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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

HILLBILLIES

whitehead

Today I heard myself say to someone I'd just met who'd been here 4 years, "You'll never get used to it here." Then I thought, that's not saying anything. It gives no idea of what I mean, except just that. People who come here from other places never get used to it. That's not a negative thing to say. I think of it like sailing a boat and making music, no matter how much you know, there's always more to learn. Always more to learn. I took it for granted he knew what I meant, but when I look back at how vague it was, I doubt he had a clue.


I came here without any foreknowledge of where I was going. Mountains. I like Chinese poetry and mountains is one of the themes over the centuries. I had a notion of mountains as aesthetic beauty. That's what I came for. And that's what I found. 32 years of getting used to it has made it a fine boat to sail. Comically, over 10 of those years I spent in town and driving back and forth to town, lost touch with the mountains except for regarding the roads extensions of deer trails that I'd rather walk. I stay in touch driving, the up and down, the this way and that, familiar views, familiar houses, familiar people, familiar sky.


I'm struck by how many houses there are owned by people who work hard to make their money. It's like the harder the work, the less the pay. I've never agreed with that. The guy that makes the least is the one working the shovel. The one that makes the most is riding a golf cart. To work hard every day of your life, except for party hardy weekends, to pay for a house, a pickup, a car for wife who has a job, kids and everything else, is an achievement I have to salute. I am impressed by how frugally they live to afford all that they pay for every month. It's one month at a time, the way I live, the way we live in America. During economic meltdown, people I knew were estimating how many months til they were broke.


When I'm outside the mountains, which I hardly ever am any more, I find myself among people who give mountain people no consideration at all, just ignernt hillbillies. My grandfather from Kansas City, a greenskeeper of public golf courses, was here visiting. One day I sent him up to Tom Pruitt's house to get acquainted. When he returned I asked him about his visit. "He's just an old hillbilly." I swelled up inside like a toad, not liking to hear Tom dismissed as a hillbilly like hillbilly is something on the bottom of some scale. I beg to differ. I suppose I went into it with expectation and came away disappointed. I wanted grandpa to see the Tom I knew. He saw a peer of his still living the way he lived growing up pre-WWI. The old way. Like though his parents came here from Germany, they didn't teach the kids German. It was the old way. And grandpa had friends in the Ozarks, farmers. A lot of the men who worked him lived in the country. He knew what he was saying, though this was the first hillbilly he'd ever met at home in the hills. I realized it was ridiculous of me to get puffed about grandpa dismissing Tom as hardly worth the bother. I had the impression they couldn't really talk. Tom did all the talking and grandpa couldn't understand a word he said.


The time spent with Jr keeps me away from my mountain, but keeps me in touch with the people I know of these mountains. Both are equally important to me. I've never been one to know a lot of people. I prefer to know a few people well than a lot of people superficially. It makes a lot of people think I'm being something I'm not, but I can't concern myself with all that. Like my friend Carole says, "What you think of me is none of my business."


The time with Jr I see as my transition from 10 years involved with Sparta and the highway to my solitary life at home I came here to live, which I haven't got to yet. It's a great enjoyment staying with Jr. Like I've said before, it's like being a monk in a monastery with the old abbot. I like the stillness and the quiet. He isn't interested in bluegrass any more or any sort of music. I don't need to listen to it either. He doesn't watch tv and neither do I. I don't even listen to the news except driving and that just for short spells, enough to tell me it's enough. I read and he sleeps. I'm there for any need that arises, like the phone rings. Jr can't work the telephone. Invariably he pushes the off button when he means the other, cuts off whoever is calling and thinks they hung up and doesn't understand any of it.


Our friends at Hospice sent a volunteer today to give me 7 hours I need to be away from the house today for a BROC meeting to get the Hillbilly Show planned. Since we believe in eating while we meet, we're meeting at the Pines. BROC is the one branch of Sparta I will continue with. I love what BROC does like I love what Hospice does. BROC is just plain folks helping out other just plain folks needing help. From the Hillbilly Show tickets, the money goes to two scholarships a year to graduates of the high school who want to get started in college somewhere of their choice, people whose parents can't afford to help. It's $500 apiece. All the people involved with BROC are the kinds of people I love to know. It makes me happy to be among them. They are people of these mountains who carry in each of them the real heritage of these mountains, which is good.


It's not about Hatfields n McCoys. Besides, that's West Virginia. For nearly everyone I know it's about loving God and living by the integrity of their values, people with values. I don't mean like fictional saints going around by any means. I mean in the human scale. Even the rowdy ones have values. People that will stop and go out of their way a little bit to help somebody who has a problem, that's a hillbilly. Anywhere in this county your vehicle breaks down, quits running, and you're at the side of the road, first pickup comes along will stop and help you out. There's a whole lot like that in mountain people that makes them special.


Of course, there's the dark side too, as with everything and everybody. There's a dark side wherever you are, even the moon.









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