Context: Hillbilly Haven (Part 1)
Nona came down to wake me up about 6 in the morning. As sweet as ever she shook me and said “Good morning Sleepy head.” She told me she was about to head back to Atlanta and wanted to hug me goodbye. She kissed me on my forehead and told me to have fun while I was here. She left, I pulled the covers over my head and went back to sleep. I woke up at a few hours later and went upstairs. Chuck was already at work, the kids were playing chess, and Caroline was grumbling to herself as she made lunch.
“That woman! She always does stuff like this. I can fold my own towels! I can run my own darn house!”
The kid’s greeted me with good mornings. I said good morning back. Caroline turned around smiling, this time a disingenuous Peggy-like fake smile.
“Good Morning sleepy head. Come over, have some orange juice, lunch will be done in a minute.” I sat down at the table as Caroline grabbed me some juice.
“You’ve got to forgive my little rant.” Caroline said apologetically, “My mom, she just irks me sometimes. You know how she can get.” I nodded. “She can be so negative even when she means well. I can usually deal with it, but sometimes it gets to me. Ha! My sister Patty can’t stand her. They’ve always butted heads. Couldn’t stand each other.” She giggled. “They fought all the time, ugh, it was a nightmare… probably why all of us ended up leaving as soon as we were old enough to run off and get married.” She laughed again.
I was pretty sure she was trying to relate to me with her “see I can’t get along with my mom either story.” It worked. It made her human to me, and the fact that she was telling me this rather than brush off what was clearly a hissy fit made me like her even more. Adults were always trying to act perfect; she was actually genuine. I liked it.
“So how’d you sleep?” she asked. I knew this was a preliminary step to her trying to open me up, get me to talk to her beyond “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am.” I told her about the strange but wonderful dream I had”
“So at the end of it, I’m chasing the Dahli Llama through a huge field and him leading me across a river to meet Jimmy Carter and Siddhartha and I don’t know. It was just weird cause it was like the Dahli Llama was trying to tell me something, but it was in another language, so I didn’t get it.”
The fake smile on Caroline’s face gave way to a disappointed grimace. “Well, I’m sorry you’d have such a demonic dream in my house…but don’t worry, we’ll get you to a point where you’re having godly dreams.” The Buddha? Demonic? Seriously bullshit and bigoted stance about other peoples’ religion. I bit my tongue to refrain from defending all eastern religions, realizing that I should have known better than to say I dreamt about anything but Jesus.
After lunch, I sat in the kitchen area with Caroline shooting the breeze. We talked about a lot. More than I had talked to any adult since back at Crossroads. It was pretty clear that she was very right winged, so I made sure not to let my inner hippie lose. After a brief discussion on the superiority of the spring water they had running through their taps (that’s the stuff you pay a buck a bottle for in the city, ya know), she asked me who my favorite president was. I said Reagan. Which wasn’t a lie. He was at one point, till I learned about him smuggling crack into Compton and ignoring HIV as just a gay plague. She told me to make sure I told Chuck that “Oh he’s gonna love you” she said laughing.
My years of staying up late watching Rush Limbaugh as a kid was finally coming in handy. I kept on with the right-wing propaganda, this was the way to get them to like me. I told her about my aunts who were able to raise 6+ kids and buy houses off welfare and section 8 and how disgusting it was to me. That hooked her in. She said it was “learned helplessness” and that she’d seen a lot of it at the reservations when they did missionary work. That the Indians would just sit around waiting for a government check rather than pick themselves up and fix the horrible conditions they were living in. She was cautious enough not to make the same equating to all black people, but referenced “welfare queens” taking advantage of the system to just keep popping out kids expecting the government to take care of them and how that meant people who needed help couldn’t get it.
I chimed in with “like my mom” and went on to talk about how Clinton’s welfare reform left her never able to get help and how I ended up having to raise my younger sister while my mom worked around the clock. That didn’t hit any heart strings, she just asked why my mom’s family didn’t help her. So I explained to her about my Grandmother who made her 13-year-old daughter drop out of school to raise a baby. Well, I told her the clean version since Caroline’s kids were within an earshot. Didn’t talk about the super psycho stuff about my family. Just that my cousin and I were embarrassments since our moms were teenagers and our family was Jehovah’s witness (a religion Caroline quickly brushed off as a cult along with a brief rant about “the Mormons”) and that most of the stuff we went through was because we were such embarrassments. She didn’t treat my younger cousins the way she treated me and my cousin Roy. I told her about living with my grandma and how nothing was good enough for her. How I read the bible cover to cover twice to try to get her approval by getting baptized only to be snubbed and called a showoff and… I realized I was going in too deep, so I pulled back. Focus on the stuff she wanted to hear.
