|iPad, Guinness and holler.|
This afternoon, I went outside to walk my dogs. As I looked down at my outfit -- an Under Armour base layer, faded jeans, well-worn rain boots and my fiance's cast-off winter jacket -- I realized that I could be geared up for many places. Dressed for muck, and with a bottle of Guinness in my hand, I looked every bit the Scots-Irish girl that my genealogy chart would present. I could be in my mother's family's native County Quinn, or I could be on a horse farm in my beloved Central Kentucky, or I could be dressed for countless outdoorsy places other than my parents' Eastern Kentucky home, where I'm visiting for a few days. In fact, the beer made my hometown less likely, as I'm from the kind of town where any alcohol is suspect, let alone a lady drinking on a weeknight.
|Max explores a creek,.|
I've always had a complicated relationship with my Appalachian heritage. Now, I find that most people I know tend to fully embrace or summarily reject their mountain roots. Neither path has ever felt quite right for me, though. There are certainly times when I wonder what it would have been like if I'd spent my formative years on the Upper East Side, or in a subdivision, or dozens of other places. There are other times when I'm overcome by the beauty of the place where I was raised -- times when it seems that I am really seeing a creek or a tree for the very first time. Most of the time, though, I've come to realize that I was born to that particular little plot of earth not by fortune -- be it good or bad -- but sheerly by fate. It's not something I love or hate; it simply just is.
|My grandparents, father and aunt, Easter 1957.|
I've recently undertaken the archiving of my father's family's photographs. As eight decades of Watsons have come to life from yellowed, often-crumbling photos, the Appalachian landscape has emerged alongside them. Rocky hills in the background. Farmhouses. Tall, majestic pine trees and their scrub brethren. As central a character to our family history as any ancestor.
|I grew up here.|
Maybe that very familiarity has led to the complexities in my relationship with my homeland. Perhaps that is why I feel perfectly entitled to cringe a little when James Still's lost manuscript is reviewed in the Oxford American (I've always secretly considered Still's work to be the worst form of hillbilly-gothic). Maybe it is akin to a familial relationship. And, like most complex family relationships, maybe that is why I can be completely flummoxed by "the way we do things around here", then nearly moved to tears by the beauty of the rocky stream at the back of my parents' land only minutes later. The trite old saying goes that you don't pick your family. And, in a very real way, for good or for ill, I suppose that don't pick your homeland either.