Editor In Chief
New American Truth
In today’s stereoptypical usage the term “redneck” is often used to refer to someone who was born either in the country or in the mountains, is generally financially poor, and not having received much education. As with all stereotypes, the term is used just as often to refer to those who may match only one of those characteristics, or may not match any of them but some other characteristic perceived as “redneckish”. Here’s my reality…
I was born into a poor family in Cumberland, Maryland. That’s in the Appalachian mountains and, given the industries existent at the time of my birth, could also be considered “country”. I was the eighth of nine children. My mother, at the time of my birth, had only reached the ninth grade before dropping out. It took one of my brothers two attempts to graduate from high school. Hunting and farming were the mainstays of food supplies for my family – and actually still are. Looking strictly at that information, yes I was born into a redneck family… but only if you buy into the stereotype.
My mother went on to earn her GED and did so well that she was hired by the Board of Education to tutor others seeking a GED. She eventually ended up working for the Superintendent of Schools and retired after 30 years. Four of my older brothers were drafted, but two chose to make military service their career. Both retired from the United States Marine Corps. I think that makes them “leather necks” instead of “rednecks”.
As I was raised I was taught that there was nothing derogatory about the term “redneck”. In my family’s experience the term was simply used to refer to hard working farmers who literally did have red necks because of the time spent working under the sun. Those same farmers were usually quite polite, respectful, and if not well educated, at least not ignorant or simple. Sure, there are some uneducated and simple people who are farmers. There are also uneducated and simple people who are secretaries, mechanics, security guards, and politicians. That doesn’t mean that ALL of them are simple or uneducated.
Rednecks – those polite hard working folks who earn their living working with their hands under the sun – would be more likely to stop and assist a stranded motorist with a flat tire or overheated car than other folks. Those rednecks know what true hospitality is because they value their home and the family in it more than a great many folks who value their home based on equity or market value. Rednecks might tend toward larger families because they consider every child a blessing delivered by God – and another set of hands to eventually work the farm when they’re old enough.
Online research shows different possible beginnings for the term “redneck”. While they are all interesting I don’t find them of value today. Who cares where the term came from? Let’s figure out whether or not it’s a derogatory term today.
Rednecks… are more than likely conservative and / or republican. They likely hunt, fish, camp, farm, garden and dance. When they do hunt or fish they eat what they take, or they clean it and give it to those in greater need. They don’t hunt or fish for sport. They farm and garden to provide food for their families and to sell whatever surplus they can raise (the crops, not the families). Camping is comfortable for them because they’re at home outside. They may look goofy when they dance, but it’s one of the ways they celebrate life so they don’t worry about how they look. In fact, if their friends and family are laughing then it means they’re not crying and life is better than it could be.
Rednecks tend to be fairly resilient people. Sure, they might have health insurance, but they won’t run to the doctor for every cough, bruise, sneeze or sniffle. They know how to set a splint, bandage a cut, sew cuts closed if need be, and have a collection of homemade cures for coughs and colds. Inevitably part of the cure will be to get out and do something because sitting around thinking out how you feel only increases the suffering you feel. They are a very practical people.
Rednecks tend to enjoy country music – not because it’s country music but because you can still understand the lyrics and many of the songs tell stories they enjoy hearing. Some songs make a point about life that is important and the rednecks encourage their children to listen to those songs. Family stories are still told around the fireplace at Christmas and happiness isn’t counted in how many presents are under a tree, but in how many healthy family members are there to celebrate together.
Rednecks tend to look at life as one long adventure, with something new to be learned or experienced every day. They are very protective of family and will stand shoulder to shoulder to fight against any threat that faces even a single family member. I clearly remember being told by my older brothers, “Just remember: you’re one of us. We can mess with you, but no one else can. If they do, come get us. If they mess with us, you come running when we call. We stand together.” Wow. Hallelujah. THAT made me fell awful good to be a part of something that committed and strong.
And rest assured, my brothers do mess with each other. Every year at the family reunion we pick on one for his belly, another for his baldness… each has something we pick on them for. Most of them time, what we pick on one brother for applies to several other brothers as well. Not that our sisters get off free either. They get their fair share and give it right back. Mom just shakes her head at how silly we are expressing our care and love for each other in the jokes and laughter.
The family reunion is probably another example of our redneckness. Held in a park it involves deep frying a couple turkeys, grilling chicken, burgers, hotdogs, sausage and whatever other meat family members bring. Homemade potato salad, egg salad, deviled eggs, pasta salad and more all shows up. Coolers full of water, soda and beer get set out. No one has to watch the beer coolers. None of the children will even try to get into them. They know that if they do someone will give them a swift swat on the butt. It will sting; it will be loud enough for everyone to hear and turn their head to look at; and at that point the offending child’s parent will come to deal with them.
Our children learn our values and work ethic through family involvement. Accomplishments are praised across the board so that the pride one parent feels in a child’s accomplishment is echoed repeatedly by every aunt and uncle. Cousins compare notes, boyfriends, girlfriends, life status, cars, knives, and more. Bits of newly learned wisdom are passed among the cousins and then between brothers and sisters as they’re picked up. Since the family reunion is the one day of the year when everyone in the family will be present, gifts are exchanged. Not a single child will leave without some new toy, stuffed animal or something else.
One brother paints beautiful scenes on the feathers of turkeys he’s hunted. The painted feather is then matted and framed. He brings a collection to the reunion and no one leaves without something new. My mother-in-law has an entire collection of Christmas Tree Ornaments that were made by that particular brother. He collected deer antlers – the sheds one spring – and cut them down before painting light houses on them. Since my mom-in-law loves lighthouses, I thought it was an appropriate gift. He was proud to have them on her tree.
Another brother makes wallets and handbags out of the deerskin he gets when he hunts deer. Everything that goes into them comes from the deer. Sometimes his wife will embellish the outside with beads or other decoration. That same brother and his wife make a lot of their own clothing.
Just driving up into the mountains for the reunion makes me feel closer to home. I spend the day in the company of my family and realize what the term “redneck” means to me. And after that day I can say this without any hesitation at all: I’m PROUD to be a redneck. Calling me one is far from an insult. It’s a compliment; it’s a recognition I wear with pride and honor. After all, knowing all of the above, who wouldn’t want to be one?
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