There are better things to be called than “an inbred hick,” and I had been called worse by many, but I had to admire the originality. And I wasn’t mad. The phrase was uttered with a sense of good-natured mockery common among friends in general and mine specifically. Especially the one who was not only a liberal, but also a Red Sox fan. I never said my friends were perfect.
This friend’s name? Dan. A truly brilliant man despite the fact I would never admit it to his face. Chair of the Asian Studies department at the college. Prolific author and lecturer. World traveler. Highbrow. All of which paints a pretty stark contrast to me. My only chair is the one in the living room, I am prolific only at spitting and shooting a bow, most of my travels are on dirt roads, and I am the very definition of lowbrow.
We have our differences, to be sure. And whenever we happen to bump into each other, we spend most of our time arguing over whose differences are right.
Like yesterday, for instance.
Dan brought me a souvenir from his latest trip to Japan—a fan with “Hanshin Tigers” printed on the front, along with a pretty ferocious looking cat.
“You should go with me one time,” he said after recapping his adventures. “Japanese baseball is great, and the Tigers have a good team this year. You need to see the world. You’re stuck here in this valley missing everything.”
“You’re only stuck if you can’t move,” I said, “I just don’t want to. And I’m not missing much. The world’s a crazy place. At least around here the crazy’s familiar.”
“There’s nothing here,” he said. “It’s all out there. The world’s passing you by. Your family’s been here how long?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I think we came with the Valley.”
“Exactly. Generations. As long as people can remember.”
“And that’s bad how?”
“You’re the product of centuries of people who refused to better themselves. Your life is no different than your great-grandfather’s and his great-grandfather’s.”
“So?” I asked.
“So you’re just an inbred hick. You could make yourself into a lot better person.”
The thought of making myself into a better person had never really crossed my mind, mostly because I’d always been pretty content with who I was. Then again, I’d never considered myself an inbred hick.
But my family has occupied this valley and the mountains surrounding it for centuries. Staying put in one place for so long tends to give you a sense of belonging. Of home. And though I would trade my mountains for the ocean any day, this place would always be home. There are a lot of my kin buried here in the Blue Ridge. I could wander away from those bones, but not for very long and not for very far.
So the inbred thing? True.
As for the “hick” part of that little insult, I’d have to say that was something Dan and his fellow urbanites just couldn’t understand. They’d never lived in the sticks, never spent much time with country folk, and so allowed their stereotypes to rule them.
Then again, all stereotypes are grounded in some semblance of truth.
It’s true, for instance, that one of my best Christmas presents last year was a bag of deer jerky and a jar of peach moonshine. And yes, some country folk live in trailers. By and large, “dressing up” means trading our faded jeans for dark ones. We are not generally well-educated. We do hunt and fish and ride four-wheelers. We live vicariously through Ric Flair and consider “Freebird” the real national anthem.
True. All true.
But there is more beneath the surface to life in the country. A lot.
Because to us, a trailer full of love is better than a castle full of discord.
And we’re not nearly as impressed with the clothes a person wears as we are with the person wearing the clothes.
We might not be able to split the atom, but we know what means much in life and what doesn’t.
We hunt and fish and grow our own groceries because food straight out of the dirt and the woods, sweetened with sweat and labor, tastes a lot better than what you can get at the store.
Our churches aren’t big, but they’re full. Our words are few, but they’re meaningful. We don’t want more of this world. We want less.
We are plain and simple people. People who will go hungry before letting our neighbors starve, drop whatever we’re doing to help a friend, and roam among the wild places to get a better glimpse of God.
The best people. My people.
Inbred hicks? Absolutely. Who could possibly want to be more?