ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The voice we're about to hear is Leona Carver of Rabun County, Ga., up in the mountains near the Tennessee border. She's talking about the life of poverty she had as a child.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LEONA CARVER: Back then, we never did see oranges and apples and candies.
SHAPIRO: Never did see oranges and apples and candies. Carver passed away a long time ago. High school students made this recording in the late 1980s as part of a program called Foxfire. For 50 years, Foxfire has documented the stories of mountain folks in this area, producing magazines and books that became national bestsellers. It is still going strong today. And when I visited Rabun County, I pulled out this recording of Leona Carver because her daughter was sitting in front of me. Kaye Carver Collins is now 59 years old. I played this recording of her late mother talking about Christmas.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CARVER: I did get a doll off of the Christmas tree at church, and they said Santa Claus brought it to me.
KAYE CARVER COLLINS: Oh, that's my mama (laughter). I love this one. I came across this, and I gave a copy of it to all my siblings for Christmas. And you talk about the tears flowing (laughter).
SHAPIRO: Oh, I bet. Had your mother already passed by then.
COLLINS: She had. She had been dead about 10 years.
SHAPIRO: And to hear her voice...
COLLINS: Exactly. And to hear her talking...
SHAPIRO: ...At Christmas talking about Santa Claus (laughter).
COLLINS: Exactly. It was precious. Yeah. Priceless, you know, knowing that if my son has children, they can come up on this mountain and hear what my mama and daddy said or hear what some of the people who lived here thought, how they lived, what was important to them. It's just - like I say, it's priceless.
SHAPIRO: Foxfire has had an impact far beyond rural Georgia. Out of 21 Foxfire books, 20 are still in print. They tell the stories of blacksmiths, moonshiners and woodworkers - traditions that are dying out. In 1973, Kaye Carver Collins was one of the high school students doing these interviews.
COLLINS: Until I went on Foxfire field trips - and I'm talking about away from Rabun County - Chicago, Washington, D.C. - places like that - I never realized what an impact it was having across the country until I met people who were just dying to know more about Foxfire from away from here. Does that make sense?
SHAPIRO: You know, why do you think people were so eager to know more about it? Why do you think it struck such a chord?
COLLINS: Well, I think there's a couple of reasons. You know, we'd just come through the Vietnam War. I think people were more back to Earth - Mother Earth News - that sort of stuff. So I think that was one chord it struck. But I think the other chord it struck was no matter where you were from in this country, you could find somebody in that book that was like a relative of yours or like your mom or dad or, you know, someone you knew, so you could make that personal connection. You'd go, oh, yeah, I remember So-and-So talking about that. So I think that was it. It felt personal to everybody that read it.
SHAPIRO: Documenting these old ways is an important and valuable project, but the fact that it's high school students doing the documentation also seems to be a really essential part of what Foxfire is.
COLLINS: Absolutely it is.
SHAPIRO: Why is that so important?
COLLINS: When I was 16 years old, I thought I knew it all, and I couldn't wait to get out of Rabun County and make a life somewhere, OK? And I went on these interviews and started meeting the elderly people in the community - people I had seen my entire life, but didn't realize what value they had. I just thought they were old people in the community, you know? And they made me feel like this place was important and that I was important, and they were important. And because of that sense of belonging, that sense of connectedness, I chose to stay in this community, to not leave this community. That had a powerful impact on me. I mean, in the introduction to the newest book, I say that I don't know where Foxfire's influence and my own free will begins because it's so intertwined.
SHAPIRO: That's Kaye Carver Collins speaking on the 50th anniversary of Foxfire. Tomorrow, we'll hear from a present day high school student working on the magazine, and we'll explore the museum in these hills of rural Georgia where the history is preserved.
Copyright 2.11.20-16 NPR