We have a special feature for this installment of Call and Response. Brad Horn, a student teacher at Shabazz City High School in Madison, Wisconsin, nominated three submission from his students who used the project as a writing prompt for a class entitled “What is a Documentary?” Students looked at film, photo, radio, and writing (Harlan County, USA, Stranger with a Camera, James Agee and Walker Evans, NPR Embedded’s Coal Stories, and Looking at Appalachia). Kelly McEvers, host of Embedded’s Coal Stories podcast, Skyped with students and they analyzed photos for the class’s theme of “Appalachia and Coal Country.”
Students Joe Pinkerton, Corey Wimmer, and Noelle Livingston selected works by Wes Frazer, Matthew Brown, and Maura Friedman. We hope you’ll enjoy this special feature!
Meth. Speed. Chalk. Tina. Whatever you call it, it’s a drug. Methamphetamine. Ruiner of lives. I guess this is some sorta autobiography, so I’ll start at the beginning. I born and raised in Danville, Kentucky by Robert Stokes and Cathy Underwood. Never really left either. Both parents were alcoholics, which is as fun to be around as being trapped in cage with a blood-thirsty mountain lion. It was mainly mom who raised me, as dad, was…not there most of the time. I went through elementary school fine, did pretty good in high school, and there I was. I would’ve gone to college, but with a lack of income and needing to support my parents that wasn’t doable. So I stayed, got a job at the local convenience store. Then, I made the first of many mistakes. I started drinking alcohol.
The number of deaths caused by drunk driving is on average 10,000 a year. 300,000 people drive drunk a day, with only 3,200 arrests. People read these statistics and simply believe they won’t be affected by it. I did too, but then I brought alcohol into my life. Alcohol had always been around my life, with parents and such, but I stayed away from it, or tried to at least. I could blame peer pressure or something, but it’s really my fault for deciding one drink couldn’t be too bad. Blah blah blah, got arrested for DUI three times, completely lost license and there I was. Hey, I least I still had my best friend, May. We’d known each other for forever, went to the same school, lived on the same neighborhood, done everything together. In high school we had started dating, and eventually, I popped the question. She said yes and we got married in our backyard and were intentionally redneck for the whole thing. I wore a camo tux with no sleeves. It was beautiful. Couple years later, with my driver’s license back, we had a baby girl named Carole. I thought my life was on track; we had moved into mom’s house, as she was being a caretaker of grandpa. And then everything started going wrong.
Grandpa died a few months later. He had been a veteran of the Korean War and smoked a lot, which caught up with him. One uncle was diagnosed with cancer. We got news from Ohio about a cousin’s suicide attempt. My father was binge drinking again, the rest of the family was better off than me, and one of the dogs ate chocolate and threw up all over the carpet. Stress was just pouring in from all sides, but I refused to go back to booze. I needed a way out, something, anything. I just so happened to have chosen the worst one. Like I said at the beginning, meth can and will ruin your life without fail; I’m just glad someone caught May and I before anything too bad happened. Carole was taken by CPS and given to my mom to be her legal guardian. I think that’s what hurt the most; losing one of the few lights left in my life. I felt guilty. I had hurt my family, and I couldn’t accept it. After a couple months of rehab, job interviews, and crying, I managed to land an apprenticeship as an electrician. I’m completely sober now, and I’m this close to becoming an expert on wires and such, so things are starting to look brighter. Carole doesn't understand what’s happening, but honestly, who does anymore? Anyway, I need to run to the store for toilet paper and chew toys, so I’ll be around if you need me. I hope I get to see my daughter soon, if only for an hour.
Written by Joe Pinkerton, Shabazz City High School, Madison, Wisconsin.
He was visiting New Orleans to see me during Mardi Gras. We planned on a date the day before the parade. He’d take me to the park where together we’d walk up the hill and have a picnic dinner right next to blooming flowers and weeping trees overhead. He told me he had found a man selling flowers on the street in a small town he passed through on his way to New Orleans. He explained that the flowers he bought were dendrobiums. The same flowers he gave me when he proposed to me last fall. I hadn’t seen a single bouquet like those since that night and I was eager to see them again.
Only he was never able to hand them to me and I wouldn’t be able to see them or hold them ever again like that autumn night when the dried leaves fell so perfectly from the trees like confetti when he slipped the ring onto my finger. I couldn’t breathe in their fresh scent or touch the soft petals with my fingertips.
Those flowers had to be dead by now; sitting in a small bag without water, marked as evidence for what was now a crime scene.
The windshield was nearly completely busted, the dashboard cracked so perfectly it looked like a maze, the front tires deflated like a balloon, and yet the flowers lay perfectly as if they hadn’t been touched. And the little blue ribbon still tightly bound the stems together.
My husband was dead. Murdered. Hit by a reckless drunk driver. I never thought it was a possibility. The driver came crashing in so fast, there wasn’t anything anyone could’ve done. We go through life too optimistic. I have always been too optimistic.
I never had a chance to say goodbye and it will haunt me forever. I didn’t even have the flowers in my hands to remember him by. The police have claimed them as evidence.
– Written by Corey Wimmer, Shabazz City High School, Madison, Wisconsin.
It’s one of the last vivid memories of my grandma that I have. Over the years the details of that day have faded. What remains is the memory of the overwhelming feeling of joy. The overwhelming feeling of love and gratitude for family. The day already started out as a blessing because my grams felt well enough to come out dress shopping with my mom and me. At that stage in her illness she didn’t usually feel that way.
The car ride was loud and fast-paced as usual. Something anyone had come to expect when you got my mom, my grandma and I in the same room. Sometimes I thought that the inability to shut up must have been a gene that ran in my gram’s side of the family. What can I say though, we all loved to talk. And fortunately for us, we all loved to talk to each other.
My favorite memories growing up were of my grams telling me stories about her life. About all of the crazy (and I mean crazy) things she did. Bird watching, protesting, dancing pre-professionally, marrying a black man against my families wishes, studying biology, sticking it to the man, raising my mom, and being a woman in the workforce.
The thing that stands out to me the most about that day was how beautiful my grandma looked. She was a truly beautiful woman. Her and my grandpa were quite the attractive pair. But over the years her illness left her cheeks puffy and the rest of her face sunken in. Her arms bruised and pale, and her legs swollen. But, on this particular day, she looked like the black and white photos of her in her twenties, pictures I had admired my whole life. I stared at her from the backseat of the car thinking about how beautiful and powerful she was. I think more than anything else the thing that made that day so special was the fact that my mom and grandma’s relationship hadn’t always been the best, or even existed. They had both spent long periods of time throughout their lives not speaking to each other for reasons that to this day I still don’t fully understand. In my opinion the only reason their relationship had been resurrected was because of my birth. I’m not sure what would have happened to them if I wasn’t born. Going from not speaking to one another for years at a time to my grandma pushing through her illness to take my mom wedding dress shopping before she died was a miracle, and that’s what that day felt like. A miracle and a gift.
– Written by Noelle Livingston, Shabazz City High School, Madison, Wisconsin.
Call and Response is a photo-literary exploration devoted to the relationship between photographs and words. Using photographs from the Looking at Appalachia project, writers are encouraged to respond narratively to a single image in 1,000 words or less. We hope to use this platform to expand our community and encourage collaboration between photographers and writers. Learn more about how to submit here.