Friday, March 05, 2010
Where I live...the people (origins)
As I mentioned in passing in my introduction the population in this county is very homogeneous. If you define diversity by shades of skin color then we are sorely lacking. I think the census counts have us at anywhere from one to three black people, one Asian, maybe two native Americans and the rest is white, white,

The odd thing is that it wasn't always this way. A century ago this county had 5,000 people or more. There was a thriving black community. There had been slave-holders in this area, and the census records show exactly what families held slaves. After the Civil War there was a sizeable free population that established communities around the county. There were white schools and black schools, like anywhere else in the south.

By the time I moved here there was one black woman left. M remembered just a few of her family members from his childhood. Ruth D. was a close friend of M's family. She always loved to tell how she'd been there at my father-in-laws birth; how she'd been there when they'd chosen the name Jack. She died when she was 90. She was so proud of her age she'd tell you how old she was just about every time you saw her. We still have a woven rag rug, her legacy to M.

I've asked M what happened, why had everyone left? He pointed out that more than half the county had left. I was curious if it was overt racism that had driven people away, or if they'd gained better sense and decided there was better living elsewhere. He really didn't know.

So what we have left are people largely of Scots-Irish descent. You'll find them throughout the Appalachian region. Some of their traditions are carried on today. For example, clogging (clog dancing) is still popular for performances at local events. Sen. James Webb wrote about the Scots-Irish in his book Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America:
The Scots-Irish (sometimes called the Scotch-Irish) are all around you, even though you probably don’t know it. They are a force that shapes our culture, more in the abstract power of emotion than through the argumentative force of law. In their insistent individualism, they are not likely to put an ethnic label on themselves when they debate societal issues. Some of them don’t even know their ethnic label, and some who do don’t particularly care. They don’t go for group-identity politics any more than they like to join a union. Two hundred years ago the mountains built a fierce and uncomplaining self-reliance into an already hardened people. To them, joining a group and putting themselves at the mercy of someone else’s collective judgment makes as much sense as letting the government take their guns. And nobody is going to get their guns.

That's about right. This review of Webb's book reveals more analysis on the Scots-Irish and fairly well describes my friends and neighbors. The county also has a number of folks of German descent, many of whom migrated south from Pennsylvania.

M wants me to point out that there are also occasional folks from Denmark. Like a certain family who fled to America after their father, who was in a high position, was assassinated in a church. Ahem.


Thursday, March 04, 2010
Popi's visit to the store today
Emma has Popi's hat and is looking for trouble.

And Jack's the victim. Next Emma rearranged M's hat for him.

Popi taking M's order. I used to have Popi's job a million years ago and that's how I met M.

Emma's patented headlock hug. Sigh.

This is my five year-old
On the way home from town this evening she told me she invited her best friend over to the house tonight. I explained to her that her friend wasn't coming because she didn't ask the grown-ups first. We went around and around about that and for grins I threw in that her friend couldn't come over anyway because her room is a mess. Emma mulled it over for a few minutes.

"Mom, I don't think you're looking at this the right way. We don't have to go into my bedroom."

Me (dubiously): "Right."

Emma: "Do we have toys in the bathroom? Yes, we do, Mama."

"Do we have toys in the living room? Yes, we do, Mama."

"Do we have toys in the computer room? Yes, we do, Mama. So we don't need to go into my bedroom at all. Don't you see my point, Mama?"

Me: Oy
Where I live...How Remote Exactly?
So what have we got going for us isolated here in the mountains? I'll start by telling you what we don't have. No chain restaurants or fast food. No laundromats. No movie theater. No coffee shops. No Kinkos. No DMV. No malls. No strip malls. Not even one real traffic light. In all the county we have one blinking light. Here road rage is being stuck at third in line at the blinking light.

We do have two restaurants and a lunch counter. Plus the dining room at the Inn. We have M's grocery/general store, a bulk food store, and somehow a Dollar General snuck into town. We have a farm co-op and a farm store. There are two places in town to buy gas, an Exxon and a BP. The best pizza in town comes from the BP. We have the Inn and a smaller motel. Throughout the county there are dozens of B & B's. We have the SPCA's thrift store and a gallery with art and folk art/sculptures. There's a crafts cooperative and a wool & knitting store. We have a car garage that does all kinds of work and then a service station that does mostly tires. We have a business incubator and a Chamber of Commerce, set up in the old school building. We do have a liquor store; the state forced it on the county if we wanted to receive any ABC revenue. Our courthouse has all the government services you would expect. We have a post office, a library, and local public radio. All this is covered within the area of about four city blocks.

Our school system for the entire county has 242 kids. That's preschool through twelfth grade. Graduating classes usually have somewhere between 20 and 35 kids. The low student:teacher ratio provides for high performing kids for the most part. Some kids don't aspire to college and the school has wood shop, business, or ag classes for them. Our kids make it to the best Virginia colleges. I've never heard of them placing anyone in the Ivy leagues (M corrected me to say we've had one go to Harvard). However, some of our graduates have gone on to do great things.

