’ll find in chapters which are named: “Old Words, Saying and Proverbs,” “Relics,” “Demon Rum, Civilities and Not Fit for Polite Society” (which pretty much nails the theme of that chapter).

Benfield’s book is a good read to learn a lot about mountain life from that era or refresh memories of others, but be forewarned that you might be offended by some of the things you read.

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