While our childhood memories can hold a dear place in our hearts, there are few of us gifted to bring them to life. Casada has a gift for not just sharing his memories but in bringing the very mountains that served as their backdrop to vivid life.
As Casada explains in the preface to the book, he grew up among storytellers and the stories held in the pages of this book pertain primarily to his school days, between 1948 when he began the first grade to 1960 when he graduated from high school.
In an age of non-stop news and screen scrolling, “A Smoky Mountain Boyhood: Memories, Musings and More” serves as a refreshing escape to a time that in some ways was simpler and in other ways much more challenging. It’s a welcome step back in time when the folkways of the European settlers were still thriving, from rabbit hunting to canning, and when family reunions and church revivals were focal points of the year.
This first-hand look of life in Swain County in the not-so distant past can also help subvert some of the stereotypes of Appalachians that seem so hard for the national consciousness to get rid of. Yes, people worked hard and often with limited resources, but they also had developed, thriving communities and many were well educated and extremely knowledgeable.
Divided into four sections: “High Country Holiday Tales and Traditions”; “Seasons of the Smokies”; “Tools, Toys, and Boyhood Treasures”; and “Precious Memories”— the book tells a striking coming-of-age story.
Smoky Mountain Times’ readers may recognize that portions of the book had their first inception as columns in the paper.
One word of advice, don’t read this book on an empty stomach! Some of the richest details in the book are about food, from stack cake to fried chicken, it all sounds delicious.
A love and connection to the outdoors is evident in the hunting trips with the men in the family to learning how to fly fish. These memories clearly shaped Casada’s boyhood.
In “A Gardener Looks Back,” this little slice of remembering the joys associated with a garden are a great example of the nostalgic tone of the book. He writes, “The aroma of freshly plowed ground is finer than the costliest perfumes, and feeling humus-rich soil in your hands soothes the soul like a blessed balm.”
As the reader, we get to share his boyhood adventures like swinging on grapevines or skipping rocks, to playing marbles. We come to understand the importance of a pocketknife and the reverence of traditions like Decoration Day.
In “Seasons of the Smokies,” Casada paints a vivid picture of what each month is like in Southern Appalachia as well as the traditions associated with the season. For anyone who grew up in Southern Appalachia or lives here now, it’s a familiar reverie for this beautiful place. For others, it provides a chance to imagine what growing up in the mountains has to offer.
In “Vanishing Aspects of Mountain Life,” Casada asks you to reach into your memory, too. In a list titled “Did you ever?” the author shares some of his memories, some more fonder than others with examples including: “Go on a ‘coon hunt and enjoy the hallejah chorus of a pack of dogs on a hot trail or the tales of old men harkening back with longing to their respective ‘dogs of a lifetime’ and “Pour molasses over soft butter and mash it all up before applying the resultant mix to a cathead biscuit” and “Get a bad case of chiggers or poison ivy.”
In addition to a deep connection to place, a love for family is evident throughout the book. As a reader, we get to join in Momma’s joy of celebrating Christmas and Grandpa Joe’s nostalgia for the American Chestnut trees.
This is Casada’s 18th book. In addition, Casada has served as editor of 14 additional books and has contributed to many more. Among his earlier publications is the award winning ‘Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: An Insider’s Guide to a Pursuit of Passion.’
Signed, inscribed copies of the book are available from the author through his website, www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com, or by ordering by mail write to Jim Casada, 1250 Yorkdale Drive, Rock Hill, S.C. 29730. The book includes a section of vintage photos and is $29.95 plus $5 for shipping.
Copies of “A Smoky Mountain Boyhood” are also available at Citylights Bookstore in Sylva.