As our Foxfire fellows gear up for a unique summer of socially distanced oral histories, we’ve encouraged them to reach out to people in their lives to start their investigation of how the coronavirus is impacting Appalachia. This is the first of this series, published through our blog, featuring a interview between seasoned Foxfire Fellow Sarah Abernathy and her grandfather.

The Coronavirus has affected people across the globe. Its effects are being felt by many, if not all. Throughout the world, different precautions have been taken in order to ensure the safety of all. My grandfather, Hank Carpenter, has lived in the Appalachian area for close to all of his life. Born and raised in Rabun County, Georgia, he has always been a country man. He has great appreciation for the beautiful mountains that surround his hometown. In all of his years, he claims that he has never seen any disease as impactful as the Coronavirus.

I would think it would probably be end of January, beginning of February [when I first heard about the Coronavirus]. [My initial reaction was] this is a little strange, but this stuff has been coming every so often to the United States from China. But most folks didn’t really realize what possibly the seriousness of this one was gonna be. I realized that this right here was going to be something that we had never seen before, so when you see that right there, you start asking the five W’s, the who, what, when, where and why. Then you also ask the H one, how. And I don’t know that we’re far enough away from it yet to get a real clear picture, but it may not be exactly what it’s initially started out to be, which is usually the case. In some degrees, some people panicked I believe, which is to be expected. Some things were kinda normal. 

One thing about us is we are in the country. We’ve always considered that a plus as to what’s going on in the urban areas. Appalachia’s evolved. They’ve opened this area up by bigger roads and stuff like that, making the traffic much easier to get in here. So what we enjoyed as immunity by being in proximity to the mountains that wasn’t as accessible at the time has now changed, just like it has for the drugs and everything else that comes into the community. So Appalachia, it will simply occur, but it will occur at a much slower rate than urban areas.

Immediately, ‘cause I do work at Black Rock, we enforced the social distancing, we monitored all the folks coming in, keeping them spaced out and briefing them a little bit on the hiking trails and the mask wearing and the locking up of confined spaces so that basically folks that came there was in very good distances.

Right now, I’m at a wait and see, ‘cause when you see something that has never occurred in your lifetime, again, that should make your antennas go up. But I do believe we are still too close to the event to see it clearly. So we’re getting a better picture all the time, but in about 12 months I think we’ll be able to say exactly what this was. Was it over, or was it under? And to really understand the true vulnerable population for this. I think we actually already got that.

If people can do this and, particularly older folks passing on what I consider wisdom to the youth, and to do that of course, we gotta get ‘em off the cell phones. You can’t but spend so much time on a cell phone or a computer, and therefore you must get outside, and that’s one of the luxuries of being in the country. 

As you can tell, Hank cares very much about rural life and its benefits. He also cares about the safety of his family and his community. It is clear that he holds much wisdom that he has collected throughout his years. While he may not have seen anything like the Coronavirus before, he is adequately prepared for dealing with its effects in a healthy way.