Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Be The Change

My momma taught me some things right. Like the madder someone is at you (and the madder you are at them), the more important it is to speak to them, acknowledge them, be polite.

Achingly polite.

But polite is a different thing from boot licking servitude.

An old spinster woman was mean to my children this week, made one of them cry even, and for no reason, just being mean. But only being mean because that is the way she always is, she didn’t mean anything special by it, not that that’s an excuse. Being a miserable human being is a choice like everything else.

I work with this woman. I did not let said incident pass. I called her down, there, in public, as it happened, and in no uncertain terms. I spoke to her sister about it again later. When the opportunity presents itself for her to be mean again, she will not be allowed. We teach people how to treat us and just because the world has let this woman get away with being mean doesn’t mean I will. As I told my children, be nice as a default, but no one is allowed EVER to speak to you like that, I don’t care if they are old or outrank you or anything else.

But the next day, the FIRST thing I did was say good morning and ask after her with a smile on my face. And a sincere one too. She is my sister in the cosmic sense and I care for her.

But there was also this other woman. A customer. Said “appalayshen” and made me cringe. Before I could stifle it I’d smiled and said, “If you’d say it apple-at-cha we’d like you better.” “Oh, the man I’m working with says it my way,” she says. Because I know him I said, “He’s from New York City, I’m sure he does say it your way. Doesn’t mean he knows how to say it.” Damn Appalachian Regional Commission money funds both those damn yankees here to save me. And way more of them too.

Now, I went right back to being polite to her, but I knew in my soul this one thing: I’d lick her boots but if it came down to it, I’d stab her with a short knife and think nothing of it. (this is not meant literally) I think she sensed this.

I am not a nice person. I know this. You do not need to point it out. I would always be nice to the person who is just miserable herself and visiting it upon me, but I would be free from the person here to save me. She is a slave owner in the cosmic sense and the world would be better off without her.

There were once bombs dropped on West Virginia, to promote the yankee mine owners, control the miners, and get out the coal. I knew a man, personally (Dewey was his name and he is long dead now as you might imagine), who had been a state trooper in those troubled unionizing times, and he’d been ordered to stand at a bridge in Buchanan County Virginia and shoot all who crossed it. He walked off the job rather than shoot his neighbors.

The very people who will decry the forcible democratization of Iraq will applaud the ARC coming in and telling me how to live.

Just go away.

That probably does mean getting out of Iraq although I do not support a withdrawal.

Pick a home. Stay there. Make your way there. Be polite but never take any crap. And don’t allow anyone to save you. And never try to save anyone else.


madcapmum said...

I really don't understand about the Apple-a-chian Regional Commission. What exactly is it that you're being saved from, and whose idea was it in the first place?

H. Stallard said...

They're the damn yankees that are going to save the poor ignorant Hillbillies from themselves and their poverty stricken culture.

Go here to their web site,

the Contrary Goddess said...

As to whose idea it was, I think you can blame Bobby Kennedy mostly, although it was John who did PARC and Lyndon who signed it to law.

But more to get is that there is here a culture that people are always trying to exploit, come in, change, and get rich of doing so (relatively).

This stupid woman came to my home(land) to "educate" me and is going to do that by telling me that I don't pronounce my name correctly.

In the end, we always outlast them. Whether they are coal companies or earth first or ASD -- they always go away when the money goes away and we always stay. See, they wouldn't be here without the money. We would.

We are.

madcapmum said...

All I can figure from that website is that they're trying to urbanize the population. Is that getting close to the mark? What do their programs do? Who avails themselves of them?

And why you folks? Is it just because your population has been so rural when the rest of North America has slowly been trickling, streaming, flooding into cities? Is it an urban prejudice or something that I don't know about altogether because I'm not from there?

Obviously, from all the question marks, I just don't get it. From where I stand it seems pretty arbitrary. Maybe it's a US thing and outside of my ken.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Ok, I'm talking slowly (grin).

It is about people who want to feel like they are "helping" making money off being here, in God's country. It is about prejudice of "how we do it up north". It is about hillbillies being traditionally "uneducated" (but that don't mean they weren't smart, or weren't self-educated either, but you know that isn't too well recognized). It is about hillbillies being traditionally poor (especially when compared to more urban populations where it costs more to live). That woman was here with Appalachian Sustainable Development -- a group that has used grants to develop businesses that compete, unfairly I might add since they have government grants supporting them, with real local businesses. Ad infinitum.

Now, I'm serious in saying you'd be welcome here. You would be. It isn't something against immigration or anything. Although the fewer people the better.

It is about them trying to change us.

In photographs you see the "haunted eyes" of the mountain people. That's just us looking over our bounty. It is a freezer on the porch! LOL! It is barefoot in the yard with rags on because you wouldn't want to wear out your good clothes. It is so many things, this place.

