Meet Piper Danson from Ann Gabhart's An Appalachian Summer

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Certainly. It’s so nice of you to ask me in to talk about what I’ve been doing in 1933. My name is Piper Danson. I grew up in a nice home in Louisville, Kentucky, where one of my very favorite things to do was go horseback riding with my friend, Jamie. My father is an attorney and my grandfather founded a bank that managed to keep its doors open during the economic crisis after Black Tuesday destroyed so many banks and businesses. I’m happy we are beginning to see signs the country is coming out of the depression thanks to President Roosevelt’s programs to get people back to work. The soup lines in town were terrible to see and some of my dearest friends’ families lost everything in the market crash. That’s one reason I was not very excited about my debutante season and my debut ball in May. It simply seemed wrong to spend so much money on a party I really didn’t want when others were in need, but my mother insisted I had to be a debutante whether I wanted to be or not.

The Depression was a terrible time and we do want to know more about that and about your debutante year. But first, Piper is an unusual name? Is it a family name? 

No, I wasn’t named after anybody in my family. When I was younger, I did wish I might have been so I’d have an ordinary name like Sally or Elizabeth. But now, I like having a different sounding name. Especially after I discovered how I came about the name. I was born during a terrible snowstorm. At home, of course, as was the custom when I was born. My father happened to be away on business when I decided to make my appearance a few weeks early. His sister, my aunt Truda, had been standing in for him to make sure my mother had whatever she needed. There were servants to help, but a family member needs to be in attendance too, don’t you think? So, when I was born and turned out not to be the boy my parents had hoped for since they already had one daughter, my mother had no ideas for names. Father said she should have never asked Truda for suggestions. After all, Truda doesn’t exactly have a common name either. Truda claims she had no reason for suggesting Piper and that she was surprised when my mother agreed to the name. Perhaps Mother did think it was a family name. Truda says my mother letting her name me was one of her most precious gifts since Truda has no children of her own. 

When I went to the mountains to volunteer with the Frontier Nursing Service, the first thing they did was give me a nickname. I have to admit I was very glad they didn’t choose Pip.

That’s so interesting. It sounds as though you have a special relationship with your aunt Truda? Is that so?

Oh yes. Truda and I have always been close. Some say I’m so much like her that I could be her daughter. My mother is petite and delicate. Truda and I are tall and slender but no one would call us delicate. That’s fine with me. I like being strong enough to handle a horse while not looking like a shrinking violet. Of course, looks can be deceiving when it comes to my mother. While she has always seemed happy as a devoted wife and mother, I found out she was one of the suffragettes who wore white dresses and marched down Louisville’s streets demanding the vote for women. So perhaps I get my independent thinking from both my aunt Truda and my mother.

But you did say it was your mother who insisted you have a debut party, wasn’t it?

Yes. Mother does like to keep up appearances, and Father thought it was a way I could make a proper match. My father had the perfect man, according to him, picked out for me to marry. I thought he might have a stroke when I told him I wanted to do something different before I settled into married life.

I thought most young women loved being debutants. That’s something like being a princess for a season, isn’t it?

I suppose so, although I can’t really answer for other girls. Perhaps if I’d had my debut when I was younger, I would have been more excited about the process. Due to the economic downturn, we thought it best to delay my debutante season. So, I was already twenty when I had my debut, a bit older than most. You’re right about the princess feeling. Debutantes wear elaborate white gowns and are given many bouquets of flowers on their big night. Emily Post has whole sections in her etiquette book of how such parties are supposed to be done along with how a debutante should act and what she should or shouldn’t say. Each girl must have her own special event with all the other debutantes in attendance. A debutante season can be a round of one party or tea after another with all the new dress fittings in between. Some girls do love it all, but I found it tiresome. I’d much rather be riding my horse. Perhaps not everyone is cut out to be a princess. 

What can you tell us about the Depression?

I don’t know what exactly caused it. Truda said people were riding too high thinking the good times in the Twenties were going to last forever. Then Black Tuesday hit in 1929. People lost everything. Banks ran out of money. Factories closed. There weren’t any jobs. My best friend’s family lost everything. Their house. Their money. Everything. He even lost his father. A sudden heart attack partly attributed to the stress of the market crash. My family was able to continue with some semblance of the lifestyle we were used to, but many were not as fortunate. I think knowing how so many were suffering may have been the reason I couldn’t embrace the idea of my debutante season. I wanted to do something different. Something more than dancing away the nights while others no longer had any reason to dance. Something that mattered.

You keep mentioning doing something different. So, did you find something different to do rather than go to those debutante parties?

