What would incline me to think I might be a redneck? Why would I strive for such a goal? I’ve never had a skoal ring faded into the back pocket of my jeans (but my friends did), never drank beer from a can (but my friends did), never milked a cow (my parents and cousins did), wasn’t raised fishing, hunting or even shooting (friends were) and I can’t spit more than an inch or so and even that usually leaves a little on my chin (i know a “girl” in Birmingham that can hit a stop sign hard enough to hear it while riding in a car). When I tried to hunt – well you might have read it by now (start with redneckus haud) – when I tasted beer I found it disgusting. . .you get the point.
But I was raised on Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, and one of my fondest memories of my Dad is me sitting on his shoulders as a small boy watching Marty Robbins sing El Paso, live at the Monroe Civic Center. Both of my parents grew up in Mt. Vernon, Arkansas, and Dad’s dad raised his own hogs and chickens for food at his mobile home. He had two vehicles: a tractor and a pick-up truck. He liked whiskey and probably moonshine, and his idea of christmas decorations was a box of little debbie christmas tree cakes and some coca cola on his dining table in the trailer.
Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was not on my scary song list as much as “Sixteen Tons,” by Tennessee Ernie Ford:
Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong
From high school I remember Hank Williams Jr’s “Family Tradition.”
But then I went to a private christian college, served as a missionary, studied in England, and attended law school. All the while, off and on, because of my family, I could hear Flatt and Scruggs singing “Don’t get above your raisin’s.”
“From my unique position,” I have spent much of my life on the outside looking in, at people conversing, having fun, watching sports, playing sports, partying, “fellow-shipping” (church word), and just generally enjoying themselves. As a kid I took people seriously when they said “Be yourself.” “Don’t give in to peer pressure.” But that gave me very little in common with anyone else I knew, and that lead to loneliness, even in – or especially in – a crowd. And that was the foundation for depression. This loneliness in crowds brings about anxiety regarding engaging in the very things that you initially wanted to do. That brings to mind another song.
So along the way I have made efforts to learn or do things that would give me a ticket into those groups and conversations. Playing drums, learning to hunt (not), riding motorcycles, etc. – but it didn’t work. I have dipped my toe in politics only to learn that if I wasn’t already part of a political party I was suspicious, but I was too well indoctrinated in “being myself” and being honest to support people for whom I had no respect just because they wore an R or a D. Based on my “raisin’s,” a party affiliation is not a qualification for any particular job at all.
So I’ve never been much on memberships in groups, including “rednecks,” because as far as I can tell, it doesn’t take long for groups of people to place “loyalty to the group” as a priority above whatever the founding principles may have been in the beginning. This can be seen in our nation, as a matter of fact. Not just the political parties or the churches or other clubs, but on the whole: People of every political and social persuasion now claim their cause to be that which this U.S. of A. was founded upon. Diversity, Christianity, Gun Rights, Freedom from Religion, et al ad nauseum.
I’m not a redneck, though I’ve tried. I’ve also tried to be a Republican, an Independent political candidate, and a good Baptist. I’ve even taken a stab at atheism. I can honestly say that I don’t fit in. I was taught to be myself, and I cannot do that, thinking independently of others’ demands, and find social or political success. At least not today, and not in the 80’s, 90’s, or 00’s.
But here’s the good news. I am finally comfortable and content with who and what I am. Partly due to maturity, partly due to trying to fit in places until I know those are not Hogue shaped holes, partly due to mild depression/anxiety meds, and mostly due to finally accepting, at the age of 40 something, the fact that it’s ok to be a goofy, mostly kind, christian lawyer with a bowtie. I don’t need the can of beer, the football jersey, the deer in the back of the pickup, or the support of people I don’t respect to be a devoted christian, husband or dad.
I’m not outside looking in anymore; I’m in my own house that I built, and I like it. There is freedom (libero) here. This too is a family tradition.