It and its people have been exploited time and time again, from the Cherokee removal to timber to coal. During the coal boom of the 70s the state passed a coal severance tax and sent the money to the rest of the state. Only five counties in Virginia produce coal but all those NOVA counties grew with out money. They haven't yet sent any NOVA money down this way.

These people aren't really dedicated because without their grant money, they will leave.

Red Fox was hanged because he advised the mountain people to not sell their mineral rights. Hanged. Wars are always about money and there has always been a war on against Appalachia.

That might be a bit hyperbolic, but only a bit.

H. Stallard said...

It's not so much the programs as it is the condescending yankees running them who come into the area with the notion that they are going to "help" us whether we want the help or not because we're just too ignorant to know what's good for us.

Anonymous said...

In Appalachian culture, the default state is to view oneself as being poor. Nothing wrong with it, it's just the way honest folk are. Nothing to get upset about and nothing to mourn, unless you are making the fiddle wail or the mandolin cry to that 'high lonesome sound'.

But once in a while, good times come. Coal booms, cattle sell for high, timber is in demand. You get a good job, an inheritence, win the lottery. Good times. But you don't expect it to last. In fact, you begin to miss worn overalls, brown beans and cornbread, and the disreputable old truck.

Like putting on an old pair of familiar boots, hard times come again. Put yesterday's cornbread in a glass of cold milk and tune up the fiddle.

Carpetbagging Yankees don't understand this and view it as something that needs fixing ... view it as something people should pay them to fix.

I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Philippians 4:12

the Contrary Goddess said...

I love you two boys. I have tried all my life to understand this, and I'd love to be able to explain it but I don't seem to be able to. Thanks for understanding.

madcapmum said...

Well, I was trying to think of a comparable situation with any particular population in Canada, but I'm coming up short. It might be so in the Maritimes, but I've never lived there (not since I was born there, that is), so I wouldn't know. The Newfies and Capers out this way don't seem to have any bitter words for any helpful councils of that sort.

I certainly know about opportunistic do-gooders, but why you Appalachians should especially have the spotlight shone on you when there are so many other "opportunities" available in the big ol' USA still escapes me.

But thanks for trying!

David Houser said...

This reminded me of the story in yesterday's New York Times about the plan of the wise and beneficent Hillary to bring the poor backward denizens of rural NY state to parity with their sophisticated big-city cousins, the most important element of which seems to be getting those folks broadband internet access.

Also reminds me of the offers I'm always turning down from friends of old laptops (they got a new one and how can I live without one?), good deals on cars (why don't I want one?), and assorted gizmos and gadgets that seem essential to the good life to them, but are useless to me. I get the feeling that if they had the power to force these on me for my own good, they wouldn't think twice about using it.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Hey, welcome! I'll be checking you out after that comment!

MadCap, have you ever seen the documentaries and whatnot on the Appalachians? Photo books particularly. I don't know if those images would clarify it at all or not but maybe. I do think perhaps it is something that doesn't have a counterpart where you are. I think we are a people who don't really have a counterpart anywhere else.

I'm always interested in cultural things. I read your posts on sodbusters and the like with interest. I do think our environment has a lot to do with our cultures.

Well, anyway . . .

patsy said...

i agree about the out siders coming in to educate you and draw their salary while they do it. my father would have ran such people off his land. makes me think of the do gooder that go to the starving people in africa or where ever and feed them a meal once a day of powdered milk and maybe rice then go into their home on site and eat like kings. their excuse is that they have to stay healthy to do the good work. I think maybe God will have a special talk with them in the here after.

Scott Holtzman said...

"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve. It is the pious slave-breeder devoting the proceeds of every tenth slave to buy a Sunday's liberty for the rest. Some show their kindness to the poor by employing them in their kitchens. Would they not be kinder if they employed themselves there?" ~Thoreau on Economy

cg ~ "In the end, we always outlast them. Whether they are coal companies or earth first or ASD -- they always go away when the money goes away and we always stay. See, they wouldn't be here without the money. We would."

That's the great thing about "Do-Good-errs", so many economic souls to save and so little wine! (oh, I mean time?) I.E. When the music stops (and the money runs out) the party's over. Next.

Just my humble opinion, that and $4.37 + tax will get you a Latte in NYC. ;)

madcapmum said...

You're right, I should see if our library system has any photo documentary books of Appalachia. Maybe that would help me get my mind around it.

But about the "haunted eyes" thing - again, I'm trying to relate that to Canada but it's not working. Out west here nobody ever starts flashing pictures of the Maritimer's "haunted eyes" in order to wring pity from the hearts of prairie folks. The east coast is definitely a have-not area, but I can't think of a single instance of westerners going to Nova Scotia in order to set up helpful organizations. I'll have to ask around, there are lots of Maritimers here for the work in the oilfield.

I'm wondering if maybe the US's policies of forcibly "liberating" other countries is just this same tendency grown large. (And yes, I realize you folks aren't to be classed in with that thinking.)

the Contrary Goddess said...

