By James Mack Adams
Can we talk? Will you, dear reader, allow me to vent just a little? Now that political correctness and social justice seem to be prevalent topics in the public discourse, I feel I can at last complain about something that has bothered me for a time.
I wish to protest how we Appalachian-Americans have been, and are still being, routinely portrayed on television and in movies. If “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Hee-Haw” are still being shown on cable, I think they should be immediately cancelled. Perhaps the same fate might be in order for “Dukes of Hazard” and “Petticoat Junction.” Thank goodness the movie, “Deliverance,” is not often aired these days. I must admit, though, I did enjoy the “Dueling Banjos” scene. Those shows and others like them are offensive and threatening to me as an Appalachian-American.
By now, you must be thinking I have either been smoking something illegal or have become completely unhinged. Neither is the case, I assure you. What you read above is strictly tongue-in-cheek satire. Truth is, the TV programs I complain about are among my all-time favorites. When the time comes we can no longer laugh at ourselves, we are in deep trouble. That time seems to be here or close at hand. I am proud of my Appalachian heritage and not insulted or angry if someone calls me a hillbilly. I am willing to wear that label.
From years of observation of the print and entertainment media, someone who has no, or very little knowledge of our region might get the impression that we Appalachian-Americans are a dirt-poor people of questionable morals with fifth grade educations and IQs barely above room temperature.
I would like to offer a bit of commentary directed to those folks who gain their knowledge of Appalachia and our culture through the print and entertainment media.
We Appalachian-Americans do value education. Some of us have even managed to get advanced degrees. We do wear shoes, at least most of the time. We don’t all marry our cousins nor do we attend our family reunions just to meet girls. We know exactly how much a mess of something is and exactly where over yonder is. A pretty far piece is a measurable distance. Believe it or not, many Appalachian-Americans have good paying jobs or professions and nice homes. Some even have cement ponds in the backyard. You might need to think about the cement pond reference for a bit.
Yes, we do consider biscuits and gravy to be an entree. So is soup beans and cornbread. If someone tries to tell you differently, don’t argue. Just walk away. It’s a Southern thing and they probably wouldn’t understand anyway.
We Appalachian-Americans do have our own unique musical heritage, but we are not all banjo pickers and singers. When I was living in Ohio and unmarried many years ago, I sometimes attended singles mixers sponsored by a local church. One evening, a lady with whom I was chatting asked where I was from. I guess she recognized I didn’t talk like the locals. I told her I was from Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. Her next question was, and I kid you not, “Do you sing?” She wasn’t kidding, folks. She was dead serious. I reckon she expected me to break into a few bars of “Rocky Top.” While doing a little flatfooting dance.
Here are some interesting facts about these mountains we all call home. You may already know what I will present here. If you do, it will serve as a review and as a reminder of the awesomeness of the natural wonder that surrounds and cradles us and makes us who we are.
The Appalachians are the oldest mountain chain in North America. Formed 480 million years ago, they are among the oldest in the world.
The name is Native-American and comes from the Apalachee, a tribe that once inhabited parts of the mountain chain.
Scientists believe the Appalachians were once as high as the Alps or the Rockies. They have been worn down by millions of years of erosion.
The tallest peak in the Appalachians is Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. It rises to an elevation of 6,684 feet above sea level.
As we in Unicoi county well know, one of the most popular attractions in our mountains is the Appalachian Trail that stretches for 2,200 miles. Hikers from all over the country and the world pass through Unicoi county. They sometimes stop in town for supplies and other services.
No matter where I have traveled, I have always been proud to tell people where I am from. Some speak with envy of the area’s natural beauty and lifestyle. Others, of course, might make a good-natured joke about hillbillies, moonshiners and family feuds. That’s fine. I’m cool with it.
In closing, I would like to correct a fairly common error people make when referring to our region. The correct pronunciation is APPEL-ATCH-IA, not APPEL-LAY-SHIA.