I did. Something very different. My aunt Truda gave a tea for Mary Breckinridge who founded the Frontier Nursing Service in the Eastern Kentucky Appalachian Mountains. I was very impressed with her talk about the nurse midwives who rode up into those hills to help mothers give birth and to do their best to improve the families’ health. Then when she said young women like me often volunteered weeks or even months of their time to take care of the nurses’ horses, run errands or do whatever was needed to give the nurse midwives more time with their patients, I knew that was the something different I wanted to do. I have always loved horses and while I had never had to do much actual work, I was not afraid of getting my hands dirty if it was doing something worthwhile. So, I got on a train and went to Leslie County, Kentucky to volunteer as a courier with the Frontier Nursing Service. Believe me, I found my something different.

What did your parents think about that?

They weren’t happy. Especially my father who thought I was throwing away my chances for a good marriage. Mother, surprisingly enough, seemed to understand and although not happy about me casting aside my debutante season, was very supportive.

Tell us something about the Frontier Nursing Service. It sounds very interesting.

Actually, the Frontier Nursing Service is proof of what one determined woman can accomplish when she has a vision. Mary Breckinridge had that vision of helping mothers and children who lacked access to proper healthcare due to their isolation and poverty. She had seen how nurse midwives served people in France after the Great War in 1918. So she went to England to train as a midwife since there were no midwifery schools in America. Then she talked some of those English midwives into coming to Eastern Kentucky to start her nurse midwifery service in Leslie County, Kentucky. She recruited nurse midwives by promising them a horse, a dog and the opportunity to save children’s lives in a rugged but beautiful area of America. Dedicated women came to the mountains from across the sea to do just that. Mrs. Breckinridge managed to get a hospital built in Hyden, Kentucky. 

She was from a socially prominent family and she used those contacts to speak to groups of women who supported her work in the mountains through contributions of money and supplies. I met her at one of those teas. She never asked for money. She merely told about the amazing work of her nurse midwives and how the mountain mothers needed healthcare. The donations came in and young women like me volunteered to be the hands and feet of those nurses. The Frontier Nursing Service has a record of healthy births as good or even better than anywhere in the country. One woman. One vision. Hundreds of healthy babies and mothers.  

That is inspiring. I can see you were impressed by Mary Breckinridge and her nurse midwives. But what about you? What happened once you got to the mountains?

I couldn’t even begin to tell you all the things I experienced. Babies being born. Horses needing care. Seeing stars that seemed almost close enough to touch. Hearing whippoorwills and learning mountain trails. Crossing swinging bridges. Getting to know the nurse midwives. Doing things I could have never imagined doing before I volunteered as a courier and some I find hard to believe even now that I did manage to do. Then aunt Truda came to visit and both the man my father wanted me to marry and my old friend, Jamie, followed me to the mountains. Needless to say, things got really interesting then.

It sounds like you had a busy summer.

I had a wonderful summer. An unforgettable experience. If I ever have a daughter, I’m signing her up on the waiting list to be a Frontier Nursing Service courier as soon as she’s born. Working with the midwives in the mountains changed my life and it would surely change hers too. They have a saying at the Frontier Nursing Service that nobody comes there by accident. I think it was no accident that I heard Mrs. Breckinridge speak and then headed to the mountains. The Lord knew I needed this summer.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you? What’s next for you?

I have no idea what’s next, but I am so ready for the adventure of life now that I’ve witnessed babies taking their first breaths, explored new places and dared new things. I want to rejoice in the gift of each day and keep looking for that something different to do.

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!

Thank you for inviting me over. I’m always ready to talk about my Appalachian summer.

After the market crash of 1929 sent the country’s economy into a downward spiral that led to the Great Depression, the last thing Piper Danson wants is to flaunt her family’s fortune while so many suffer. Although she reluctantly agrees to a debut party at her parents’ insistence, she still craves a meaningful life over the emptiness of an advantageous marriage.

When an opportunity to volunteer with the Frontier Nursing Service arises, Piper jumps at the chance. But her spontaneous jaunt turns into something unexpected when she falls in love with more than just the breathtaking Appalachian Mountains. 

Romance and adventure are in the Kentucky mountain air as Gabhart weaves a story of a woman yearning for love but caught between two worlds—each promising something different. 

Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling and award-winning author of several Shaker novels—The OutsiderTheBelieverThe SeekerThe BlessedThe Gifted, and The Innocent—as well as historical novels—River to RedemptionThese Healing Hills, Angel SisterLove Comes Home,  and more. Writing as A. H. Gabhart, she is also the author of the popular Hidden Springs Mysteries series. She has been a finalist for the ECPA Book of the Year and the Carol Awards, has won Selah Awards for River to Redemption andLove Comes Home, and won RWA’s Faith, Hope, and Love Award for These Healing Hills. Ann and her husband enjoy country life on a farm a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Learn more at www.annhgabhart.com.

Meet Darcie from Ann Gabhart’s New Novel The Refuge

Name:           Hello, I’m Darcie Goodwin.

Parents:       Arvin and Hilda Wright were my parents. My mother died in the cholera epidemic of 1833 when I was nine. My father, burdened with grief, sent me to live with an older couple, the Hatchells. Granny Hatchell, not my birth grandmother but she became a grandmother of my heart, needed help with household and garden chores.

Siblings:       My little sister, Rosie, died of cholera at the same time as my mother. My father took my two little brothers to live at the Shaker village for a while after my mother died, but he then went back to get them and took them to Ohio with him. He came for me but I didn’t want to leave Granny Hatchell.       

Places lived: I grew up on a farm in Kentucky and then lived with the Hatchells on a different farm. Finally my husband and I went to the Shaker village of Harmony Hill, Kentucky to escape a cholera epidemic in 1849.

Jobs:  My father sent me to live with the Hatchells as a companion/helper to Granny Hatchell. You might think that was kind of a job although it felt more like being with family. My husband and I kept living with her after I married. In my time, most women are wives and mothers who worked alongside their husbands on farms. Not many paying jobs for us except as maids, seamstresses or maybe a schoolmarm.

Friends: Granny Hatchell was the best friend I could ever want. But then when I went to the Shaker village the three sisters who shared my sleeping room came to mean so much to me. Sister Helene, Sister Ellie, and Sister Genna were all very different but we became as close as natural born sisters.

Enemies: I don’t think I have any enemies. At first when I was at the Shaker Village I had some problems living the Shaker way and that caused some difficulties with Eldress Maria. However as time when along and after Anna Grace was born, Eldress Maria and I found a way to care for one another.

Dating, marriage:  I married Walter after he helped me bury Pa Hatchell. Walter was a wonderful man. Strong and loving. I couldn’t have had a better husband.  

Children:  I have a sweet baby, Anna Grace. I love her so much. I loved her from the moment I knew I carried her in my womb, and I’m so thankful the Lord helped me after she was born. 

What person do you most admire?  That would have to be Granny Hatchell who shared her faith with me and helped me know that even in our most desperate times the Lord walks along beside us, an ever ready help in times of trouble.

Overall outlook on life: I want to be optimistic and cheerful, but I’ve walked through some hard valleys where such an attitude is difficult to maintain. But you can’t curl up in a corner and give up on life. You have to keep going, keep trusting the Lord for comfort and help, and believe the sun will eventually shine through those dark clouds.

Do you like yourself? That’s an odd question and not something I have ever considered. If I can believe the Lord loves me and I do, then that is enough.

What, if anything, would you like to change about your life? I would, if I could, change the tragedies in my life. My mother and Rosie would have never died of cholera. But then if that had not happened, I wouldn’t have gone to Granny Hatchell’s. I would have never met Walter. I wouldn’t have Anna Grace. I suppose it’s best not to play God and simply trust him to guide us through life.

How are you viewed by others? Those who are part of my life know I am far from perfect but they are still ready to love me. It is such a blessing to be loved.

Physical appearance: I am short in stature and slender. Granny Hatchell used to say I wasn’t as big as a minute but with the energy of a hound dog pup. 

Eyes: A mixture of brown and green that sometimes looks golden.

Hair: Red and curly. I had a difficult time keeping my curly hair tucked away under my Shaker cap.

Voice: Not high and squeaky. Not low and growly. Just a normal voice.

Right- or left-handed? Right-handed.

How would you describe yourself? I don’t know that I should. I think it’s best to worry more about how we are inside than our outward appearance. But should I try to describe myself, I suppose I would say a small woman with a big spirit who is willing to attempt almost anything.

Characteristics: I am a willing worker. I hope for the best. I love easily. I have known sorrow that has made me have empathy for others. 

How much self-control do you have? A great deal. I lived with the Shakers for a while. They have many rules that require self-control.

Fears: I fear losing those I love, especially my sweet baby.

Books: The Bible is the best book for me. I have Granny Hatchell’s Bible and it is a great source of comfort to me. I do love reading other books as well but while I was with the Shakers, they didn’t allow reading of novels. You could only read the Bible and books written about their founder, Ann Lee. 

What would a great gift for you be? The gift of love and a good home where I can mother my baby and any other children the Lord gives me. That’s all I need. 

