the goat rock, whitehead
In the last few years several people have suggested in conversation that I know about mountain culture, these being people from Away, and they're wanting to know something about the culture, especially if they'll be "accepted," having a house in a subdivision that was once somebody's grandpa's farm. First thing I have to say every time is I don't know but a very little. The only way you can know the culture is to be born into it, and then you don't know it for a culture--it's just life. Curiously, a culture never becomes interesting to the people living it until the culture is dead, as mountain culture is now. It's something to study as a culture that once was. Traces of it continue, like the music, which I think of as the spirit of the culture. I never know what to say when somebody wants to talk about the subject.
In our time of talking instead of listening, most often when I start, the one with the question starts talking and never stops. I've learned by now not to worry about it. It's just America where everybody thinks they're on a tv talk show. One thing we've learned in television culture is never let there be a moment of "dead air," or in pre-broadcast language, silence. Thelonious Monk called silence the loudest noise there is. In America these days it's certainly the most frightening noise there is. We're so accustomed for so many generations now to the white noise of tv and/or radio that silence has very little place in our lives. Just like on tv, it doesn't matter what you say. All that matters is keeping the void of silence away. Come again another day.
This is how I am told that the person who asked the question isn't really interested. I say ridiculous things, like get acquainted with your next door neighbor. But the people next door are working class and the one interested in mountain culture is from the middle class. Can't rub elbows down the ladder. That's not in the equation. When it comes to getting to know working class people, television is so much better. Their sense of humor is antiquated, test-taking in school is not their measure of intelligence, so they're not educated, equals illiterate, equals look down on. Many customs of the middle class are designed to separate them from the working class, by saying something is hick or what my mother called country in my instruction not to talk like my grandmother, aint and them for those, like that. So the language is different, such that those trained not to talk like a hick are put off hearing hicks talk. It sounds dumb, uneducated, because we're trained to hear it that way, not because it is.
I'm not pointing fingers, just saying this is a bridge that has to be crossed by someone truly interested in mountain culture. Most that come here are not. Among them, a few think they are until it gets down to having cornbread and pinto beans at the Circle L or listening to an old-timey fiddle squawk and a Beverly Hillbillies banjo. Among the ones that come here interested in mountain culture, they settle right in, get to know the people around them, learn to get by the best you can, the mountain way, and come to respect the people they know. This respect inevitably surfaces when you learn that the way we think of intelligence, coming from a society where education is qualifications, doesn't apply. In the mountains, your character is more important than your knowledge. That's new to somebody coming from an urban setting.
After some years of explaining, I learned to keep my answers brief as possible, because the questioner is just filling in the silence and not really interested in an answer. If I could put it in a 20 minute tv show with 10 minutes of commercials would be ideal; or even better, a half hour infomercial for real estate. I tend always to want to answer the question as honestly as I'm able, to perhaps be a bit of help to someone who might be interested a little bit. I've found that all I can really say that answers everything is treat everyone you meet with basic human respect. If I'm not interrupted before the end of the sentence, I might add, though this is getting a little wordy: the people of these mountains treat each other with respect. It's part of the culture. You learn as a little kid. It's among the first things the kids learn. When somebody who has only known being treated with respect, and I don't mean being looked up to, the least little trace of disrespect, even in attitude, stands out and will go unforgotten. It stands out so much it becomes an offence.
To sum it up in as close to a simple sentence as I'm able, I have to say treat everyone you meet with respect and be yourself. Even if the people around you don't agree with you, if you're yourself, you'll be respected for that. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases that's too much to ask. When somebody asks, I don't know who means it and who doesn't, so I attempt to treat the question as if it's meant until the questioner shows me it's not, which usually happens by the end of my second sentence. Treat everyone you meet with basic human respect, in a moderately compound sentence, is about all I have to say any more. It's all in that nutshell.