Bringing Pride to the Ozarks Through Good Deeds from Afar

Jun 5, 2015

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. It’s June. Shouldn’t I be turning on my AC by now? Well, maybe today. These days, though, I doubt you’d find anyone anywhere who’d say this weather is normal. It’s odd even for the Ozarks. And then California and Texas they’ve traded weather patterns; and where there was record breaking historic drought in Texas there are killer floods destroying communities, tearing up homes and washing away the fragile, unprotected earth. And California, the Golden State, is starving for water. The snowpack is completely gone from the Cascades, the Klamaths, the Siskiyous, the Sierra Nevada, the Tehachapis, the San Bernardinos, the San Gabriels; I could go on. And now Texas is in flood.

Cleaning quilts damaged by floods in Texas.
Credit Kathryn Ledbetter / (Facebook)

It’s a situation so peculiar, so vast, so epic, that it’s hard to fathom. Yet here in the midst of it all, comes a story that will be personal to a great many folks within the range of my voice. Most of you who are not too young to remember will recall a voice that was on your radio some years ago, especially if you were a fan of country music. Many a day and evening were seasoned and made special by the music selections and the down-home drawl of a woman we all knew as Miss Kitty. Her full name was and is Kathryn Ledbetter, and she and her drawl came straight out of Ozark County, which, as anyone in the Ozarks will tell you, is about as far into the Ozarks as you can get. 

She moved away from the Ozarks some years back, first to South Carolina where she finished her Masters and PhD, and then on to Texas, where she is now an Associate Professor at Texas State University in San Marcos. Somewhere along the way she was romanced by a dark eyed musician by the name of Alan Munde, who many claim as being the best banjo player in the whole world, if not the universe. They settled there in the Texas hill country, and thrived there. Recently, when I went on a nationwide tour with my band, Blackberry Winter, in support of the soundtrack for the film Winter’s Bone, we stayed with Kitty and Alan at their spread, which was located down several skinny back roads and a good distance from any city lights. Sorta like the Ozarks. And the music lasted all night long. 

Damaged quilts.
Credit Kathryn Ledbetter / (Facebook)

And by now you’re wondering what this has to do with drought in California and floods in Texas. Well, it might have been nothing, except for the fact that Kitty and Alan a little while ago, began to crave a little less isolation. They started looking, and soon found a lovely spot at the edge of a little town only a few miles from Kitty’s job at the university. They bought it, and moved – to Wimberly, population 2,500, in Hays County. Just up the hill from the peaceful Blanco River that wound through the center of town. 

On Memorial Day weekend just past, the peace in Hays County was shattered as so much rain fell into that watershed that the Blanco River rose 40 feet, twice as high as at any time in recorded history. It scoured out the center of that town, tossing homes, cars, businesses and a number of people into oblivion. Kitty was not among them, as their home was farther up the hill. But she was down there as soon as the water receded, doing whatever she could to help. And what she could do, and did, was to plunge into the ruins of a little home and shop down next to the river. It was the home of the antique quilt collection of Helen Shepler, who called herself the Gypsy Peddler.

“She lost everything in the Wimberley flood except what we are trying to restore,” Kitty said. 18 quilts were rescued from what had been her bedroom, rinsed repeatedly outdoors, then washed and washed and washed again after soaking in flood waters and mud for three days, under plaster and insulation and ankle-deep in putrid river mud. Helen Shepler had no flood insurance, and these quilts were part of a huge collection of antiques and such she sold on Ebay. It was her only income. And Kitty knew it.

Many people came when called and helped with the job. But our Kitty, who was born into our spare little culture of use it up, wear it out, and make it do or do without, was the first to realize the importance of these little scraps of history, and  to do more than just stand by Helen’s side in support. She was the first to dive into the muck to save them. Bravo, Miss Kitty. We miss you, and we’re always glad to see you when you visit the folks at home, but you’re proof perfect that you can take the hillbilly out of the Ozarks, but you just can’t take the Ozarks out of the hillbilly.

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. Thanks for listening.

Anyone wishing to donate to the fund to help this quilter recover from the flood can visit gofundme.com/helenshepler.