Thursday, December 2, 2010

rare breed--this one is a doozy...

bluegrass is like cocoa butter to a scar
and hardscrabble is what we are.

Desperate people don't migrate to tough terrain in a foreign country on the brink of a civil war because they like Magnolias.  Most of the Irish that came over always carried some heartbreak for the loss of the country that fought so hard to build and protect from those English bastards...yes, I said with it.

They come and the keep coming because they believe that if their hands become course enough, that if their children can assimilate enough and speak proper Grammar, that if they can create a life out of nothing but day one of their children's children will eat a thickburger at Hardee's. Maybe they will hear an old Hank Williams tune or see someone clogging on the history channel.  Maybe if they are really lucky and can make it to Cocke county with knowledgeable locals, they can drink some Watermelon shine out of a trailer and find secret caves and carvings on trees.

I am becoming an extinct breed.  They call us Appalachian up north...I even got a scholarship to Grad school because I was considered a minority with a "strong oral tradition."  And every time we get into those mountains, I never want to leave...but there is little work there and Paul is from Dublin and expects public transport.  Much of me belongs in Oconee County, South Carolina.  There are a thousand ways to tell stories...but what if they are lost before I am able to pass them on (damned oral tradition)?  I know Paul feels this burden far more heavily than I...our children do not know his streets, his slang, the songs that are song in pubs..the apple tarts, his beloved mother and all the fields he used to roam. 

Please don't get me wrong...I'm all for making the world a more intimate place...I just don't want us to lose our distinctiveness.  I don't want it all to look and taste the same.  The banjo deserves to be played a hundred years from now.  Convenience and greed have seduced us into block after block that looks exactly the same in most of America.  And the more countries we infiltrate with the worst of culture...this bleak and lazy trend spreads...

I have been extremely fortunate to have a large extended family that I have been close to most of my life.  Most peole don't know all their cousins, don't talk to the Uncles and Aunts every week...don't have 3 living grandparents.  I know this and I no longer take it for granted.  Every year we have a family reunion and it is worth driving six hours to spend four or five hours with all of them--or most--even if the little ones don't remember me from year to year.  How did I get so lucky?  It was my Papa (Shadow, pronounced Shatter) that got the whole thing going.  It gets bigger every year.  And this year I was fortunate enough to meet someone I'd friended on FB, who turns out has the same grandad as my Papa.   How frakkin' cool is that??

I once heard (in school I think) that first generation immigrants often try very hard to fit in to the new country, but still maintain language and food and tradition.  The 2nd generation resents it and tries to be as "American" as they can...and the 3rd generation goes rooting around for any links to the past.  I have felt like an American before...many times, but more often I feel like a Southerner...more a kid whose Dad grew up in a holler called Bear Swamp.  There were many times I felt like I was some kind of smarty-pants trying to outrun my roots...but nothing compares to my Dad.  The man actually took lessons to get rid of his accent so that he could be more successful in his ventures.  At the time, it disgusted me.  And frankly, it is still a sore spot that Andy McDowell ( I think that is her name..the actress from 'Sex Lies and Videotape") was always told to downplay her accent.  They even did voice overs on her old Loreal commercials.

When I lived in New Jersey, I was seriously asked these questions when I was earning my Master's Degree:
  • Do you wear shoes most of the time?
  • Do you still have slaves?
  • Do you hate black peole?
  • You know that the South is behind in everything when it comes to education...are you sure you can handle our high school kids?
  • How did you get into this school?
  • Do you have cousins that are married?
  • One African-American girl from Brooklyn would not be friendly to me for a year, despite the fact that we had lots of classes together....finally I got up the courage and asked her if I had offended her somehow...she said, "My grandfather was lynched in Alabama and your accent make me feel hate I no longer can afford to carry."
These things made me as angry as a disturbed hornet.  Now, I know all about white privilege and what it means and how it works and how racism and all the ism's are institutional...I have no doubt about it.  But why is it still ok to make fun of mountain people?  Have we not offered enough culture to you snot noses?  Do you think you'd have Country music, Bluegrass, Blues or Rock and Roll without the South? 

I don't celebrate the succession of South Carolina.  I never did...but, we talked about it every year in school while I was there and Robert E. Lee was painted as quite a hero.  I didn't buy it then.  I don't really even fit with my own people as much as I sometimes wish I could...I go to the reunion and when I get to Oconee county, I lose track of all the Confederate flags I see.  I am not one of them.  I am in many ways an I've always been this strange hybrid of vast influences.  I finally like who I am most of the time..despite how bizarre my tastes and preferences may be...

The first date I had with Paul he asked me a hell of a question...he said (paraphrasing)..."How did a girl like you who came from where you came from, with what you had to deal with end up who you are?"  I'm still trying to answer that question--writing helps me figure it out.  I've been scribbling away in journals for thirty years now and I don't need it to all fit neatly.  I just need to keep trying to figure it out.  It isn't simply a narcissistic exercise--I know from my success working and teaching others that this is a human thing that everyone has to figure out a way to make sense of.  I believe it is ok not to know, but it is crucial to try and figure it out the best you can.  It isn't about is about all of us learning how to acknowledge who we are, where we came from, what we want to feed and what we want to starve...and I don't think there is any kind of easy fix.  You mess up and get back up and hope you didn't mess up so bad you can't start over. 

There are  easy ways and hard ways and I almost always choose the hard ways because I don't trust many people's advice.  You probably won't trust mine...and that is just fine.  Just know that I come from people who built churches (and probably won't quit preachin' till they kick over at the podium), picked cotton, sharecropped, played homemade instruments, drank some moonshine that should've killed them, worked in mills, fought in wars, made romantic gestures, helped many thousands of people all over the world.  Even if I'm not exactly "one of them" ( I am after all a raging Liberal)...I couldn't deny them if I wanted to...they made me, gave up things they loved to make a way for future generations and didn't run away when things got hard. 

What I want right now is is a shot of Tullamore Dew and a raging bonfire.  Guess that's out of the question...but cheers to all who came before me and all that never thought I'd make it and those who believed for even one second that I might be more than I seemed...all of you are still teaching me.

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