The Hillbilly Instinct

It’s inside me somewhere. My dad is usually the one to remind me. Today, however, it was Randy Travis plaintively singing his Worship & Faith songs. We had that album for years, and it had disappeared as albums will as recording styles change; I rediscovered it on Spotify. Of course, it’s not all “old-timey” songs, but a mix of 20th C favorites and older hymns. Still, Travis’s plaintive singing style is enough catalyst for me. I usually start singing, to be honest. If my dad is around, he’s quick to remind me my voice is uniquely suited to the hillbilly style, to which, I give him my hardest glare. It’s his fault I’m not part of the culture, I’m equally quick to remind him. But that’s not exactly honest.

This is not a biopic on Randy Travis, but a touchstone on origins. He grew up singing in church in North Carolina; that’s the origin point for my dad’s family. From there, they went to Missouri. Now, there are some still in Missouri*, and others in Texas and Oregon. His family didn’t like sticking to one spot. That’s why I ended up graduating from high school in Portland. In case you didn’t know, Portland didn’t used to be the land of snowflakes who are libertarians as long as it means they get to do what they want, but progressives when they want you to pay for it. Rather, it used to be full of…hillbillies who’d left the hills for literally greener pastures where they could make a living logging and fishing.

During my childhood, that logging-fishing culture was under stress. A combination of welfare and California mores threatened their way of life, and so the redneck** youth were combative. Mean to put it in plainer language. Because my dad has always been an iconoclast, an artist and intellectual and general family know-it-all (a crown I’ve usurped), I was raised…a little different, to say the least. I was treated with suspicion, bullied even, by the local yahoos and consequently grew up loathing my own cultural roots.

Now that I’m older, I recognize what was happening, but it’s difficult to parse when in the throws of awkward, emotionally fraught adolescence. On the other hand, my contrarian response to my own culture and, well, everything is a cultural trait. I’m so ornery I don’t even know why I’m ornery. I can’t explain it, and although there was a moment in my life when I thought reasonableness was the way to go, the orneriness has only gotten worse with age.

The music is mellow, though. Pleasant. It always is, especially when there’s a singalong. What an odd mix of characteristics exist in the souls of my people.

*This is officially known as the Ozarks…and the people there are just another type of hillbilly, many of whom came from Appalachia.

**Redneck is the term used in Oregon. Hillbilly and redneck are like geek and nerd. There really isn’t much difference, even if you will find some, ahem, nerd on the internet who’s delineated the difference down to the nth degree. Btw, I would call my mom’s family rednecks, but mostly because they never settled in the hill regions of Appalachia. Instead, they took a tour through New Mexico and California. Albeit, my favorite cousin on her side is a bonified California mountainman with a beard down to his knees.

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