We’re Hillbillies, and We’re Everywhere

dam thoughts, barry currin, beaverdamusa.comPeople from other parts of the country love to call people who live in southern Appalachia “hillbillies.” They use it as a derogatory term meant to characterize us as dirt-farming banjo pickers who snicker when the bug zapper goes off.

In defense of these snobs, I will say that some of us don’t put forth much effort to dispel those stereotypes. In popular culture, we haven’t progressed much from the days of Jed and Granny. TV shows portray us running a whiskey still, handling snakes in church, pimping out our 2-year-old girls on the beauty pageant circuit and muddin’ in our 4-wheel-drives. I breathe a sigh of relief every day when I wake up and one of those useless cable channels has not debuted a show called “Hillbilly Meth Wars.” Our cause is certainly not helped much by country music either, which constantly rehashes the theme of “let’s get drunk, sit on the tailgate at the bonfire and watch the honey in a little white tank top shake it for us.” The very makeup of this website even stereotypes us a little bit.

In reality, though, nobody on earth fits the hillbilly mold completely. But on the other hand, no place is immune to having some hillbilly characteristics — at least no place between Tennessee and Lansing, Mich.

Last weekend, Kim and I put the Mighty Prius in the wind and headed toward Lansing for Kim’s business. We stopped for the night in Franklin, Ohio, which is a wide spot in the road south of Dayton. Once we got away from the interstate we found the little town, which was rural and quaint. We didn’t see many people. Maybe they were still out muddin’. We did see a couple of old guys sitting under a shade tree in the yard. Remember those Bartles and Jaymes commercials? I think these guys were Frank and Ed, and I may have heard a bug zapper.

We also saw some tattooed, straggly-haired teenagers slinking on the sidewalk downtown who looked like they came straight out of MTV’s “Buckwild,” which coincidentally was about a bunch of hillbilly teenagers in West Virginia.

I wasn’t sure how far north the influence would go before it ran out. Turns out, it goes at least to East Lansing, Mich., home of Michigan State University. MSU is one of the largest colleges in the country with more than 40,000 students.

Of those 40,000, around 39,000 of them must be studying farming because 90 percent of the campus was a farm. There’s nothing wrong with that; I was just expecting something a bit more, oh, un-hillbilly-like.

michigan state university, beaverdamusa.com, geese

Geese in a convenience store parking lot near Michigan State University.

And I was certainly not expecting to see a family of geese waddling in a convenience store parking lot less than a half mile from campus. I made a spectacle of myself at the red light trying to get a picture. I don’t think the people in the car behind me thought it was very funny that someone from the south was about to have photographic evidence that every place on earth has something we can chuckle about.

My final example comes from rural Ohio on US-33, where we took back-road detour on the way home. The town is called Rockford. The population of Rockford is however-many can fit in the parking lot of the tastee-twirl. The tastee-twirl in Rockford was a quintessential drive-in hamburger joint. The parking lot was packed with, well, everybody who lived in the town, sitting around on picnic tables and truck tailgates.

All it was missing was a bonfire and some banjo music.

About Barry Currin

Barry tries to be funny and poignant, and he's usually satisfied when he succeeds with one or the other. (Being both is awesome. And sometimes that happens.) Email him: currin01@gmail.com

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