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Sunday, October 19, 2014

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE SOUTH


gary parlier and bobbie parlier
the hillbilly show

Just now had a rush of emotion from out of the blue over how much I love the Southern people, the people of the American South, the people I've lived among all my adult life by choice. Knowing what I know about the South, and who I've known in the South, I could not live outside the South. Looking back to early influences, I don't know where my interest in the South came from. In third grade I read a child's biography of Robert E Lee, not so much because I wanted to know about him, but I wanted to know about the South. This would have been about 1950 when the South was known for magnolias, moonlight and Spanish moss.  I had not seen any tv before then, we didn't get ours until 1950. I had seen several movies with my grandmother. She liked Betty Grable movies. I was enchanted by Susan Hayward, which probably had to do with mommy, and later, Claudette Colbert. More than likely saw some Southern images in those late 40s pop sentimental movies I saw with grandmother, going downtown on the bus to a movie theater. Big deal when you're four. Perhaps was carried away by a Southern romance scene with big dresses and Confederate uniforms, the moss hanging from the live oak trees. From a working class neighborhood in Kansas City, it was otherworldly, someplace else, a kind of Shangri La for a city kid with no experience. My feeling is the Robert E Lee book might have been the spark that deepened whatever interest I already had from post-war Forties movies. Betty Grable of the million dollar legs. The South had a mystique for me all the time growing up. The mystique associated with Gone With The Wind and the Solid South, the Dixiecrats. I knew nothing they were about except they didn't like authority, either. The closest to a goal I had was to get to the South, feel it from the inside, live deep inside Dixie. First time I drove across Mississippi, I felt like it was a foreign country. Mississippi had no billboards then. I don't know about now, but it was unforgettable to drive through a state with none. If I had not gone to South Carolina, I'd have probably gone to Mississippi.

hillbilly wes
the hillbilly show

It's not the Gone With The Wind South I fell in love with. I don't care about the mansions and the plantations. I love the Southern people, the people you see at a George Thorogood concert, the people you see in the crowd at a Nascar race, the people hanging out at the river around a campfire, pickups parked nearby with doors open and all radios on the heavy metal station. The South is a culture of poverty, in Depression for a century after the war that I still have issues with Jefferson Davis over, for letting go ahead. Going into the war, the South did not have a chance, not even an imaginary chance. Possibly, too, I had a sympathy from mother's milk for the underdog. Maybe I felt sorry for the poor Old South the Yankees beat down. In fifth grade, a civil war cap was something every boy in school had to have, like a Davy Crockett hat a few years before. All the guys had Yankee hats, but I had a Rebel hat. This was Kansas, just a few miles north of Jesse James and Cole Younger country, and not long after. I loved my Rebel hat. I was disappointed there weren't others with Rebel hats, but wouldn't put a Yankee hat on my head, not even to see how it fit. In 1952, age 10, Yankees were already my enemy. I lost my Rebel hat one night when daddy took me to see Battle At Apache Pass, starring Jeff Chandler as Cochise. I loved the Apaches then, Cochise and Geronimo my heroes. The crowd was packed so tight with some coming out and some going in, my hat was knocked off my head by somebody's shoulder, it fell to the floor and was trampled to death. I couldn't pick it up and it was gone later. I loved about the Apaches that they stood up to the white man to the very last, like the Lakotas of the Plains region. Cochise spoke Confucian truth such as, White man speak with forked tongue. It's fairly obvious I had a problem with authority young. I was a defiant child on the inside. Didn't dare express it on the outside. All authorities said no.   

jackie maines
the hillbilly show

It was the Hillbilly Show Saturday night in Sparta that set off a welling up in the heart, adoration of the South I've been feeling today. From outside the South, it's seen intolerant, racist, mean-spirited and largely stupid. All these apply, but no more in the South than in the North and West. Neither Michelle Bachmann nor Ted Cruz is from the South. Cruz is from intelligent Canada. Both are racist as you get, mean-spirited, intolerant and best known for stupid; they're not from the South. Neither is John Boner. Stupid is universal. So is racism. In all my time in the South, I've had friends who are not racists, white friends who marched in demonstrations for black civil rights. A good percentage of Southerners do not fit the cliche mold as seen from the outside. When I'm outside the South, I find the people tend not to like Southerners for all the South's negative cliche associations. I'm reminded of a prank video I saw on facebook. A man with a sandwich board on front and back on a busy sidewalk in New York. It said, Fuck the Poor. Everybody that passed had something to say to him, either aggressive or passive aggressive. Sometimes it was threatening. Next scene, he's standing in the same place and his board reads, Help the Poor. Not one person looked at him. All went around him like he was a post in the middle of the sidewalk. Not one even cast a glance. All were preoccupied. I see the outsiders pointing the finger at the South over racism and slavery, what you white Southerners done to them poor black people, aggressive tones of voice. When it comes to helping the poor people of the South, black or white, the dregs of a century-long Depression, everybody looks the other way. Switch the channel. Of course I know racist people in the South. I know even more people who are not racist. Sure, there are some ignorant Southerners going around. I don't know but a few. It's just people being people, people with a common culture I happen to love. 

lynn worth
the hillbilly show

I saw a wonderful sense of community at the Hillbilly Show in the people on the stage and the people in the audience. The people on the stage were the same people as in the audience. Home town people, people who still have the old ways in their soul. In Alleghany County, as in Charleston, you can be who you are, do what you do, just don't make a spectacle of yourself, whatever your agenda. Keep your agenda, whatever it is, to yourself and we all get along good. Everybody knows what your agenda is, anyway. No need to bore the people around you repeating it. Whatever it is, it's ok, it's yours. There is little like walking into a hardware store and being called Honey by a man who is not gay. He's just talking the old way that some people still carry. In my life in the South, there is no other place on earth I'd rather be. In the South I live with a very personal warmth between people. All emotions are stronger, it seems, in the South. You fall into hate with somebody in the South and it's on. Falling into love is equally powerful. It is a warmth in the heart I find characteristic of Southerners, an open, receptive warmth. Mama is the goddess of the South. Paula Deen is a good model of the Southern middle-class, upper-class wannabe, white woman. She's not objectionable. She has a Southern charm that can sweet-talk her man into buying her anything she wants. My kind of people is really every kind of Southern people. Southern culture has a warm heart. It goes back to mama calling her chubby little boy Butterbean. And maybe it's that old Nineteenth Century belief in the sanctity of the individual that continues to live in the rural South. A Nineteenth Century religion possibly has something to do with it too. It's possibly the Nineteenth Century remains in today's South that drew me to the South subconsciously. I've never really trusted Twentieth Century Progress. Now the Twenty-first Century is dismantling the Twientieth Century back to the Nineteenth, and I don't trust that either. Oh well. I set out to write about the Hillbilly Show. I think what I wrote is why I love the Hillbilly Show. 

ernest and agnes joines
the hillbilly show


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