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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

ROOTS

farmer bob doughton



I like it that the man whose head stands on a marble pedestal on the courthouse lawn is named after Robert E Lee. Robert Lee Doughton. Lots of Robert Lees around the South. I've known 2 and probably more and didn't know it. A few weeks ago something came to me I'd forgotten about since summer before third grade. I had to read a biography of somebody and picked Robert E Lee. I knew nothing about him and was curious. Something pulled me to him, I knew not what. I believe, looking back, that that child's biography was the beginning of the mystique the South held for a kid in Kansas City who fantasized being anywhere else, as far from KC as possible, the opposite side of the globe, Tibet, India. I fantasized those places when feeling miserable wanting to be anywhere else, just another house would do with different people in it. Robert E Lee stood up to the Yankees, to the North, to the United States of America. He lost and lost, but stood his ground, loyal to the South, the homeland. Perhaps his devotion to the South seeded my own.



All the time growing up I paid attention on election night on tv what the Solid South was doing. I liked Strom Thurmond and that governor of Georgia I saw ride a bicycle backwards in a St Patrick's Day Parade in Savannah, Georgia, early 1970s, whose name I can't think of. I didn't know what they were about politically. It just told me the South was different, and different was what I wanted. All the way along, the South was in the corner of my eye, a peephole in my attention. I knew nothing about what was different about the South except states like Mississippi and Alabama where cops gave you a ticket just for having an out of state license. That part of it seemed like a dangerous dark hole to fall into and it was scary. Those white boys from big cities up North getting offed by some Mississippi good ole boys gave the South an even more interesting mystique. A frightening edge where you better watch every step you take. Like walking in the mountains; don't step on a snake and you're ok. Strom Thurmond was a big man to me, because, like Robert E Lee, he stood up to the Yankees, like Sitting Bull stood up to the US Army, the white man. It looks kind of obvious I was looking for somebody to admire with the courage to stand up to white man, to oppressive authority, to daddy.



I liked the Rebel about the South. If I'd lived in this place in that time and had the choice of Yank or Reb, it wouldn't be a decision. My soul couldn't live with me if I did something to the benefit of the North against the interest of the South. It's that strong in me and I'm glad my great great grandfather and his 4 brothers were Rebs in the Civil War. All returned but one, who died in a Yankee prison in New Jersey. Every time I hear or think of Jimmy Arnold's song, the Rebel Soldier, who is dying in a Yankee prison, "tell me parson, tell me quickly, will my soul pass through the Southland?" I feel it every time I hear it, how dreadful it must be to die outside the Southland. Though I don't know hardly anybody, probably just a few hundred people I can say I know, I love everyone in the South. And even more than that, I love everyone in the mountains. The Southern Mountains are the home of my soul. It was an interesting and educational journey getting here by way of 10 years in a Deep South city that was still in the Old South, went to a college that was still in the Old South. I caught the tail end of the Old South, just enough to get a feel of it, the culture. When I was first in Charleston, the police force was such that a cop walked into my rented room and told me to shut my mouth or he'd have something on me by the time we got to the station. He knew I wasn't Southern. And I was catching on that I was really in the South.



There is a certain venality toward them that don't share the same ideas about certain things. I learned that one right off. And was glad to learn it. Don't get smart with cops in my own space. That was in the time when the Charleston police dept was a gang of thugs. Old South cliches. The way things were all the way across the South. This is the law of the South. Your Yankee (Kansas) ass can turn around and take you back to where you come from. I learned that the law of the land is the law I live by too. What the badge and gun mean is they can do anything to me they want and I can't even defend myself. I get it. I can get a lawyer if I want, but they've already kicked my ass and a lawyer aint doin nothing about it. I didn't want to go back where I came from. I wanted to learn to live peaceably in the South. To a degree, I did. Not always, but less and less frequently is there a disturbance of inner peace. The South, like these mountains, is my Home Sweet Home. And the song, Sweet Sunny South. What a beauty. And Take Me Back To The Blue Ridge Mountains that Scott and Willard sing every week.



The only way I could leave the South would be sentenced by a judge to a prison in the North. I'd mourn day and night. The occasional sound of a banjo or fiddle would bring tears every time. When I see the sign by the side of the highway that says Mason-Dixon Line it only feels good when I'm crossing back into the South. Leaving the South, it's like crossing into a foreign country, potentially enemy territory. But that's not going to happen. I'll go on in my Air Bellows home til death do us part. No Yankee prison for me. It's not in my future. First, I became a naturalized Southerner, the slow way, and then a naturalized hillbilly, the slow way again. From being born out of place in wartime, it took 34 years to find my Home Sweet Home. First, I learn the ways of the South, then the ways of the mountains. I had to grow my way into the mountains. Since I turned my way over to the Master one year before coming to the mountains, I took it at the time as His Grace that got me here, and every day since. He knew where I belonged. He landed my parachute in the Air Bellows Schoolhouse, and I've been learning ever since, learning the ways of the mountains.



About the first 15 years I got acquainted with the landscape, the mountains. The next 15 years I became acquainted with the people. By now I love them equally. I feel at home as in grandmother's arms in the Southern Mountains. The music is the only music I've ever heard that makes tears run down my face for the beauty of it. I heard myself tell a friend from Georgia this evening that I've come to the place with mountain music that I think of it anymore as just plain music. All other kinds of music branches off it. We of the mountains laugh at the music being called roots music. As far as I can tell, it's the whole tree. I still hear old-time in punk rock, skateboard punk. It went electric. The old-time way of making music was such that if it made you tap your foot, even against your will, or want to get up and dance, it's music. If it doesn't do that, it's not music. That causes me to ask, then, what is it Aerosmith does? You can't dance to it, but it has a beat and melodies and all. It's old-time plugged in and cut loose. I tend to see old-time the tree trunk itself. The branches blues, country, bluegrass, rock&roll. Old-time has stretched out all the way to techno.



This evening my visiting friend asked about my roots. I answered, Ninemile, Tennessee and Somerset, Kentucky. She said, No, roots like Scotland or Ireland. My poor old mind never wanders over there. There, indeed, are the roots of the tree that is our music, the British Isles. This is why I am not comfortable with it called roots. But I may not be seeing it the way others see it. I might be a bit local-centric. Probably roots music means all the varieties of music around the world before electricity in the age of fire. I can go with that, our old-time one of many, considering Texicano music, Indian music, Polish music and a whole long list. The tree trunk itself raw music, the branches everything that's happening musically in the present. I've never seen it like that before, but it'll do. When I answer the question of my roots with Tennessee and Kentucky, I verify my identity with the South and mountain culture. One of the happiest days of my life was the day I learned of grandpa being born at Ninemile, Tennessee, to Dora Hale Worthington of Bledsoe County, Tennessee, greatgrandmother I remember from ages 4-7. I can't recall features, but remember the feeling of being held by her.

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