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Country Roads, Indie Pro-Wrestling, And A Story From Wales That Traversed An Ocean

ron mathis pro-wrestling
Emily Allen
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
All Star Wrestling heavyweight champion “Pure Trash” Ron Mathis prepares to defend his title in a match against Shane Storm.

Our Inside Appalachia team recently won several awards for our reporting. This week, we’re listening back to some of these stories, including one about the John Denver classic, “Take Me Home Country Roads,” which was first recorded 50 years ago in 1971.

“There was this overall mood of homesickness, not just for West Virginia but for our country. The song was born into that,” said Sarah Morris, an English professor at West Virginia University who is writing a book about “Country Roads.”

And we’ll learn how indie pro-wrestling in Southern West Virginia was able to keep going through the pandemic — with drive-in shows. We’ll also hear about two Welsh storytellers and their fascination with Appalachia. We’ll listen back to those stories, and more, in our special awards episode of Inside Appalachia.

In This Episode:

Did West Virginia Inspire Country Roads?

“Take Me Home, Country Roads” has been a worldwide anthem since its release in 1971. It’s one of the things people connect with West Virginia, but there’s a debate about whether the song was really even written about the state.

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Courtesy Bill Danoff
Taffy Nivert and John Denver play “Country Roads” at the Cellar Door in Washington D.C., in December 1970. It was one of the first times the song was performed in public. Bill Danoff’s guitar is to the left.

For the song’s 50th anniversary, our producer Roxy Todd spoke with people about what they think. The story she produced won a Regional Murrow Award in Feature Reporting.

What do you think? Was “Country Roads” inspired by West Virginia? Tweet us @InAppalachia or write to us at InsideAppalachia@wvpublic.org.

Connecting West Virginia And Wales Through Music

We also listen back to a story from co-host Cailtin Tan about Welsh storytellers and their fascination with Appalachia. As part of our Folkways Reporting Project, we learn about a period in Welch history known as “The World Turned Upside Down.” In the 18th and 19th century the British monarchy took over Wales and the Industrial Revolution began. Thousands of poorer farmers were displaced -- left with no land or work. So they sailed West, eventually finding themselves in Appalachia. And this continued to happen for hundreds of years.

“People were displaced from here and then coming over to Appalachia and displacing people who live there,” said Stevenson, “So, it's not necessarily a particularly nice story, but there's a lot of folktales behind that.”

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Peter Stevenson
Peter Stevenson with his crankie depicting the story of Rhyfel y Sais Bach. He hand paints and draws all of the artwork that accompanies his stories.

We’ll hear Stevenson telling a folktale from this period of Welch history, called ‘The War of the Little Englishman.’ musician Ailsa Hughes accompanies him in a song called “The Blackest Crow.”

Caitlin’s story is a finalist for an award for Best Specialty Reporting from the Associated Press.

Single Mothers Reflect On Challenges

Juggling work and child care has never been easy, but it’s gotten even more complicated during the coronavirus pandemic. Our child care system is in crisis.

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Isabelle Heydt
Isabelle Heydt and her son Toren at their new home in Rappahannock County, Virginia. They moved to be closer to family for help with childcare.

The system was patchwork and threadbare before this year. Working parents in the United States face a lot of pressure. And child-care workers are often underpaid, overworked and undervalued.

Last year, we produced an episode about how parents are coping during this time. That episode is a finalist for an Award from the AP for Best Documentary. We heard from several people who have had to adjust their lives and work in the midst of the global pandemic. “Navigating child care during a pandemic in rural Appalachia is laughable and heartbreaking, and stress-inducing and scary,” said Isabelle Heydt, who moved from Pendleton County, West Virginia to Rappahannock County, Virginia earlier this year. “It’s hard to find a babysitter, and under these conditions, it’s nearly impossible.”

Another young mother, Melissa Ellsworth, also made the decision to move closer to her family during the pandemic. “We’ve been doing this whole parenthood thing over the course of the pandemic, which has been an adventure, to say the least,” said Ellsworth, who works from home as a lawyer. During the pandemic, she felt uneasy about using a babysitter, so Ellsworth’s mother began driving more than two hours from Shepherdstown, West Virginia to Morgantown almost weekly to assist with child care. Last summer, Ellsworth and her husband decided to buy a home closer to her family. “I’m able to work because of the move. I really couldn’t do it without the help of my parents,” said Ellsworth.

 

Grandfamilies In The Pandemic

Grandparents have always played an important part in Appalachian families. Kentucky and West Virginia have some of the nation’s highest number of children who are living full-time with their grandparents. This number has increased in the last decade by nearly 18 percent — partly because many of these kids have parents with substance use disorder.

Our colleagues at the Us and Them podcast produced an episode all about grandfamilies which won a Regional Murrow Award for News Documentary. One of the people who’s featured is a woman who goes by Gigi. She’s raising three of her grandkids in Charleston, West Virginia. Us and Them host Trey Kay met up with Gigi to hear how she has been handling the situation.

Trey also talked with Bonnie Dunn, the founder of a program at West Virginia State University called “Healthy Grandfamilies.” The program offers 10 weeks of free classes for grandparents and great grandparents who are raising children at a time when they were expecting to retire.

Keeping Indie Pro-Wrestling Alive During The Pandemic

You’ve heard of drive-in theaters and drive-in restaurants. We even saw churches do drive-in services during the pandemic. But what about drive-in professional wrestling? Last year, when most public events were shut down due to the pandemic, the All Star Wrestling Company in Boone County, West Virginia restarted its shows and did them outside.

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Emily Allen
“The Mobile Home Wrecker” Bruce Grey walks into the ring for the evening’s first match.

Reporter Emily Allen brought us a story about how the company navigated the pandemic.

Since the story originally aired last summer, ASW Wrestling restarted indoor shows. Emily’s story is a finalist for Best Light Feature from the AP.

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Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by John Denver, Dog and Gun, Dinosaur Burps, Marisa Anderson, Kaia Kater, and Ailsa Hughes.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Jade Artherhults is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.

Caitlin Tan is working as Inside Appalachia’s folklife reporter, as part of a Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies grant. The goal of her reporting is to help engage a new generation in Appalachian folklife and culture.
Mason Adams grew up near the Virginia/West Virginia border in Clifton Forge, Virginia. He’s covered mountain communities and the issues affecting them since 2001. His work has appeared in Southerly, Daily Yonder, 100 Days in Appalachia, Mother Jones, Huffington Post and elsewhere. He lives with his family and a small herd of goats in Floyd County, Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @MasonAtoms.
Roxy Todd joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2014 and works as the producer for Inside Appalachia. She's the recipient of a National Edward R. Murrow Award for "Excellence in Video," for a story about the demands small farmers face in West Virginia. She also won a National PMJA Award For "Best Feature" for her story about the history of John Denver's song "Country Roads." You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.
Jade Artherhults is the associate producer for Inside Appalachia and is based in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jartherhults@wvpublic.org or @JArtherhults on Twitter.