Growing up poor in the Smokies…how did we survive?
Mary Judith Messer’s powerful and often disturbing memoir, set in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, northern Virginia and New York City, tells of her life as the middle daughter of an abusive moonshiner and his mentally ill wife, the incredible hardship her mother and the four children suffered at her alcoholic father’s hand, as well as the trauma the children suffered from the cruelty of other youth and adults in their life growing up in Haywood County.
Her escape from poverty and horrible living conditions came at the age of fourteen when she joyously became a mother’s helper for a family of five children. Two years later she moved to NYC to join her older sister who had fled a forced marriage to one of their father’s drinking buddies. While there, Mary’s experiences were wide-ranging, from bed-bug infested basement flats to glamorous nights at Radio City Music Hall and Broadway shows. She also discovered that not all cruel people had been left behind in North Carolina.
Moonshiner’s Daughter reveals Mary’s memories of her life which took place in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Here’s what Robert Morgan, award-winning, best-selling author of Gap Creek and many others, also a Western NC native, had to say (we thank him for his kind words):
“Moonshiner’s Daughter is a gripping testimony of one woman’s struggle, and one family’s struggle, to survive against overwhelming odds—financial, social, emotional, physical. This book is a window on a world many of us assume is long in the past. Most of all it is a story of human connection, of victory over poverty, pain, discrimination, the haunting story of one woman finding her voice and her place. Though heart-breaking at times, this is a book you will not soon forget.”
Ron Rash, award-winning author of Serena, and many others, and Western Carolina University’s Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Cultural Studies, shared his thoughts on Moonshiner’s Daughter (again, many, many thanks!):
“Mary Messer’s story of the poverty and brutality she experienced during her Appalachian childhood will make the reader wonder how she ever survived such an upbringing. Moonshiner’s Daughter is an unsettling, unsentimental, and unforgettable portrait of survival under the worst of circumstances.”
Several years ago, Mary began to scribble her memories of growing up in spiral-bound notebooks whenever she had a slow moment in her small but successful business. Even though Mary only had a spotty eighth grade education, and her spelling and handwriting were “creative” to say the least, she had an overwhelming desire to write down the story of her early life in the hopes that she would somehow be able to find a healing for herself as well as offer hope to others who may have experienced abuse, sexual assault and/or domestic violence, either as children or adults.
Mary is donating a portion of each book sold to REACH of Haywood County, Inc. to help them in their mission to assist survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or elder abuse and to educate teenagers and adults in how to avoid intimate partner violence as well as how to help friends in need.