My Grandma, always said that I had a green thumb. She said that if anyone needed a plant to grow all I had to do was touch it. My grandma has lots to say about a lot of things, she taught me invaluable information about living life. I remember getting off the bus at her house, when she was home from work we would practice our cursive letters, or splatter paint on pieces of printer paper. To this day, my handwriting couldn’t be worse (print or cursive) and the thought of painting anything more than pressing the ‘fill’ button on the Paint program terrifies me. What I have realized is that the list of what she has taught me is rather immeasurable, it’s difficult to list the teachings when they are so numerous, yet so few physical lessons. She taught me that
-“You always cut your hair under a full moon if ya want it to grow back like it’s s’posed to.”
-“After ya cut it, bury the trimmins under the front door and you won’t get anymore headaches, put’em under your door mat and you’ll get a nice visitor.”
-“Don’t never can or pickle nothin’ when the (Zodiac) signs are in the guts (bowels) cause they sure to rot.”
-“Ya never say ‘thank ya’ when you get a potted plant as a gift, it is sure to die.”
-“If ya ears get to burning then someones talking about ya, the right’un means someones talkin’ good about ya, the left means ya gettin’ made fun of.”
-“When a bird flies into a house it means death is comin’ animals is smart like that, they know when death is comin’ for we ever would.”
-“If you can’t never get a picture to hang straight and even in your house then that only means one thing, a spirits livin in there, and you be best not to stir it.”
-” Some people back in the mountains have God given gifts I tell ya. One of my ole neighbors could draw fire right out from ya skin. Happen’ to me once. I burnt my arm awful on a hair straightener. Went to the lady on the hill and she said some nice words over it and by the time I left her house the fire was gone, no mark, no blista’ nothin’… jus’gone. Now, a woman can teach a man this charm, and that man can teach another woman, tha’s the way it goes. I reckon’ anyone can learn the words (you can google it) but it ain’t the same as being taught it. Some can even stop bleedin’. Once we was playin’ in the river and I cut my foot awful, it was bleedin’ horrible, so Buck carried me up to a man’s house. He looked at it and it went away. They say that being able to stop bleedin’ can’t be taught. You gotta be kinda special, there’s only two ways I know of. If yo’daddy dies ‘fore you was born or if ya is the seventh son in a family, then God gives it you and someone can teach it to you. It ain’t hard really, the charms and stuff, they ain’t complicated, you just gotta believe in God.”
This list could go on much longer, each more compelling than the last. But, do we believe any of it? Is it possible to believe in the individual parts but not the whole? Can there be truths in every lie or myth and vice versa? These questions strike at the core of the superstitions and stereotypes of Appalachia.
At their best, we view the people of Appalachia as being sweet, but poor, not the brightest people. At best, they are outdoors people, living off the land with their close knit families, producing exactly what they need to live on. At best, Appalachia is a fun place to visit, for the music, the food, maybe a dance.
At its worst, we view the people of Appalachia as backward hicks, who would rather die than learn anything, who keep isolated on purpose, a people whose primary hobbies include drinking mountain dew and becoming addicted to crystal meth. At its worst we stereotype the people of Appalachia as a people “… Appalachians are portrayed as individuals who are unable to get out of their own way …” (Sarah Baird’s post on Mtn. Dew Consumption) As if the people of Appalachia are stuck in poverty, and they deserve it. At worst Appalachia is a region of white trash poverty, that may have once been beautiful, but has since been destroyed by hicks, hillbillies, and rednecks.
Everyone is superstitious of Appalachia, one form or the other. Which means that the people of Appalachia, are simultaneously both. We are the best and the worst. As exaggerated as it sounds I could fill a book with easy examples. Here:
(This happened on the same day). I had two interviews, the first with my advisor, the second with my future employer. My advisor saw that I was from Floyd County, and before saying another word to me he asked, “Ya up to date on all your vaccines?” I get it. It was a joke. He knew I did. But how am I to respond to that. It wasn’t funny, so I didn’t laugh. What did I do? I shrugged, I took it. I had to bear that stereotype of my hometown to my academic advisor. As I handed my resume to my future employer she saw my hometown, “Oh Floyd! I love to visit Floyd! It’s one of my favorite places!”
Every time I say I’m from Floyd, I get two responses. The first is the question of “Where is that?”. The second is a loud yell, in their best southern/Appalachian/redneck accent “FLOOOOYYYDDD COUNTY!” Yes, that’s the place, but I didn’t say it like that.
Within 24 hours I was both a Saint and a Stereotype. I was the beginning of a fun conversation as well as the butt of a (not funny) joke.
So, what I have realized is that it doesn’t matter if your ears burn when someone talks of you. It doesn’t matter how you respond to a picture being crooked on a wall. The people of Appalachia will always be both a Saint and a Stereotype. I won’t be traveling down a road to prove the Stereotyped incorrect, nor will I be invalidating the Saints (this isn’t a Humans of New York). I intend to provide reasons as to why we see these stereotypes and what we can do to effectively view the complex region that I call home. This road will be scattered with historical information, personal experience, and hopefully by the end, I can provide a thorough cleaning of the lens with which we view Appalachia. I am a Saint for doing this, I am a superstition for doing this.I am a Saint for speaking on the joys of my hometown, I am a superstition for talking about it’s problems.