Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day 256/365 Walkin' That Thin Line Between Love and Hate

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I'm a hybrid Southerner, raised first in the deep South in New Orleans, and then up north in Colorado, Iowa and Minnesota. My parents are both Appalachian Southerners, and my ancestors have been Virginians since the early 1700's, Scots immigrants before that, with strains of Irish and Cherokee mixed in there.

I love the South.

I hate the South.

Seriously, I go back and forth almost daily, sometimes hourly.

Some of my earliest memories are populated by mountain Southerners who are the kindest most welcoming people I've ever met - people that stop to help you fix your broken down car, then take you home and feed you, then drive you to wherever you need to be.

My other earliest memories are full of those same people, who for some reason felt the need to attack, spit on and intimidate people with a different skin color.

My most beloved cousin was a beer-drinking, truck-driving redneck good ol boy. From day one, he appointed himself my big brother, placing himself between me and anyone or anything that would ever harm his little peace-loving hippie cousin.

At the same time, with other people,he could be incredibly cruel and violent. Stereotypical redneck to the core, with absolutely no fondness for outsiders or Yankees.

The women in our family are the very epitome of steel magnolias, long before it appeared in movies. Southern women can be generous and kind, graceful and soft-spoken, classy and well-mannered.

They can also be ruthless when it comes to protecting anyone they love, and they do not tolerate stupidity. Nor are they shy about expressing their opinions, no matter how backward they may be perceived. They possess an unbending strength and preserverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties.

I have seen strangers trying to have a conversation with mountain southerners, absolutely unable to get much more than a short nod of acknowledgement, or a blank stare that gives away nothing to the outsider.

Hours later, around a family dinner table, those same blank faces are full of love and laughter, completely laid open to anyone in the room.

For every racist, there is a long-haired lover of the Allman Brothers. For every Confederate flag-lover, there is a reader of William Faulkner. For every Tea Partier, there is a former Freedom Rider. And for every puritanically rigid fundamentalist, there is someone who loves smokey jazz clubs and beignets in New Orleans.

There have always been two faces to the South, one of that Southern-hospitality-ya'll-come-warm-sunshiny face.

And the other -bred out of wartime defeat and Reconstruction- that reflects a darker defensive attitude of not-quite-good-enough, not-quite-smart-enough, not-quite-a-part-of-America-proper.

I guess the latter attitude is the reason the South continues to vote for and elect political cnadidates that use them, and then discard them. Candidates that mouth all the platitudes about "the little people" and then show up with the bulldozers to remove the mountaintops and pollute the mountain streams. Candidates that kiss babies and pretend they love NASCAR, and then cut school funding to educate those southern children. Candidates that show up to every small town 4th of July celebration to eat BBQ, and then disappear into the hallowed halls of Congress till the next campaign.

I can't understand why these incredibly smart mountain people keep voting for these political shysters.

You're all my family - all the good and bad, I'll accept it all.

What I can't understand is why you hate yourselves so much and sell yourselves so short.

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