“I mostly just stayed to myself writing. I used to write movies and stuff. And at night I’d just stay up all night watching Rush Limbaugh.”
“You watched Rush Limbaugh?” her interest in me sparked back up.
“Yea, every night till the network started screwing with his hours. When I came back to Georgia… once… I must have been in the 5th or 6th grade. I watched him all night once. A whole marathon. He did this bit about Clinton walking away from some funeral joking around with some guy and then Clinton spotted the camera and started fake crying”
“Oh god, I remember that!”
“Yea it was classic. It was so weird cause I hadn’t seen Rush on in forever but that night we had just moved into our new apartment. But I left my brand new 10 speed at the old one so my mom left to go get it and some groceries. She said she’d be right back with my bike and some groceries… but she didn’t come home. I waited up all night watching Rush Limbaugh.” I’d given too much info again. Caroline’s heart looked like it was breaking as I talked, but I couldn’t stop the word vomit from spewing.
“She came back at like 6 the next morning. I jumped up all excited cause I thought she was dead or something. And she was all like ‘what are you doing up’ and I was like ‘I was worried, you said you were coming right back’ and she was like ‘you aint my damn mama, take your ass’…I mean butt ‘back to bed’ and then she went in her room and shut the door. She didn’t even get the stupid bike.”
Caroline kind of just stood there in aghast. At some point while I was telling the story, Jake and Lucy had come into the kitchen. I don’t know how much they heard but the fact that they heard it for some reason embarrassed the hell out of me. So, I sat there, in the chair against the wall staring at some random spot on the kitchen counter. Lucy broke the silence.
“Mom, can we go outside?” she asked excitedly.
“Yea sure kids…but um first why don’t you take Zeda down to the chicken coop and show her how to bring in the eggs.
“Okay” replied Lucy and Jake as they rushed to put on their muddy work boots. I put on my shoes and the three of us headed over to the chicken coop. I joined Lucy and Jake in picking the eggs out of the nests. I was holding them up to the sunlight checking for baby chicks… not that I’d actually have recognized what a fertilized egg would have looked like but I saw it on TV so I did it to look like I knew what I was doing.
“You don’t have to do that,” Jake said.
“Isn’t that how you make sure you don’t get one with a baby chicken in it,” I replied.
Jake and Lucy both chuckled. “Yea, but you don’t have to do that” Jake said again.
“Why?” I asked.
Then Lucy blurted out in a giggle “Because we don’t have a rooster!”
And that was life with the Pines, for the most part. Simple. Genuine. Happy. Fun….and at times a bit awkward. There was the time Caroline came to me asking why I wasn’t taking showers. She assumed because I would come out with my hair dry that I wasn’t showering. I explained to her that I showered but didn’t wash my hair everyday because black people weren’t supposed to. I honestly didn’t know why we weren’t supposed to, someone just told me that at some point and I ran with it cause it meant I didn’t have to spend hours re-flatironing my hair every day. She was completely puzzled by the idea but didn’t press the issue any further.
Then there was the time Caroline, Chuck, and I got in a conversation about rap music (which I didn’t listen to) and why black people could call themselves “the N word” (a word I didn’t use) but white people couldn’t. I was 16 years old and put in a position where I had to justify an action of a few million people I didn’t know, but must completely understand because we shared the same skin color. Luckily, the show “A Different World” had already done that for me. I regurgitated some speech from Dwayne Wayne about reappropriating the symbols of oppression even though I had no idea what the hell that meant.
To my surprise, they actually seemed to get it. In response, Caroline ended up explaining a few white “pejoratives” that they use among themselves: the difference between hillbillies and rednecks. Apparently, hillbilly specifically referred to people living in the Appalachian mountains and the Ozarks. Other white people treated them like uneducated inbreeds and used hillbilly as a derogatory word to describe them. Meanwhile, rednecks referred to the poor white trash that lived among the plantation owners as rednecks because they spent all day slaving in the sun for other people to make money, while hillbillies generally had their own family land and property on it from back in the days of pioneering. If you weren’t a hillbilly or a redneck, then you were probably a Cracker. Cracker referring to the sound of the crack of the plantation owner’s whip of course. But in this sense, I think it was more like just a term for a general white trashy person. To be honest, I still don’t know what she meant was a Cracker and I am pretty sure she was just messing with me and the joke went over my head.