When are you happy? Happiness can be more an inner attitude instead of the result of outward things. The Bible tells us that a merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but sometimes it’s hard to have that happy heart when things aren’t going well in one’s life. But I am happy as long as I am with my family.

What makes you angry? I am angry if I see my friends or family mistreated. That doesn’t mean I don’t have flare ups of anger over silly things. I am a redhead after all. So if I draw a bucket of water and then trip over a cat, I won’t promise not to get cross. 

What makes you sad? Losing my mother and little sister to cholera made me sad. So did losing Granny and Pa Hatchell. And I was devastated when I lost my husband, Walter in an accident. 

What makes you laugh? My baby makes me laugh. Anna Grace is such a happy little girl.

Hopes and dreams: A happy family. What more could I hope for?

Biggest trauma: Losing my husband in a riverboat accident.

What do you care about most in the world? My family.

Do you have a secret? No. Well, I suppose I did have a secret in my early weeks with the Shakers after I discovered that I was carrying a baby. I had no idea how the Shakers would respond to that since they don’t believe men and women should live as man and wife. But that is a secret that usually can only be hidden for a short time.

What do you like best about the other main characters in your book? I love my Shaker sisters. They were so kind and supportive while I was carrying my baby and after she was born. I love Leatrice and admire her spirit and the way she loves her father. I also admire her father, Flynn, for the way he would have walked through fire for Leatrice.

What do you like least about the other main characters in your book? I prefer to concentrate on the positive. There are a few things about Mona that needs improvement, but the child has been through some difficult times. 

If you could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be: Raising my children to be strong and to know the Lord.

Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you: I was often called on the carpet by Eldress Maria for times I did not properly remember the Shaker rules. Not exactly embarrassing since I cared nothing for learning the Shaker way, but such moments were uncomfortable at times.

Ann H. Gabhartis the bestselling and award-winning author of several Shaker novels—The OutsiderTheBelieverThe SeekerThe BlessedThe Gifted, and The Innocent—as well as historical novels—River to RedemptionThese Healing Hills, Angel SisterLove Comes Home, and more. Writing asA. H. Gabhart, she is also the author of the popular Hidden Springs Mysteries series. She has been a finalist for the ECPA Book of the Year and the Carol Awards, has won two Selah Awards for Love Comes Home, and won RWA’s Faith, Hope, and Love Award for These Healing Hills.  Ann and her husband enjoy country life on a farm a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Learn more at www.annhgabhart.com.

Interview with Adria Starr of River to Redemption by Ann H. Gabhart 

River to Redemption-Book CoverHello, Adria. What a pretty name! Do you know why your parents named you that?

No, I’m sorry I don’t. My parents both died in the 1833 cholera epidemic. Since I was only seven at the time, I didn’t realize my name was a bit unusual. I never asked my mother about it. Her name was Ava and my father Edward. No clues there. My mother wrote some names of her family and my father’s family down in her Bible, but no Adrias. It’s not a Bible name either. Perhaps my mother found it in a book and liked it because it has a melodic sound. I do remember that my mother liked to sing.

That must have been really hard to lose your parents when you were so young. I don’t mean to ask hard questions, but can you tell me what it was like living through a cholera epidemic?

Just the word cholera strikes terror in my heart and it did for the people in our town in 1833. Cholera was an epidemic that year all over the country. Thousands died, but of course, you always hope the disease won’t come to your town. We weren’t that fortunate in Springfield, Kentucky. I was young so I really didn’t know that much about cholera, but I saw the fear on my parents’ faces when they found out someone in town had cholera. They say it’s caused by bad air because of rotting vegetables in the summertime. So everybody tries to get away from the bad air. My mother was packing to escape to the country but then my father was too sick to leave. Before the day was over my little brother became ill and then so did Mama. They all died. I don’t know why I didn’t die too, but Louis said it must be because the Lord had more for me to do here on earth. He found me in my house and took me to the hotel where he and Aunt Tildy took care of me. They were both slaves, but they were so kind to me. I don’t know what would have become of me if not for them. They helped me find a new home with my Aunt Ruth.

You lived with your adopted aunt for many years. What was Ruth like? She must have been strong to take you in without a husband to help her. Women didn’t have many opportunities or rights in 1833.

Women still don’t have many rights here in 1845. We can’t vote. We can’t even stand up in public and express our opinions about how things need to be changed in our country. If we try, we get shouted down. And not only by men but by other women too who think a woman should keep to her place. I say what place is that. I certainly don’t believe allowing a woman to be educated the same as men will make a woman go insane the way some people say. More likely the other way around.

