To be an Appalachian is to exist in the midst of stereotype (we aren’t the only people who do). You’ve read me going on about it here before. There’s no escaping it, even in the most unexpected places. I have lived with watching the perception of who I am change for a person as soon as I open my mouth and speak. And as much as that can tick me off, I must admit that I believe most stereotypes are made from the misunderstanding of truth. John believes it too, and it becomes apparent in his paintings. There is a part of us that is prideful of being in that state of misunderstanding – it is comfortable to us. It has been our way of life for generations.
One of the stereotypes that is very prominent in most Appalachians I know – at least in east Kentucky – is our fight. Our clannish ways. Our ability to hold a grudge. Our seeming lack of concern about getting physical if need be. Our willingness to stand up for what is right even when we know good and well it is wrong.
Every trait develops for a reason. We are evolutionary beings. We adapt ourselves to meet the needs of our environment both physical and emotional. Otherwise we’d have all died out long ago. I thank the Creator for that. My people in particular (as with many Appalachians) are Native American and European. In the specific combination of my family, it is Irish and Cherokee most abundantly. My native people were here for thousands of years. Here is there’s. Simply. My European ancestors dared to settle the frontier. They dared to go up in them mountains and stay. They were looking for home in landscape. They were looking for respect. They were looking for freedom to live the life they set out to live by coming to America, when they found in the early cities it was not the promised land and not as welcoming as they had expected.
My people entered the mountains with a fight in them. I will live by the standards I set for myself – and family, God, and myself is the only answering I am obligated to do. A way of life developed. We looked out for one another against those who came in from somewhere else. We fought for what we believed mattered.
In present day, I see our fight regrettably directed at the wrong situations. I see it serving its purpose in truth on rare occasion anymore. It is intolerably sad, so I put that in the back of my mind. But, right now, I am considering my fight. Physically I’ve been in one real fight, and two almost fights. I fought a boy in the fourth grade. My daddy had taught me a trick – see, and I used that trick, so it didn’t last very long. I had a bloody jaw. The almost fights were in 8th grade and college and those were fights for honor. Most of the fighting I did was on the basketball court. Us mountain girls were terrors on the hardwood. Not just for playing good ball, but because you didn’t want to get us too mad. We’d get you out of the way as best we could without a bad call by the ref, but if it couldn’t be avoided, we’d take one.
What normally could be a kind hearted compassionate person woman or man is turned by a speck at the first thought of honor or home being threatened whether it be their own or a family member’s. Gurney Norman read a story Friday night at the Seedtime on the Cumberland Literary Reading that got me to thinking about all this. The family of characters disapprove of their daddy’s/grand-daddy’s new marriage, and when grand-daddy also comes to despise it, his daughter goes to run the woman off in her dress, hat, and nice black pocketbook, threatening to get physical with her. We were all laughing and shaking our heads – get ‘em girl. It was hilarious. A truly lovely story.
It is this passion about our right to live the life we choose, where we choose, and how we choose that drives so many of us. A life that is by no means a permanent fixture on this earth or even in our experience – our path. And sometimes it becomes so personal that we forget there is a bigger picture, other experiences and paths. A deep ingrained belief in respect for the “person”. It has most definitely ignited passions in me or at the very least fueled them. But, sometimes, when used in a way that is not appropriate it is more of a detriment than anything else. It’s true for all of us in these hills.
Yesterday, I made a decision. Whether it be a cause I believe in, something I feel I am supposed to be doing for people, or my perceived obligations in life, I’m approaching it differently. What makes me – me? How am I sure I’m doing the right things? It’s one of those things that you can’t really put into words, but, I’m believing it is the difference between fighting through life and flying. There comes a time when old ways of being leaves us stuck. They don’t serve us anymore. Putting them off doesn’t change who we are. There is always our basis – what we know already, and in relying on that most basic of basic we can take the risk, and open ourselves to something new. What we are doing right now is the result of the path we are taking, and how closely we are paying attention to where it leads, our mode of travel, and the true distractions along the way.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Ghandi
“And don’t expect it of anyone else…” Kelli (if I might add to Ghandi… )