Sunday, May 6, 2007

Temptations of a True Redneck?

Am I a redneck? Or a hillbilly? Or country boy? I have a small identity crisis, I suppose, when I consider the issue.

The creek in my yardI live in a rural portion of Central Appalachia. A small creek runs through my backyard. I have a willow and a few walnut trees and four acres of land with sourwood, oak, locust, crabapple, and a few other trees. In the nine years I've lived in this house I've seen raccoons, possums, stray dogs, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, groundhogs, house cats, bobcats, my goats, and the neighbor's cows in my yard. And that's just counting the mammals. The birds are even more amazing. We've had Eastern Bluebirds in a house on our fence three of the last five years. There are scores of finches, orioles and cardinals, indigo buntings, a variety of woodpeckers, a heron that wades up our creek, mourning doves, the ever-present sparrows and wrens, robins and blue jays, and a screech owl that spends the summers in the woods around us.

Standing by my fence...I suppose anyone could live here - hillbilly or not. So my residence (and visitors) by itself doesn't make me a redneck. When I take stock of my own personal attributes that might qualify me (or disqualify me) as a redneck/country boy the verdict seems mixed, inconclusive. I've eaten escargot (snails), octopus, caviar, ox tongue and sushi - and liked it all. That probably calls into doubt my credentials as a redneck. I own a gun; but I'm not an NRA member and I haven't actually shot my gun at anything recently. I can't fix my own truck, but I do have a truck.

The fact that I don't think Larry the Cable Guy is funny further undermines my redneck standing, I suspect.

Horses in a field of buttercups not far from my home...I'm not sure I want to be a redneck. While there is some semantic overlap between the three terms I'm considering ("redneck," "hillbilly," and "country boy") they are by no means synonymous. I think of "hillbilly" as almost an ethnic designation; a hillbilly is a member of the culture or society that inhabits one of the rural mountainous areas of the U.S. Being a redneck, on the other hand, seems like more of a class distinction to me and has more to do with behavior than with values or culture. Hillbillies (and country boys) grow their own tomatoes; rednecks throw them at player they don't like at ball games...

A kid I owned a few years ago, back when I had hairThe most recent decision that I've faced that made me question my hillbilly identity occurred a week or so ago on my drive to work. I drive about 20 miles to work. When I get in my vehicle of the mornings I'm in the Tennessee River Valley. I drive north on a two lane US highway that takes me up and over a ridge and as I start to descend I enter the Big Sandy section of the Ohio River Valley. Then:
  • I turn off on a state road
  • Drive around a few hairpins
  • Pass a few cows and horses
  • Cross a state line
  • Climb a mountain named after a coal mine
  • Drive by the mine (passing a few coal trucks on the way)
  • Go under the railroad trestle
  • Pass a little nine-hole golf course that seems incredibly out of place
  • Pass through a couple of unincorporated communities identified with green and white signs
  • And arrive at the small school where I teach

On this particular day I rounded a curve and saw something in the road at 8am - a wild turkey. It was dead, recently run over by someone else. I was tempted to stop. But I was on a schedule. And turning around on that small road is a pain. So I went on to work. But I thought about the turkey much of the day. And on the way home that turkey looked to be pretty much still in tact. So I gave in to the temptation and I stopped.

In my four wheel drive sport utility vehicle I carry a Leatherman tool that my little brother gave me for Christmas (or something) one year. I took it out and used the pliers to pull a couple of feathers. Turkey feathers have some value in my part of the country and I just couldn't see passing them up.

Does that make me a redneck (or a real hillbilly, at least)? Probably not in and of itself...

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