THE APPALACHIAN WAY
When I was growing up in Galax, Virginia in the 1960’s, my dad was the manager of the Virginia Employment Commission office there. We in the family were abreast of the economic and employment situation around our home and I remember how good it felt to be part of that community, such a great mix of farm and ‘town’ opportunities. This is not to say that the area was well-off, certainly there were folks struggling with life; but we did recognize that there was prosperity to be had if the requirements of work ethic and basic education were met. It is as true today as it was 50 years ago; we make our own opportunities.
The people of the central Appalachian region have long demonstrated their ability and willingness to take on new challenges. It is no surprise that the furniture and textile manufacturers saw in our folks a workforce that would excel in hands-on manufacturing. I am not sure why this is so, but it may have to do with our upbringing to ‘do it yourself’; all you have to do is look around you and you will find plenty of folks that want to bring something meaningful to the table and are not afraid to get their hands dirty in the process. If you want a reason for regional pride, I can’t think of a better one.
Several years ago my friend John Brady retired from the North Carolina educational system and began a business to bring Appalachian natural resources and people together. Having always had a passion for woodworking, John decided to experiment with our native hardwoods and try to bring a few household items to the market, items that would reflect not only his love of Appalachia but also his idea of quality products that people could use. The lion’s share of his business is consumed by the craft shows, both locally and as far away as Georgia and South Carolina, but he also has a brisk demand for custom work, the tables, benches, and household accessories, the scope of which is only limited by the customers’ imaginations. During these years he met Dave Hedrick at a craft show, and eventually Dave brought his own unique line of hand-made toys and other wonderful small items under the Blue Ridge Wood Crafters umbrella.
The Blue Ridge Wood Crafters business is self-contained; what you get from them will be local wood, having been cut on their own band mill and processed under their roof. My association with them has been a pleasure; having been a gunsmith and gun stock maker for many years, I share with them the same passions for Appalachian wood and the Appalachian tradition of ‘do it yourself’. While I wanted to showcase their unique business, I also wanted to reflect for a moment on the purpose of Appalachian Memory Keepers in this context; there are people among us today here in Appalachia that are preserving our work ethic tradition, using our own unique natural resources, people that by their labors are physically demonstrating that we will move into the future and not forget our past. Many of the products produced by John Brady and Dave Hedrick are made from wood recycled from old homes and barns, passing along that connection with those that were here before us.
Passing a memory on to someone new; isn’t that a wonderful idea?
*If you wish to contact Blue Ridge Wood Crafters call John Brady at 336-372-4402. If you wish to contact Dave Hedrick, call 336-372-6556. They are located at 593 Andrews Ridge Road, Sparta NC 28675. Stop by and take a look!