It was beautiful and more inspiring than anything I’d seen in my own place of worship

“I could only nod. Nell began a new verse, and several people moved forward to line up before Brother James, where they spoke and prayed with him one at a time, some openly weeping. Others knelt where they were, heads bowed toward the rustic benches, issuing unspoken requests directly to God, without a human intercessor. It was beautiful and more inspiring than anything I’d seen in my own place of worship, where we sang the same hymns over and over, and our minister, who’d been there more years than I’d been alive, delivered the same fire-and-brimstone messages Sunday after Sunday, so monotone, nobody shook with fear unless called out publicly by Reverend Creech for dozing during his sermon…

When the last one reached Brother James, and no others stood to follow, Nell began humming the song’s chorus quietly, and the choir joined her in a soothing, almost lullaby. James raised his hands high again, beckoning his congregation once more, and when no one else responded, he lowered them and clasped them behind his back. He offered a spoken prayer to end the service.

After his benediction, the choir sang again to send out the members, this time in a fast and rhythmic chorus. Some sang and clapped along; others gathered up sleepy children or embraced one another. I’d never seen such a joyful group. The state of their clothing, threadbare and outdated in most cases, indicated they struggled with poverty, barely hanging on even as American finally emerged from terrible times, yet they seemed thankful regardless.”

- Julie Kibler, Calling Me Home

(Red Country Reading List)

Days of healing, ease and real-talk

“Sethe had had twenty-eight days - the travel of one whole moon - of unslaved life. From the pure clear stream of spit that the little girl dribbled into her face to her oily blood was twenty-eight days. Days of healing, ease and real-talk. Days of company: knowing the names of forty, fifty other Negroes, their views, habits; where they had been and what done; of feeling their fun and sorrow along with her own, which made it better. One taught her the alphabet; another a stitch. All taught her how it felt to wake up at dawn and decide what to do with the day.”

- Tony Morrison, Beloved, 1987

(Red Country Reading List)

they can kiss my ruby-red asshole

"I'd like to tell you how my grandparents thrived in their new environment, how they raised a successful family, and how they retired comfortably middle-class. But that is a partial truth. The full truth is that my grandparents struggled in their new life, and they continued to do so for decades. 

For starters a remarkable stigma attached to people who left the hills of Kentucky for a better life. Hillbillies have a phrase - "too big for your britches" - to describe those who think they're better than the stock they came from. For a long time after my grandparents came to Ohio, they heard exactly that phrase from people back home. The sense that they had abandoned their families was acute, and it was expected that, whatever their responsibilities, they would return home regularly... 

That stigma came from both directions: Many of their n ew neighbors viewed them suspiciously. To the established middle class of white Ohioans, these hillbillies simply didn't belong. They had too many children, and they welcomed their extended families into their homes for too long. On several occasions, Mamaw's brothers and sisters lived with her and Papaw for months as they tried to find good work outside of the hills. In other worlds, many parts of their culture and customs met with roaring disapproval from native Middletonians...

One of Papaw's good friends - a hillbilly from Kentucky whom he met in Ohio - became the mail carrier in their neighborhood. Not long after he moved, the mail carrier got embroiled in a battle with the Middletown government over the flock of chickens that he kept in his yard. He treated them just as Mamaw had treated her chickens back in the holler: Every morning he collected all the eggs, and when his chicken populations grew too large, he'd take a few of the old ones, wring their necks, and carve them up for meat right in his backyard. You can just imagine a well-bred housewife watching out the window in horror as her Kentucky-born neighbor slaughtered squawking chickens just a few feet away. My sister and I still call the old mail carrier "the chicken man," and years later even a mention of how the city government ganged up on the chicken man could inspire Mamaw's trademark vitriol: "Fucking zoning laws. They can kiss my ruby-red asshole." 

The move to Middletown created other problems, as well. In the mountain homes of Jackson, privacy was more theory than practice. Family, friends, and neighbors would barge into your home without much warning. Mothers would tell their daughters how to raise their children. Fathers would tell sons how to do their jobs. Brothers would tell brothers-in-law how to treat their wives. Family life was something people learned on the fly with a lot of help from their neighbors. In Middletown, a man's home was his castle."

- J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy, 2016

(Red Country Reading List)

 

all good folks, colored and white, abided by that

"I parked the truck and got out. The way it was in Kentucky, in the South back then, was that going into a colored neighborhood was more or less like going into a whole other country. Your neighborhood could be on the edge, you could live three blocks or not even that, maybe just the distance of a field, be as close as from here to there, but the chances of you ever getting there, assuming your business was good, were about as much as you getting to California. Folks didn't mix, plain as that. There was no town meeting, no drawn-out line that said this is where you don't cross, but there was an understanding, and all good folks, colored and white, abided by that. 

So when I had the opportunity to find myself on the other side, I looked around. That particular road was dirt and dark, but the snow on the ground spread around whatever light was left. I looked at the same porch on every house, each with a couple of chairs, a stack of empty bushel baskets, some firewood, maybe a flat of empty Coca-Cola bottles. I watched the curtains draw back, a face peer out and disappear. They wanted to know what a white man big as me was doing out in their road come nighttime, though it was clear enough whose house I was standing in front of. They wanted to let me know they'd seen me, that if anything was to happen, they would have seen my face." 

- Ann Patchett, "The Patron Saint of Liars," 1992

(Red Country Reading List)