I live in Appalachia, and when I say ‘hillbilly” I say it with a smile. I say it with a smile because I know hillbillies, and find the people who will admit claim to being of this group quite a fine sort of people, and vastly different from the characters portrayed on The Beverly Hillbillies TV show.
I’m from New York, so I can not be a hillbilly. That’s okay, because I can play my own part in the drama of life in Appalachia, which includes hillbillies. I like living here, and believe that the hillbillies I know (which is not the entire part of the population) are some of the smartest, sometimes most knowledgeable in certain areas, often the most humorous and generous people I’ve had the pleasure to know even including the peoples from all the places of the earth I’ve met in travels and in life.
I don’t like it when Huntington, West Virginia is held up as an example of slow-thinking folk who can’t figure out how to eat to get healthy. It feels a bit like the Hillbilly Syndrome to me, which plays out in places where people live in a higher-than-usual rate of poverty. Ignorance is suspected by those in the know, those who have more.
I don’t pretend to know why some people have less, some people more, in any definitive sense. I’m fairly sure that geography plays a part, along with many other things. But I do not think, myself, that being poor has to do with being ignorant or stupid . . . and it is this inference that the people of Huntington are being hit with – in the form of Jamie Oliver’s voyage of mass media missionary-ism.
I say ‘hillbilly’ with a smile because I know these people are no stupider than the next guy, in a general sense. I say it with a smile because hillbillies know they are looked at in a certain way, and they exploit it. They mock themselves, they pour the idea of themselves into a stark sharp humor that takes the worst and which expands upon it for the world to gape at – as they laugh behind their hands as the world does gape with mouths hanging open. And then they politely -oh so wonderfully politely – say ‘Howdy, Ma’am’.
Hillbillies live close to the soil, most of them. They raise livestock and have acres of vegetables. They know how to do these things from their Maws and Paws, not from a book or a class. Farming is not a cute thing to them, it is work – and it may be the only work they can scare up.
When I say ‘hillbilly’ I say it with a smile. The word, the people, deserve it.
Does it all come down to an apple? Heaven or Hell, a place one enters or is barred from, a magical gloried destination or a endlessly torpored collection of platitudes? The apple bears quite a responsibility on its sloped perfumed shoulders in all of these musings.
Of course it may not even have been an apple that is the center of these discussions. It may have been a grape, a fig, wheat (yes, wheat!), a quince, a citron . . . and I’ve heard discussions of the apple really being a pomegranate or (my favorite) a persimmon.
Food and religion are no strangers. Rather, they are intimate partners . . . though I have the sense myself that religion reached out to food in the original pairing, rather than food reaching out to religion. Religious thoughts of all sorts seem to attach themselves easily to food, though . . . even when the religion is merely one of the newest dietary trend. The urge towards an ecstatic experience of consumption hums below the surface of many a meal . . . and on the other side of things, the high pride of self-denial rings out like tiny churchbells on a clear cloudless wintry day.
I think of poor Eve, though. What a reputation she carries! As do we all, all of us who carry the mark of the apple upon our brows. We are mother or whore, in myth – and mother or whore in the mental imaging that comes from myth. I like these lines from Swinburne. He takes no prisoners ~
Mr. Whitman’s Eve is a drunken apple-woman, indecently sprawling in the slush and gutter amid the rotten refuse of her overturned fruit-stall . . . Mr. Whitman’s Venus is a Hottentot wench under the influence of cantharides and adulterated rum.
The postcard of the bitten apple, sent in 1908, has a plea for friendship written in its lines. It is signed by ‘E.A.M’. The ‘E’ to my mind definitely stands for ‘Eve’. Here is what she wrote . . .
Hello Will: I am sorry I offended you in the way I did & I suppose I might as well “fess up” I didn’t mean a thing in the world. and you had ought to of known I didn’t : can we not be friends again at least. Rose is gone and I am housekeeper get rather lonesome at times Oak has gone to Winchester today from a friend E.A.M.
Eve, I am going to make an apple strudel. And I am going to think of you, and hope that Will did understand your plea for friendship. My thoughts of you will be layered between the light sheets of dough like feathers, tossed in with the sugar over the apple slices, buttered with brisk brush to make a shiny surface of egg and cinnamon. The aroma of warm apple strudel will fill the air, and all will seem just as if it were Paradise.
Not knowing exactly what to say about this momento of the Farmers Market in Los Angeles sent by Trilby and Frank to the Hunnicut and Blaha Family, I’ve turned to Marianne Moore.
Even then, it is difficult. Therefore I’ve offered more than one of her lines here – you can choose the one you think fits best!
1. Durer would have seen a reason for living in a town like this.
2. I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt
for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.
3. There is a great amount of poetry in unconscious fastidiousness.
4. What sap
went through that little thread
to make the cherry red!
5. I inwardly did nothing.
O Iscariot-like crime!
Rabbit, the meat which used to be cheap and disregarded (aside from 4-H’ers, hungry country people who needed to stretch their food budget, and recent immigrants) is now claiming a new face and a new-found fame on the tables of the dining elite. Rabbit recipes are popping up everywhere, and the price tag of the meat is climbing up right alongside them.
Though considered a ‘game’ meat, even hunters generally prefer to aim their guns at larger things, or more elegant things, it seems. Deer and ducks are drooled over more than the humble rabbit as prey to gloat over out in the ‘wild’ where hunting licenses have to be paid for before the trigger is pulled with hopefully accurate aim.
The postcard above notes that salting a rabbit’s tail is helpful to the would-be hunter. One has to wonder why. Is it for pre-seasoning? Does the rabbit become confused and want to lick its tail, therefore twirling around in stable circles so that the hunter can quickly clip off that shot and be done with it? Does the salt leave a trail more easily followed? I set out to find out. It wasn’t easy. But finally I found the answer, and will give you the link so that you too can share in this wisdom.
The postcard itself is dated December 3, 1911. And here is what our sender writes:
Excuse me fore not writing You know about the job sooner Well it is about the same as McCalls Ferry some can get jobs and some cant they hire and fire a man the same day all of us stands a good chance of getting a job. Wm. Lungren