I’m sorry. You have to forgive me. I didn’t intend to get on my soapbox. Aunt Ruth says I have a problem with that. She is every bit a lady. Her husband, who died in the cholera epidemic, was the school teacher. Aunt Ruth took over that job and has taught many Springfield children. She also learned to bake to supplement our income since teaching doesn’t pay that well. When I came of age I took a job at a general store much to my friend, Carlton’s distress. But having a job and drawing a wage does give a woman some freedom of choice. I can only hope that someday women will have the same freedoms to express their opinions and work at various jobs as men do today.

I may get you back on that soapbox, but we want to know how and why you became an abolitionist in a Southern town where slavery is legal and accepted by most people as how things are meant to be.        

Surely you don’t think it is right for a person to own another person. To be able to sell that person like he or she is no more than property. Anybody who examines with an open mind the institution of slavery has to see that everything about it is wrong. Everything. And it is not the way things are meant to be. Aunt Tildy helped me understand that when I was just a child. She deserved freedom. Louis deserves freedom. We all deserve freedom.

Tell us about Louis. I hear he became something of a hero in your town of Spriugfield during the cholera epidemic.

Louis is a wonderful man. Gentle and strong. Committed to the Lord. He found me after my parents died and he and Aunt Tildy took care of me. From the very beginning, I knew he meant nothing but good for me. During the cholera epidemic, he did what no one else could or would do. Even though he was a slave who might have taken advantage of the cholera epidemic to escape to the north and find freedom, instead he stayed to help those who were sick and to bury all those who died. Over fifty people died in 1833 in our little town of Springfield. He dug graves to give each of them a proper burial. He is just a genuinely good man. The safest I have ever felt was when I was a little girl with my hand in his.

He must be quite a man to have been able to do all that. How do you think he did it?

Louis has ever depended on the Lord to help him handle whatever comes his way. He has a deep faith. He taught me the value of praying with the belief the Lord will answer. The Bible does tell us that is true. Ask, and it shall be given to you, seek, and ye shall find. That’s in Matthew 7. Louis says we should listen to the Lord and put our faith in his plan for our lives.

What are your goals in life?

I have such conflicted thoughts at times. I would love to be married to a good man and have a houseful of children. At the same time, I would like to have the freedom to write and speak my opinions the same as men can do. I suppose my goal is to somehow combine those two desires and be a wife and mother while also being an independent woman. Do you think that is even possible?

I do hope so, Adria. For you. On a lighter note, have you ever had any pets?

Yes, I once wanted my own horse. Doesn’t every girl want her own horse? But we had no place or money for a horse. Aunt Ruth was right when she said we could walk everywhere we needed to go. So Aunt Tildy brought me a kitten. He was so sweet. All black except for a spot of white on his neck and a little touch of white on the tip of his tail. I named him Gulliver because Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World was one of the first books Aunt Ruth read to me. I loved those stories. Actually Gulliver turned out to be aptly named because once the cat got older, he took off for travels just like Gulliver in the stories. He did come home on occasion to let me pet him and to catch a few mice out in the shed.

So books helped you and your Aunt Ruth connect. I can almost see the two of you sitting on the couch reading by the light of the oil lamp. Why do you think reading together was so important to the two of you?

We did enjoy our reading times. Aunt Ruth loves books and the poetry of words. She opened up the world beyond our little town to me by sharing her love of reading. Those stories helped get me through the sad times early on when I missed my family so much. I do believe our many hours of reading together cemented the loving relationship Aunt Ruth and I eventually had.

After I learned to read, Aunt Ruth and I would take turns reading to one another. We still do sometimes. It’s wonderful how you can string words together to make a picture in someone’s head. Reading is good any way you do it, but when you read aloud, you can put feeling and music to the words of the writer and make those imagined pictures even better. I can’t imagine my life without books. Or without Aunt Ruth.

Thank you for answering our questions, Adria. We wish you the best as you seek love and independence. 

Ann H. GabhartAnn H. Gabhart is the bestselling and award-winning author of several Shaker novels—The Outsider, The Believer, The Seeker, The Blessed, The Gifted, and The Innocent—as well as These Healing Hills, Angel Sister, Small Town Girl, Love Comes Home, Words Spoken True, and The Heart of Hollyhill series. She is also the author of the popular Hidden Springs Mysteries series, as A. H. Gabhart. She has been a finalist for the ECPA Book of the Year and the Carol Awards, and has won two Selah Awards for Love Comes Home. Ann and her husband enjoy country life on a farm a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Learn more at www.annhgabhart.com.