Despite the isolation and small pool of resources there are plenty of entertainment and cultural events. The library does a family movie night once a month where the movie, popcorn and drinks are all free. The Arts Council has a gallery in the library's meeting room and they put in new shows once a month featuring local artists and artists from surrounding areas. The Arts Council also sponsors children's drama camp in the summer, adult plays, and visiting performers. We have local musicians, mostly of the bluegrass/country stripe. Lions Club sponsors regular Bingo nights. There are occasional Longaberger Basket bingos. High School sports is entertainment here as it is everywhere.

Our progress through the year is marked by the annual events of each season. February is groundhog supper, followed by the big festival two weekends in March. April brings kid's fishing day. June is the end of school and beginning of all the summer programs for the kids. July has the street dance and the little 4th of July parade in one of the villages. August is the big bike ride and the county fair, which is like a homecoming for the whole county. September is back to school and the usual routines. October brings the fall festival and Halloween carnival. November brings in hunting season, when the population in the county quadruples and several organizations hold breakfasts and dinners. December brings the wintertide festival. Round and round the calendar goes, with each event bringing you together with the same folks.

So while we lack a lot of things that define the suburban American experience, we do have a lot of unique and homegrown events. And just like teenagers everywhere, ours can't wait to leave because "there's nothing to do here."


Monday, March 01, 2010
Where I live...Geography
Boring way to start, but really, it's the star of the show. The county I live in is over 400 square miles and there are less than 2,300 people here. That's roughly five people per square mile. So when people swear that the world is over-populated, we're pretty hard to persuade. Yet we're less than four hours from the nation's capital.

The whole county is mountainous. From the east you enter our county at the top of a mountain, and you leave it the same way to the west, six mountains later. I have to cross four mountains to head to the valley where most of the serious commerce is done. The closest real grocery store is thirty miles to the north, across the state line. And even that's an IGA. It's sixty miles, over the mountains, to the nearest Walmart.

It's beautiful. People visit here and fall in love. They make plans to retire here. Some want to raise their kids here. If peace, tranquility, closeness to nature, and bright stars in the night sky are your cup of tea then this place is for you. Before I ever had a hint I would live here I passed through and found what I still believe is the most beautiful five mile drive I've ever seen. Nineteen years later I still feel the same way, and love to drive through there as much as I ever did.

With all this elbow room it's pretty common to have only one neighbor in sight from your house, or none. So unless you live in town you don't easily bump into your neighbors. Still, most or our neighbors are the kind you like to have. For as long as I can remember our neighbor across the road and up from us has mowed the grass down along the highway from his house to ours. No reason on earth to do that other than to give us a safe sight-line when we pull out into the road. He's also been the one plowing us out this winter. M's had to force jars of canned tenderloin on him because he won't take our money.

The county is criss-crossed by two main highways, which anywhere else would be secondary roads. We live on the third priority road in the county. Everything else is side roads, none with center lines. Thankfully our snow removal teams are awesome. When the conditions are crappy you just pray you can make to our county line because from there you know you'll be better off.

Our county boast the highest mean elevation east of the Mississippi. We're like nowhere else in the South. Weather forecasts rarely get it right for us because of our high elevation. The summer evenings are cool here and the winter is bitter-ass cold. Climate-wise life here is not for the faint of heart.

We have one town of about 300 people and two smaller villages. And half a hamlet, as M calls it.

So now I've established the setting: mountainous, remote, isolated, harsh, and breathtakingly beautiful.


Sunday, February 28, 2010
Where I live...
Bears no resemblance to anything you see on television. I often say it's most like Mayberry, but not exactly. Everything we do here doesn't have an edifying moral to the story. As far as daily life goes we don't have murders, so that knocks out 75% of television shows. We have no reality stars so that knocks out 15%. We have no minorities so that knocks out 5%. And we have no coffee shops with couches so there goes the last 5%. Maybe if your satellite pulls in the RFD channel you'll see something like my home, but then it's not exactly like that either.

I'd like to tell you about my adopted hometown and how it shapes my reality, and the lives of my family, but it will take time. I'm thinking I'll share a series of posts and if everyone's bored it will go away quietly. If you're interested I'll keep at it. I really do think you'll see that I live in pretty rarefied air here and I'll be interested to know if some of you recognize your hometowns in my experience.


All hail Cheerios!
The staple of the infant/toddler diet. I have no idea why kids take to them so easily, but they sure do.

I included a second photo to show you Jack's eating posture. He sits with his arms wide open like that most of the time. He'll twist his wrists and move his hands all around, but his arms will stay splayed out like that. Funny monkey.

Meet Boney
This is Emma's new betta fish. She got the tank as a Christmas gift, from Aunt Bunny, I think. It's a combination betta tank and plant starter. I plan to take a cutting from a philodendron at work and add it Monday evening. That way we'll have our own little eco-system in there. Now if I could just figure out how much food he's supposed to get. Off to Google...

He's actually much smaller in the tank than he appears in the picture.