First published over 20 years ago, this West Virginia classic is available once again. It is the story of Mammy Jane, a 17-year old girl who marries a widower with five children. It’s an amazing story of romance, hardship, devotion, hard work, grief, and love of family. The epic spans several generations and gives an accurate account of life in West Virginia during and after the Civil War. When Jane’s new husband goes to fight in the war, she is left to run the household. Starting with next to nothing, Jane teaches herself what she needs to know to raise a family, build a home, and eventually become a prosperous landowner. The book includes authentic and humorous remedies and sayings. It explains traditional rituals of the day including burials, birthings, and weddings. This is a story you will never forget.
‘MAMMY JANE’ IS GREAT APPALACHIAN FICTION
Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Byline: TERRA WEILAND, CLAY COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL
Now that it’s winter, the weather is much colder and the days are shorter. We spend more time inside during winter than any other season. So rather than sitting around twiddling your thumbs all day, why not pick up a good book to pass the time?
The question, then, is what to read. Clay County High School teacher Lisa Arnold offers her suggestion. As an English teacher, she is well-versed in what teenagers love and hate to read.
As an antidote to cold winter days, she recommends her personal favorite, “The Legend of Mammy Jane” by Sibyl Jarvis Pischke. “It’s an excellent book – historical fiction [in the] Civil War time period.”
“It is about my ancestors,” she added. “Mammy Jane is a Jarvis and my mother was a Jarvis. So, way back in the line somewhere, I’m related to Mammy Jane.”
In fact, since Mammy Jane was a real West Virginia woman, other readers may also be able to trace their lineage back to her.
The book was published more than 20 years ago. Though it’s based on a real woman, the book is labeled as fiction.
It’s the heartwarming tale of a 17-year-old who weds a widower with five children. After her husband leaves to fight in the Civil War, Mammy Jane must raise the children, build a home and deal with hardships, all with few resources besides her own pluck.
Because its central character is a teenager, Arnold feels the book might especially appeal to teens. Also, its language may be familiar to many West Virginia high school students.
“[Pischke] published it the first time written in true Appalachian dialect,” Arnold said. “She thought maybe that dialect was keeping other parts of the country from appreciating it, so when she published it again, she fixed it – polished it, so to speak. It did not sell well at all, so in its third printing, she went back to the original Appalachian dialect.”
Based in West Virginia during the Civil War, “The Legend of Mammy Jane” can teach local readers about their state’s fascinating history. It’s a great way for students to connect to the past.
Since Mammy Jane really existed, readers can even see the actual house she built in Chloe (Calhoun County) if they want. Near the farmhouse is an old cemetery where Mammy Jane had to bury many of her children.
Also, the author often appears at Spencer’s Black Walnut Festival to meet readers. “You can get an autographed copy if you go,” Arnold said. “She’s usually there.”
If you enjoy “The Legend of Mammy Jane,” Arnold has another historical read with local ties for you – “Follow the River” by James Alexander Thom. “I’ve read it twice. I enjoy historical fiction a lot.”