Pauline Hensley Harber, of Smith, recently penned a memoir of her life, from her youth in Martins Fork through her time outside the mountains and into the world to her nearly tragic battle with kidney disease.
"Among the Mountain Laurels" is a non-fiction manuscript of a hard-working Appalachian woman. Harber said she gave the book that title because of its comparability to the women of Harlan.
"The mountain laurel is by far my favorite flower. I have always compared the women in this area to a mountain laurel," she said. "They both survive the difficult world around them, while staying fragile."
"This story is both tragic and uplifting ... and beautifully told in these pages," said renowned author Lee Smith after reading Harber's book. "It is a real document of faith and perseverance, inspiring to all of us. (Pauline is) truly the essence of a 'good mountain woman' - tough, true and tender all at once. I'm sure many others would love to read this story as well."
A daughter of a coal miner, Harber was born in the valley of Martins Fork. She stated that some of her inspiration from the book came from her mother, Ruthie Smith Hensley, who devoted her life to her 10 children, five of whom were orphaned by her sister.
Though she said she has been inspired by authors such as Smith, Silas House and local writer Judy Hensley, Harber said ever since she was a little girl she wanted to be an author.
"I can remember being real young and always wanting to write," said Harber. "It was something I had always wanted to do."
The book describes the struggles of Harber's family while she was growing up. After graduating from Hall High School, Harber moved to Nashville and then on to California, where she attended the Patricia Stevens Modeling School and worked as a model in television and newspaper advertisements.
She eventually returned home to Harlan County and married Ralph Harber and began a family. She later returned to school and earned a degree from Cumberland College, then began her teaching career at Hall Elementary School. She moved on to Cawood High School where she worked until health problems forced her to retire in 1980.
Through many joys and tragedies in Harber's life, "Among the Mountain Laurels" seems to recount the faith of Harber, who battled kidney failure for 12 years before having two transplants. She said the trials were many, but she lived life to the fullest, caring for and enjoying her family - especially her three daughters, Edwina, Kimberly and Jacqueline.
Kim Harber, who was a basketball standout in high school and later went on to teach at Cawood High School, died in 2003.
"The ultimate tragedy of my life was the sudden death of my daughter Kimberly Lynn," said Harber. "She loved life with a passion."
Harber credited her faith in God for helping her through all of her tough times of life. She also said the closeness of her family and love for the mountains brought peace to her life at times, as described in her book.
"This book truly tells a story that man from all walks of life can identify with in some way. It is a story of life's experiences," she said. "Love, fresh air, sunshine and majestic mountains made material goods seem unimportant," said Harber. "We 10 children felt we were richest in the valley. Our love for each other, our working together for survival, created a bond that will never be broken. No greater riches could we have possessed."
Frank Ritter, author and journalist for over 50 years with the Tennessean in Nashville, summed up Harber's book quite well.
"'Among the Mountain Laurels' is an instant classic, filled with drama about women who survive in a mountain land. It is scarcely, if ever, written about," he said.
For more information about purchasing "Among the Mountain Laurels," call Harber at 573-7889. Also, a book signing is scheduled at the Village Center Mall on Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. You can also purchase a book at Henson Florist.
In the near future, the book will be available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon.