Saturday , May 25 2024
Coming to terms with my Appalachian roots.

“Y’All Come Back Now, Ya Hear?”

That’s what we have been doing the last few days. Tasting the high country. No, we weren’t smoking ganja, not that there is ANYTHING wrong with that, but we were in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Now, before I go into my glowing descriptions of this wonderful state, I first must acknowledge my previous misconceptions of what I thought people from North Carolina and the entire Appalachian region would be like: ridge-running, overall-wearing, tobacco chewing, racist spewing, toothless briars. BUT LOW AND BEHOLD – it was nothing like that.

I spent some of my formative years in the Appalachians, did a little ridge-running myself as a young lass. Hell, I even lived in a “holler”, but even my experience was a bit gentrified by most Appalachian standards. We had all the modern conveniences of big city home and I had a reasonably educated and cultured mother (a freaking hippie – but a smart one) and a gainfully employed and relatively enlightened hillbilly dad. I enjoyed my youth exploring the countryside on our 40 acre farm in a valley of small mountains learning of flora and fauna from our rather highly educated neighbors up the hill, and our kind-hearted farming family down the road.

I was safe from abduction, getting hit by a car, bullies beating me up, drugs, guns – all the crap. I just had to watch out for poison ivy, ticks and snakes. Which, for the most part, I did.

BUT, growing up in an area where vocation has a much higher emphasis than education, it became clear that my horizons were limited. I could work at Burger Kind, the local motel or the Woolworth’s. Or learn the art of moonshine and pot farming as some of the our more distant neighbors WAY UP THE DIRT road had learned.

We moved before my life was cast in stone, but the lasting memories of the dark side of the Appalachians had made its mark, the big city of Cleveland wasn’t forgiving of my rural roots, and I learned to become embarrassed of my time in the wilds of West-By-God.

So here I was again, farther south, but all looked the same from the outside: same hills and valleys, same winding and treacherous country roads, same broken-down cars piled in the yard next to even more broken down trailers.

Why do I feel so ashamed of my shame and embarrassment? I didn’t live like that, but it doesn’t matter. Even Eric can’t mention my years as a young girl in West Virginia without a sneer and scoff.

Well I know why, because people assume that everyone in these mountains are a bunch of inbred nitwits, and some are. But most aren’t. Most are genteel and sophisticated, open-minded and knowledgeable, kind-hearted and helpful and most of all, EXTREMELY hospitable and welcoming. They have a much greater understanding of diversity and good old down home hospitality than people in the north. Maybe there are folks who hate those different from themselves, people who are ignorant bigots, uneducated, lacking culture, but hell, it has nothing to do with being south of the Mason-Dixon or living in the mountains.

For so long I associated my roots with such negative stereotypes and made a point of stating that I was BORN in Florida, spent most of my time in Ohio, and my twenties in and around the nation’s capital. I would only reveal my rural heritage to those who shared my regional discomfort and could understand my reluctance to admitting where one-half of my family hailed from.

The Appalachian Mountains are magical and familiar at the same time. The wondrous hills and valleys are comforting and far less intimidating than the Rockies. Misty mountains and lush green valleys lull you in to a simpler and less stressful time: sitting on the back porch and listening to the crickets sing while watching the fireflies’ glowing dance.

With the exception of acclimating oneself to the twists and curves of the road (not recommended for the nauseous types) it was absolutely wonderful reconnecting with “my” part of the country.

I learned something of my personal prejudice toward our southerly neighbors, and I think I can finally come to terms with my rural roots and embrace them with pride. I am a little bit country and there ain’t nothing wrong with that!

About Dawn Olsen

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