The Un-American Story (3 of 90)
I’m currently working on a book, a memoir really, about my family.
It’s one of several projects I have going at the moment, and I’m not entirely sure how I am going to pull all these off. But I’m never quite sure how I’m going to pull anything off. I just keep putting on foot in front of the next, don’t burden myself with pesky deadlines and figure that I’ll get finished when I get finished.
The next 3 months, though, I’ve decided to dedicate myself to writing every day. To push forward not only on the blog, but also on the projects.
I can’t really blog much about the specifics of the story because if I do that, I won’t actually write the book. Once the story is told, I have a hard time re-telling the same story. If you’re interested in the overview, though, you can check out the audio here.
This is the last “introduction” I’ll do for the project. After all, origin stories, like memoirs, are painfully dull. But we’ll try to do something about that.
I love history. Particularly American history. I have scores of books dedicated to the Civil Rights movement, science and technology, the American Revolution. I devour the stories of the people who changed the way we live, who influenced the direction of the country.
I revere these people.
Because they teach us that vision, perseverance, fortitude and persistence can have lasting effects long felt after we slip the bonds of the earth. They give us hope, however faint, that if we listen to the winds around us and muster up the courage to speak, we can be something larger than we are.
They are guideposts for our life, the place we can turn to in those dark moments when we feel alone and lost in the jungle. We can return to them, draw strength from them, tap their wisdom.
These stories are the stuffs that make up the mythology of our country, bundled together in the cultural tales we pass down from one generation to the next. We huddle our children together as tell them stories of Patriots, of Citizens, of Individuals. We laud their collective-ness, even those we do not agree with because we understand that deep down, each of these people was fighting for a better tomorrow.
We are the American Dream.
But this memoir isn’t that story.
There are seven books currently sitting on my desk: A History of Appalachia, Blame It On Salt, The Sugar Pond and the Fritter Tree, Far Appalachia, Days of Darkness, The Appalachians, Given Ground and Back Talk from Appalachia.
I am re-reading these books (and others) as much to re-place myself in Appalachia as to learn about my history. I am Appalachian, but I am no longer of Appalachia. I’ve done gone and left, changed and influenced by the world outside. I have become a Stranger in No Man’s Land, a person with no home.
Worse, I have come to realize how very little I know about the very place I come from. I’ve vowed that if I ever do have children, they will grow up knowing about the region that was home to their family for more than 200 years. They will understand their struggles, they will know first hand the life that Appalachians have always known.
I find myself drawn to this story, outside of the most obvious narcissistic reasons, because the story of Appalachia is so distinctly un-American.
I say this for reasons of rhetoric and truth. Mostly I say this because I am a storyteller and that line piques the interest of my listener. Mostly.
The stories that I wade through are not ones of great accomplishment, of overcoming odds, of pushing back tyranny. These are not the stories that we will read about in history books. These are not the stories we feel we should tell to our children.
These stories illustrate, from many levels, the other side of America. The brutal, rugged, frontier angle, where niceties and civilization would kill you. When you live on the side of a mountain in the southern hills of Kentucky, traveling across the one road that connected three states, in a place where food was scarce and natural resources were limited. When you live in this place, you do not take the word of a stranger.
These stories that I wade through, these interviews I do with my family, these histories from 200 years ago that I read. I see a world shaped by so many elements, so many decisions that tumble down through the decades. That end at the foot of the hills where people, Others, judge from a distance based only on what they see.
My people have, for the mass media, become a means to an end. They are rolled out when we talk of poverty. They are trumpeted by the right wing media who speak of their daily lives. They are derided by comedians looking for a cheap laugh.
The one thing they are not, though, is understood. And they aren’t because they are un-American.
I am okay with that.