"well, my family has a house up in the mountains on a lake, and we go up there in the summers, and there's this cute little general store that we go to, and there's this guy who works there who wears overalls and no shirt and he has very few teeth."
this eloquent, run-on response was given in a college english class that i took in response to the professor wondering about our perceptions of people from the mountains as we prepared to study charles frazier's cold mountain. once she finished waxing so poetically, i figured i'd just sit this discussion out and hear what my colleagues had to offer about where i grew up.
i learned a lot. people from the mountains are dumber, less attractive, and more likely to both own a gun and fire it at will. their sense of fashion is vastly outdated and they are more likely to fall in love with a person across the room if the room is in their own home. i also learned that owning a second home somewhere does not make you a local expert on anything except tax codes and that it's difficult to agree with someone's assessment of anything when they choose to pose for playboy's girls of the acc spread. ok, i already knew that last thing was true.
after sitting through this painful display of amateur anthropology, i began to look at where i grew up a little differently. months before that discussion i was chomping at the bit to get out of that little mountain town and all the backwards people i couldn't take anymore. i thought i was surrounded by a lot of dumb, gun-toting, tooth challenged people who didn't see what the world had to offer them if they'd just step off that mountain for a little while. but to hear some other people make those comments stirred up some familial ties i didn't know i had. it was like they were all my little brothers and sisters and while it was perfectly ok for me to mock them, under no circumstances could anyone else do the same.
i even started watching my favorite documentary differently. in high school some friends of mine convinced me and several other guys that we needed to see this movie called hands on a hard body. contrary to popular opinion it is in fact not a porn flick. it follows about a dozen folks in a small town in texas as they vie for a new pick-up truck. when i was fifteen, it was comedic genius. the misplaced references to highlander, the super jesus-y lady who thought god told her to sell her truck before the contest because she was going to win this one, the former marine with a literal shag carpet chest. gold. all of it.
but then i watched it after this discussion of mountain people (sounds like a show on tlc) and got really sad. they weren't acting or trying to be funny. they wanted that truck so they could use the rest of their income to oh, i don't know, feed their families or pay their rent. they joined the marines because there weren't really other options for them. they needed that truck and they were willing to stand up with one hand on it for close to a week just to get it.*
i couldn't get this film out of my head the other night when we went to a local auction. i tend to think of auctions as events where furniture and personal effects are sold at decent to astronomical prices. at least i tended to until the other night. when the first items up for bid were boxes of fudge rounds and other little debbie treats, i had to withhold my laughter. but then people started bidding on them. all of them. they were gone in about a minute.
and that's when i started wondering if this was how the auction usually went, if it was a sign of the economic times, or if it was just a chance for friends to have a yard sale in auction format and we just happened to show up. once the woman in front of me started asking serious questions about the quality of a small teal bell and the "flavor" of the incense, i realized we were at a serious affair.
there was a caller, his bedazzled partner who took down all the purchase information, and two rather unique individuals hawking the various wares of the show. one man in his hawaiian shirt, vietnam vet hat complete with head lamp and the personality of benny hill; the other could be described accurately by my friends in english class.
while the wares didn't always seem auction worthy to us and at times it felt like watching whose line is it anyway as the vet and his buddy ran through their jokes about everything they picked up, one thing became obvious. if it didn't serve an immediate purpose (nourishment, replacement or repair, etc.) it didn't get bought. that is, except for the ladder golf set we took home. we also bought a t square, so i can start building some stuff around the house that we later learned is made from some cancer causing chemical. awesome.
this was a purely utilitarian auction. what can i get for the least amount of money that will do my family the most good? apple jacks > teal bells. my father-in-law would've found a lot of partners in crime here.
maybe folks from the mountains, rural america even, are the way those geniuses in my class described them. stereotypes do come from somewhere, but i think there's something more behind it. life's a little slower and even a little more practical for those that live there. that doesn't mean it's an idyllic existence by any stretch of the imagination. i can't imagine that a place where you're willing to take off for a week to stand next to a truck that you may or may not win or go to an auction every week to buy foodstuffs is completely pleasant all the time.
all i'm saying is that day-to-day operations take precedence over the frills and extras life has to offer. sometimes that order make things hilarious, sometimes it makes them sad, but it's always real and just as entertaining as living anywhere else.
*note: the jesus-y lady is still hilarious and always will be and the the film is still comedic genius in my opinion.
photos by boone and joey joey joseph