I was the third of five raised in fine Appalachian squalor in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the western slope of the Valley of the Shenandoah. My drunken parents, Wilmer and Carol, made sure we stayed true to the timeless mountain folk traditions of alcoholism, domestic violence and poverty. They were caught in the vortex, pulling us into the maelstrom, careening ever closer to the rocks of ruination. On the bitter snowy Eve of Thanksgiving in ’71 his emaciated body gave out and he finally crossed the bar. It truly was the best and worst of times as we escaped the storm only to find ourselves set adrift, rudderless, lost.
Thus began a long wandering voyage on which I somehow avoided starvation, incarceration and/or deathification to get an education at Hardnock's School for the financially and motivationally challenged as well as at ye olde crumbling ivy tower. Eventually like all the other migratory animals I drifted south. I arrived in southeast Georgia not with any larger purpose or direction but through a long sequence of decisions that at the time seemed the best alternative.
I was still living through the aftershocks/tremors of a nasty divorce from the woman who I affectionately call The Butch From Hell. I wanted desperately to put as many miles between Virginia and myself as possible. Of course the geographical cure wasn’t a cure at all, just a prolonging of the agony. My not insubstantial psychological sack of grievances barnacled on for the ride. I played lost and found with my mind/honor and innumerable times along the way I put everything of value to me in peril. In the spirit of the grand therapist understatement, I still had some core issues to work through.
My expectation/dread of life in Georgia was colored by stories of the infamous Forsyth County whose white residents were known for their embrace of racial bigotry and who warned black visitors to not let the sun go down on their head. And these Forsythians are proud to crow that black folks will never be welcome within their borders (the county seat is the Town of Cumming, “The Gateway to Leisure Living.” Someone must have had a good chuckle with that one.). To my way of thinking a man is a man is a man. Sadly, some of my less enlightened fellow citizens don’t/won't see it that way. I expected Georgia to be full of the stereotypical hayseed Bible-toting, overalls-wearing, snuff-dipping, trailer-dwelling, Confederate flag-flying, inbred, incestuous, ignorant racists living fiercely segregated lives with separate black and white churches, black and white funeral homes, black and white neighborhoods.
And I did meet some of these sad characters. As individuals. Or at least characters with some of these tendencies. The good, the bad and the in-betweens. But never as part of any grand conspiracy to deny any Georgian a life free from prejudice. Georgia has her fair share of good good-old-boys but she has no monopoly on the true corn-fed, good-hearted redneck (I’ve heard unsubstantiated tales that some may have actually crossed over to the other side into Canada to start new pods). They survive and thrive in every state of the union. Only South Carolina clings tighter to the memory of that honorable defeat. Proud sons of the South trying to hold on to the effluvial ghosts of a war lost, trying to continue with some semblance of honor while the rest of the world just wonders why. Three words to these proud, hard working men and women, "Get over it."
To be fair, Georgia is where I found the skills to piece together the pieces of me into a coherent, honorable whole. This has been the land of opportunity for my family. A state full of good black and white Southern folk, well mannered, generous, God-fearing, mostly free from prejudice and generally friendly.