My father-in-law recently posted on Facebook, “We will no longer be called Hillbilly Rednecks. We will henceforth be known as Appalachian Americans.”
When I married my husband, I wasn’t sure how Appalachian American would mesh with my sensible German heritage, but it has worked out pretty well. Ultimately, whether you drink moonshine or beer, you have the same end result. Babies. Not that all five of our kids were conceived while we were in a drunken stupor, just the redhead. This is what happens when you branch away from your native alcohol and throw in a shot or two of Irish Whiskey.
Appalachian Americans think a little differently than the rest of us. They believe the front door is the one you use most often, regardless of where it’s actually located on the house. Early in our marriage, but after it was too late for an annulment, my husband asked me to hold the front door open while he carried in a large box. Being the dutiful wife, I walked to the front of the house, and held the door for an interminable amount of time. Finally, I heard him shouting, “What are you doing in there?”
I followed the sound of his voice to the back door, where he stood heaving under the weight of the package. “You told me to hold the front door open,” I exclaimed innocently.
“I know,” he growled. “What took you so long?!”
It would have been better to cordially discuss his odd mentality over a beer, but instead we brawled it out in the back yard. Or the front yard, depending on how you look at it.
His family reunions used to leave me a bit unsettled. They really do bring banjos. I would look around at the pickers and grinners, the long beards, the crazy eyes, and think, “How is it possible that my children share a bloodline with these people?”
But over the years I’ve grown to love at least five or six of them, and I think a handful of them love me back. We’re kin.
Not much surprises me anymore. I feel like a frog in a pot of water. You can keep turning the heat up, but the frog will never jump out because he adjusts to the temperature and doesn’t realize he’s boiling to death. But back in the early days, the shock factor was pretty high and I was leaping all over the place trying to keep from being scorched.
They’re not a very diverse group. We’ve got the one redhead, and one of the cousins became a marine and brought home a Filipino wife. She didn’t stay for long. I imagine communication was very difficult for her, as Appalachian American is one of the hardest languages to learn.
Several years ago, one of the uncles was awarded a contract to install walk-in coolers in all of the new Einstein Bagel shops cropping up in the area. Great-Aunt Betty Kay was very vocal about the fact that she thought this was a bad idea.
“I don’t see how he’s going to make any money.” She rolled her eyes and sighed. And then she leaned towards me, pushed her fingertips firmly into the picnic table, and stated quietly, “We just don’t have a very large Jewish population around here.”
She pressed her lips into a tight line, and gave a single emphatic nod, indicating that I should know what she was talking about.
I decided I couldn’t let it go.
“But Betty Kay, I’m not Jewish, and I eat bagels.”
“But your daddy is a Baptist preacher!” she exclaimed.
Fascinated by the fact that she chose to go the route of religion rather than ethnic heritage I replied, “Yes, but I also eat Italian bread even though I’m not Catholic. And I eat pitas but I’m not Greek Orthodox. And I’m not Buddhist, but I eat Chinese Sticky Buns!”
She snorted, “Well, I hope nobody tries to open a Chinese Sticky Bun restaurant because we certainly don’t have….” Catching sight of the Filipino bride, she fell silent, because to Betty Kay, all Asians are Chinese.
I smiled and nodded my way through the rest of the Appalachian American reunion, biding my time until I could return home, march straight through the front-back door, and wash it all away with a nice German beer. The beer I choose regardless of my ethnic heritage, and in my spite of my religion.