Friday, February 22, 2008

The Darrington Connection

If you start out from Sylva, you can get to any Jackson County town in less than an hour. Make that any Jackson County town except ONE. There's a Jackson County town that's about 3000 miles from here, and it's called Darrington, Washington.

You don't see it quite as much these days, but back in the 1970s and 80s, you'd read the names of Darrington and Sedro-Wooley, WA without fail when you browsed through the the obituaries in the Sylva paper. The migration of Jackson County families to the Great Northwest is well-documented and I intend to post more than one story on this subject. But to start things off, here's an extended excerpt from an article that appeared in Pacific Stars and Stripes, November 1969:

Earl Jones, originally of Jackson County in western North Carolina, has just hauled off and sung one, his nasal hardpan voice stripped of all flatland Yankee lisping, phrasing the lyrics to the resonances of Fred McFalls' five-string Gibson banjo, thrumming hard on his own scuffed and definitely not electrified guitar.

Earl and Fred are having a little get-together at the McFalls home in Marysville up by the Skagit Valley country of Washington State, and the windows are vibrating from the twanging and musicating, and the youngsters are tapping their feet and jigging. There is fun and love in that house, boy.

The neighbors of half a mile around can hear the good sounds, too, and some of them are switching off Beatles albums and even the Kountry Kayo radio station to listen.

Oh, my Uncle Mort
He is sawed off and short
He don't measure but five-foot-two
But he thinks he's a ji'nt
If you give him a pint
of that good old mountain dew.

Earl, who is quite a bit younger than Fred and has learned a lot about pickin' and singin' from him, is cutting down on That Old Mountain Dew because a minute before the talk had touched on moonshine. ("There's drinkin' whisky and there's sellin' whisky; one tastes like wild honey and the other like coal oil.") Both men sort of put on as if cooking mash and plinking revenooers were full-time avocations for folks in the Valley and up in the high Cascades foothills.

Of course, this isn't the case. Most of the transplanted Carolinians (pronounced Caro-leen-yuns) of the region, like Earl and Fred, work in plywood plants, in sawmills or in the woods, performing the same basic labors they pursued back in Tarhill until the timber thinned out....

...You leave Marysville, head up to Sedro-Wooley (everybody around there calls it just plain "Wooley), then cut due east along the Skagit. The steelhead fishermen stand in their flatbottomed boats, silhouetted in the river mists like mackinawed ghosts. You have reached the start of real mountain country now.

If the terrain were a little less savage, the air a little wispier, the trees hardwood instead of fir, cedar and vine maple, it could be North Carolina, along the foggy periphery of the Great Smokies. You climb higher. The road twists like a fleeing garter snake. The canyons grow wilder and steeper, the stump ranches look more forlorn. Then the hulk of Whitehorse Mountain blocks out the horizon, hanging over the town below like a malign fang.

You are in Darrington, Wash., population 1,182. You are also, more or less, back in North Carolina.
(That Good Old Mountain Soul, Bob Houston, Pacific Stars and Stripes, November 16, 1969)

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