The desire to "do good" is a good thing. But figuring out how to do good, that's another thing. Looking at Scott's Thoreau quote, and my CS Lewis quote, and there are more, it isn't that folks haven't seen this and for a long time. My guess is there is something about Canada that doesn't allow the making a good living off doing "good" in the Maritime.

I surfed over to the Good Life Center last night and there was some quote there about changing the world by living simply. Which means, living like you live in the third world. In the end, that is my opinion, after having been a social worker, having been a great many things, to do good best one must live most austerely. And there is joy in that (see latest about bathing in the creek). I think the people who can find joy in it will live and those who can't will not. And that is regardless of culture or environment.

Laura said...

The desire to "do good" is a good thing. But figuring out how to do good, that's another thing.

Here's a teaching from the Dalai Lama, that I have heard retold several times (ironically?) by Garth. If you want to hurt someone, it makes sense to figure out what you can do that will actually hurt them. Otherwise, you may do something that doesn't hurt them at all. Likewise, if you want to help. Practise altruism; but also, study wisdom.

the Contrary Goddess said...

I think actually helping someone is very hard. Better to stay out of their way. To find others on similar paths to your own and share experiences.

At least Garth is mucking where he doesn't belong somewhere else instead of in my backyard.

Which made me think of the whole missionary paradigm which, madcap, you might more quickly relate to. Not any good but the harm missionaries have inevitably done across the globe. Same here.

Rebecca Clayton said...

That long A/short A Appalachia thing seems to be a Mason-Dixon line issue. People in the Pennsylvania Alleghenies call their mountains Appal-ay-chia, while West Virginians and Virginians call our Alleghenies Appal-at-chia. Allegheny and Allegany are pronounced the same, just to keep it simple.

I don't think the pronounciation issue is a carpetbagger matter, because the rural mountain people of Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine have similar troubles to ours in West Virginia, and they call their mountains Appal-ay-chia. I've never been down in your country, but I'm guessing we have some things in common. (I wish my garden had something in common with yours--I haven't gotten over my envy of your new potatoes yet.)

The Appalachian Mountains run all the way up through Canada, under water, and out to Newfoundland, according to Maurice Brooks' 1965 book, The Appalachians. I guess if you're from the Appalachians, you should get to decide how you want to pronounce them.

Me, I live on Droop Mountain.

Anonymous said...

RC:"The Appalachian Mountains run all the way up through Canada, under water, and out to Newfoundland, according to Maurice Brooks'"

Geologically perhaps, but not culturally. Nor historically.

The guides with De Soto used the Mobilian Trade Language in which a tribe in northern Florida was refered to as the Apalachee (all three a's are pronounces as in father. When De Soto's group reached Tennessee, his guides did not know how far north they were and refered to the area as that of the Apalachee.

The natural Anglicizing of the word gives you "Apple-at-cha". The Northern pronunciation is due to ignorance and arrogance but has no historical nor cultural basis.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Go Eleu!

Rebecca Clayton said...

"The natural Anglicizing of the word gives you "Apple-at-cha". The Northern pronunciation is due to ignorance and arrogance but has no historical nor cultural basis."

I'd hesitate to tell a fifth generation Allegheny coal miner that his pronunciation is due to "ignorance and arrogance," but I am assuming that your hostility is due to the accents of outsiders coming to tell you what you're doing wrong, not to the way they say "Appalachia" on some distant ridge.

The southern Appalachians have a long history of interference by carpetbaggers and missionaries (and often they're the same thing), but a lot of other rural areas are plagued in similar ways. People come in to make a quick profit, and they decide to straighten out the ignorant (or heathen or culturally unenlightened, take your pick) locals while they're at it. It's a strangely widespread urge.

Anonymous said...

Rebecca:"I'd hesitate to tell a fifth generation Allegheny coal miner that his pronunciation is due to "ignorance and arrogance,"

Note to any Allegheny coal miners who happen to be reading this blog: your mispronunciation of Appalachia is due to ignorance and arrogance.

The use of the word Appalachia in reference to an area or the mountainrange anything north of the southern border of Pennsylvania is a recent phenomenon. Historically what is geologically part of the mountain range was called the Allegheny Mountains, GreenMountains, White Mountains, Catskill Mountains, but were NOT called Appalachian Mountains. Hence my comment that there is no historical basis for it.

Only when the entire range of mountians was considered to be a continuous range was the name applied that far north and the people, not knowing how it was supposed to be pronounced, mispronounced it. Hence the ignorance, i.e. not knowing.

As it turns out though, it ISN'T a geologically continuous mountain range after all. The parts which contain the Black Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains, and Smoky Mountains were created millions of years before the more northern parts.

It's a matter of a local name being applied to a larger geographic body and the larger body having no knowledge nor interest in the knowledge of where the term came from and how it had been applied (hence the 'arrogance').

Rebecca, that's from having had my northern "betters" many, many a time roll their eyes and correct my uninformed pronunciation. Mistake that, coal miner or no.