I am not a hillbilly, but this may be a kind of elegy. I am not a hillbilly but am really only removed from them by a thin generation and about 350 miles.
When I look at the things that are happening: the hot white anger; the grievances worn on a sleeve; the altered logic of climate change denial twinned with six-day-creation-6000-year-old-earth “science”; the looming apocalypses brought to us by a malign government (democrat); the chest puffing “America only” bumper sticker politics…
When I look at these things I see that I am not so far from home–not my home, but the homes of my mom and dad. A certain kind of fundamentalist Christianity seized them sometime after they left the “hills” (cove, creek, holler) and saved dad from alcohol. Mom saw all she needed. If God could do that! Well then, God and Jesus was where she needed to give her heart. And she did. And they did.
Dad, wearing “the pants” and being the Old Testament God of war, discipline, and rules. Mom, meekly being Jesus on the cross and loving, loving, loving. Mom was pro life before it was really fashionable (she had, no doubt seen abortions in ways that many had not, will not), but she loved every single mom who came by with her child and she sacrificed for them. Hours around the kitchen table taking in all comers and listening, listening, listening. “Can I pray with you?” and she would. And they (most of the local detritus and some from much further away) found their way to her table. I saw them.
Dad, went with Wallace in ’68 and would have gone for Trump last year. And though Trump makes Wallace look like a decent man, the factors that led dad down that path are the same these nearly 50 years later: anger at a world that no longer looked like anything he thought he knew. An America abandoned to “them.” Dad went to John Birch meetings in the basement where we would later live. The only time he EVER went to a political rally was to see Wallace in Hershey, PA. Dad falling in love with Jerry Falwell and his brand of gnosticism–learning to bus children to the church where they were ritually counted to show the world that hundreds were coming to Jesus: this is what I saw.
They had a rudimentary grasp of the dispensationalist wall charts that adorned so many church basements. Mom sang in lots of them before that illness took her voice away forever. They believed in a straightforward gospel of ultimate reward and ultimate damnation. No gray areas there. And though they would have denied it, they lived in fear of a crude kind of dualism in which Satan was so close to winning that it was up to folk like them to hold him at bay–and God had designed it all that way.
They had me ask Jesus into my heart early on–once is enough they said. I knew better and repeated the sinner’s prayer thousands of times–fearing that somehow I would trip up and the God of dad would leer at me and say “Aha, you were too late with your repentance THIS time Robbie.” I was scared pretty much all the time, what with the God of dad, the Russians (commies) and those “inner-city blacks” who were out to take what was never meant to be theirs.
So, I live today and I see all of this as a homecoming, somewhere between the hills/cove/holler where they were raised and the piedmont where I fell in love with baseball (and Bob Gibson). I don’t ask Jesus into my heart anymore, and find that I can’t really believe much of anything that mom and dad taught me. But the God of my dad and the Jesus of my mom help me understand much of what I see here, now. I live in their houses–their hills, their cove, their holler. We all do.