View this email in your browser
This newsletter series helps financially support the work of the creators and innovators you see here. Join our community and help keep this newsletter going!
Donate Now!
Ivy Brashear with her aunts, Annie (middle) and Yo (right). Photo by Pam Brashear/Provided.

Hi y’all,

It’s raining where I am now, in Lexington, Kentucky – a good, early spring rain that will help the flowers bloom and the trees awaken from their winter hibernation.

Rain in the city is different than rain in the mountains. Rain here pours out of the sky like turning on a shower, and it pools up in the roads and on the sidewalks. What doesn’t soak up into the ground rushes away in little rivers, toward the sewers.

In the mountains, you can see the rain coming up over the ridgeline. It comes down in a sheet, rolling its way toward you, tumbling from the sky and over the hills on its way. It rushes down valleys and hollers and forms streams that run into creeks which run into rivers that flow from our mountains all the way to the ocean. Such is the way of water, to never stop moving.

My Aunt Yo, though, liked to stay still. She’d often be sitting in her rocking chair on her porch that looked out over Big Branch Creek and the road that traced its path, cigarette in hand. Watching, waiting – welcoming us to come and sit with her.

That’s where she was when I got caught out in the rain with my mom and Yo’s youngest sister, my aunt Donna. We’d been out for a walk on a warm summer evening. The rain was unexpected, but we saw it coming. It was moving fast, so we ran for the refuge of Yo’s porch to try and beat it. We made it back, laughing, only a little bit wet, and Yo was there waiting for us, probably with towels to dry us off.

Yolande Brashear Callahan was slight of frame, small and skinny most of her life. She was quiet; I don’t ever remember her raising her voice, and the truth is, she never had to. If she was upset or mad, you’d know about it. She had a way with words – four letter words to be precise – and some of the best takedowns I know came from her. 

She worked for Phillip Morris, the cigarette company, in her early adulthood. That’s where she picked up smoking, a habit never quit.

She loved cats and cared for many in her lifetime. The most notorious of these were T.T. – a vicious Siamese who only loved Yo – and Felix Blevins, a solid gray cat who, according to Yo’s husband Jimmy (better known as Slick), lived many lives. According to my young (at the time) nephew though, Felix was a brain surgeon and a pilot, and on occasion, would drive long-hauls in his kitty semi-truck across the country.

Yo would sit in her kitchen at a small two-top table by the window. A little TV sat on the counter by the sink, and it would always be on in the background. At Thanksgiving, it would play the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade; other times, it was daytime talk shows. She had positioned several bird feeders outside the window, and she would sit and watch the birds come and go, at peace in this observation.

When I was young, she lived in a doublewide trailer right next to our family pool, so you had to walk past her front door to get to the pool. It was a ritual – even after she moved into her last home – to stop and check in with Yo before or after swimming. Her door was always open, and she was always happy to see us coming. She’d grab us up in a big hug, huge smile on her face, radiating joy at just being able to see us.

She was a tradition keeper and family storyteller, keeping artifacts of her parents and grandparents and telling me about them when I’d ask. After her father – my Pa Earl – died, she brought NeHi peach pop to every family function in his honor, because that’s what he always did. She knew there were small ways, every day, that a person could hold onto things like that and still move forward. She knew doing so was not only honoring those we’d lost but was also keeping them alive among us.

She had nicknames for me, my favorite of which was “Snood,” a form of my middle name Jude, which was the favorite of my names on dad’s side of the family. (Jude comes from my great-great grandmother, Juda, whom legend has it killed a goose with her bare hands because it was bothering the children.) And she always said I looked “tough,” her word for cool; I always loved that.

She was tough herself, raising her son alone after her divorce. And she was always, no matter what, completely herself. 


Ivy with her family at Easter, 2016. Back, from left: the author’s mom, Pam, and dad, Jay; uncle, Slick; brother, Justin; aunts, Yo and Annie; sister-in-law Tommi. Front, from left: Ivy’s nephews, CJ and Auggie; and Ivy. Photo by Ivy Brashear/Provided.

I had been taught in action and in words all my life, by all the people in my life, that I was free to be myself. I was encouraged in my love of sports and books and playing with the boys. I was told I was a “tomboy,” and deeply identified with that label as a child, fully feeling myself a Scout Finch-type girl, who climbed trees and went on adventures in the woods with my cousins.

It never occurred to me that the reason I felt different than the other kids was because of something deep within me I couldn’t quite identify. But when I was a senior in high school, I came out as lesbian.

That sentence makes it seem easier and a much shorter process than it was. In truth, it was neither. It was an incredibly fraught time in my life, when I was trying to figure out how to be who I had discovered myself to be – who I had in fact always been – and live in my skin in this new way while also still meshing into the family I deeply loved and of which I felt myself an essential part.

I was scared, more than anything, of not being able to reconcile both of these essential pieces of myself. I knew I was queer, and I knew I could live no other truth but that one as soon as I accepted it. Still, I was terrified I would lose my family in the process of revealing myself to them.

That year, we had gone to my Aunt Donna’s house for Easter dinner. It was a gorgeous spring day, one where the air is warm but crisp, not yet watered down by the humidity of summer. The sky was an impossible blue, and the Easter lilies were blooming all around.

I was walking back into the house after a short, solitary stroll outside when Yo happened to be leaving. Without warning, prompting or a word otherwise, she grabbed me in a deep hug, encompassing and warm.

“I love you, just the way you are,” she whispered it in my ear, squeezed just a little bit tighter, then released me a second later and followed Slick to their truck to ride back down the mountain to their house by the creek. I stood there on the steps of Donna’s small back porch, and watched her go, not quite sure, but also knowing without a doubt exactly what she meant.

Yo was many things to me. She taught me to pay attention to my elders and keep their stories within me. She showed me how to be still and observe the people and places and creatures around me. She advised to “eat your dessert first,” perhaps her wisest bit of insight. She was love in person form, and she gave it freely, willingly and as often as she could.

I like to think I have followed what might have been her greatest lesson to me by always being completely myself, no matter the cost, and no matter what others might think about it.

Yo died four years ago this spring, the season that makes me think of her the most. The family gathered around her then. We kept watch over her, witnessing her final days, washing her body, making sure she was comfortable. As she laid in the hospital bed, fading and confused by that reality, she would move involuntarily, unable to settle.

For a moment, I went to her side and held her hand as she moved it. When I did, she looked over at me, focused on my face, and settled, just for a moment. I tried without words, but with all that I had, to convey one last message to her.

“I love you. Thank you.”

Maybe it got through to her then. But maybe it already had, long before this moment, and many times over – because she saw me live as myself, and she loved me for it.


Ivy Brashear 

Visit us at
Enjoying this newsletter? Share it with your friends. 
Got this as a forward? Sign up to receive our future emails

Our mailing address is:
364 Patteson Drive #218 Morgantown, WV 26505

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Copyright © 2021 100 Days in Appalachia, All rights reserved.