An Excerpt from Damn Yankee Buttons, a book I am working on:

….my experience calls into question some of the fairly blatant generalizations you made back in 1994. Shortly into your observations about humans in the Appalachian Mountains, you grab hold of one that attracts attention–incest. I have to admit that my maternal grandmother and grandfather were fifth and seventh cousins, double cousins several times removed. I never heard of first cousin marriage in my family or in any other family. I haven’t even heard of second or third cousins getting married. I don’t think you meant it the way it sounds, but listen to what was in print, “. . . the children of brothers marrying sisters, is not unusual.” Of course you were referring to first cousins marrying—sons of one brother marrying daughters of another brother. But even that is something I never heard of happening among any of my kin or friends.

Near the end of Chapter 22, you nail us with this beauty: “Many with physical defects and little education remained in the same hollow and reproduced.” Lord, what a generalization and what an amazing misrepresentation of my ancestors. Where is the data to back up such a damning statement? Such stereotypical statements encourage the same view of Appalachian people portrayed in the book and movie, Deliverance.

I recall a Lincoln County back-to-the-lander saying to me that he thought the problems in West Virginia were because of inbreeding. He also allowed as how our accent and pronunciations were due to ignorance, and he didn’t want his daughter talking like she was from Lincoln County, which was where she was born and was being raised. I guess he forgot that he was talking about my gene pool, or maybe he figured I wasn’t like those other hillbillies.

In front of me another newcomer to West Virginia chastised his daughter for saying “you all.” I turned to her, a native-born West Virginian, and said, “That is the way we talk, isn’t it?” And even a dear friend, a so-called back-to-the-lander who stood up for me in battles with the board of education, has made similar remarks to me. I think the dilution of my accent by a West Virginia University education in Morgantown and living five years out of state caused some newcomers to forget I am a native.

I hope you would never say that African-Americans sure have a great sense of rhythm. But you said, patronizingly, I thought, that “Appalachian people still have a native fondness for music and dancing.” My how those darkies sure can dance and sing. Some of us do and some don’t, just like anyone anywhere else. No one in my family ever exhibited any more than ordinary fondness for dancing or music. My grandmother did play, by ear, the church piano and Uncle Kin picked out hymns on his guitar on winter evenings by the coal fire burning in the grate.

And when you say, “The best Appalachian ballads came from the most backward areas.” Lord have mercy! What do you mean by backward? And why did that word pop into your mind? And imagine what people outside the Appalachians will read into that.

I was absolutely flabbergasted by this one: “Mountaineers still get excited over good, cold water, in large part because of its crucial contribution to good moonshine.” Where in God’s name did you get an idea like that? Now, I have to admit that my grandfather and great uncle Kin—that is how he spelled his name—did make moonshine, and grandma claimed they were drunk for thirty years. But most people did not make moonshine—and they valued good water for the drinking, cooking, fishing and bathing.

And, right in the next paragraph, I learn that our ancestors had “. . . a general disregard for the law.” What evidence does a scientist such as you have to support such a conclusion? Less than a half page later, you give credence to the myth that our ancestors were a bunch of feuding hillbillies whose “. . . behavior contributed to wars between families.” Maybe you were thinking of the crime families in New York and New Jersey. The sensationalized Hatfield and McCoy feud is the only “family war” I ever heard of in West Virginia.

How could you call our ancestors “Haughtily independent?” How do you know they were haughty? Why did that word pop into your mind to describe us? And why, after saying that our ancestors valued being liked and accepted over striving for material gain, was your only conclusion that “This made them supersensitive to slights and criticisms?” There must be a thousand good things that could be said in favor of being spiritual. What evidence is there for saying our ancestors were any more sensitive to slights and criticisms than any other group of ancestors—or for saying they didn’t prefer material objects over acceptance? And how do you know that “… the average mountaineer was lean, inquisitive and shrewd?” Once again, that sounds patronizing to me. My mother was inquisitive but certainly not lean or shrewd. Aunt Julia and great aunt Ora were not lean.

 

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Taming of Democracy

An excerpt from Sam’s Branch Essays, a book I am working on.

A book by Terry Bouton beckoned me to take a look inside– below the title Taming Democracy in small print  it claimed that the American Revolution had a troubled ending.

According to Bouton, Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, there was a counter-revolution after the revolutionary war. When the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the Constitution, America went from a democracy, the expected fruit of the revolution, to control by what Robert Morris approvingly called “moneyed people.” Bouton writes that the second revolution replaced the more democratic Articles of Confederation with a constitution that concentrated the government in the hands of the rich.

Robert Morris, the wealthy banker who financed the Revolutionary War, organized the constitutional convention to replace the Articles of Confederation. The Articles gave too much power to the states and were too democratic for Morris and his protégé, Alexander Hamilton. Morris, Hamilton and others of the elite founders devised our present constitution with a strong central government whose laws take precedence over legislation passed by the states. In an unsuccessful attempt to ensure that the elite would maintain control, Hamilton even wanted the president and senators appointed for life.

The constitution we got from the elite founders gives the President and the Supreme Court vetoes over the feared democratic impulses of the House of Representatives and created a Senate to put brakes on those same impulses. Senators were to be appointed by state legislatures, which guaranteed a Senate composed of “moneyed people”

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Coach LeRose

Coach LeRose

The Charleston Gazette

 2003

 

To appear in Sam’s Branch Essays, a book I am working on:

Sammy LeRose was a young 37. He was our new football coach. He was quick in his step, confident, successful and he was kind. In 1953, my senior year, Coach LeRose came to St. Albans High School from Gauley Bridge High. We were hopeful. He helped us fulfill our hope. We had a winning season for the first time in five years.

The next year, his team lost only one game. In his third season, most of the starters from the year before had graduated. He welcomed a bunch of very small inexperienced players to the 1955 season. His Kennedy Award winning quarterback weighed 130 pounds, and at least one tackle weighed only 140 pounds! They won every game they played and the state championship. Although St. Albans didn’t even have a track, Coach LeRose’s track teams won four state titles.

So what was his method, his philosophy? How did he succeed so fast at a school that had quit winning? Players at other schools were astounded. They couldn’t believe what they had heard. Some even came to see for themselves.

Unlike any other team, we practiced in shorts in the afternoon of those hot and horrible August two-a-day workouts! Our morale soared. We worked on timing and went over real game scenarios without the pain.

Coach LeRose told us that he would wait each day for one-half hour, after we got dressed and on the field, before coming out to start practice. He said, “You linemen, get out there and kick the ball, pass the ball, enjoy that half-hour.”

He convinced us that every play could go for a touchdown, and that cheating was wrong and a waste of time. He never taught us any dirty tricks or rule benders. Sammy LeRose taught us to think for ourselves. He sent every play in from the bench, but we were to make changes if we saw a weakness in the other team that he didn’t see. His bag of trick plays added to our and our fans’ joyful experience.

Coach LeRose played as many players as he possible could. Little, fast guys were put in on the kickoffs, and their enthusiasm seemed to get them downfield before the ball. Word got around that if you hustled, Coach LeRose would let you play. On the first day of his first season, there were only 45 of us. The third season, that championship season, he dressed 125 players! What a sight as they completely encircled the field and the other team as they trotted out for pre-game workouts.

I never heard Coach LeRose raise his voice in anger, nor did I ever hear him curse. He was gentle and compassionate. He taught us to never express disgust with our mistakes, no temper tantrums, no helmet throwing, no kicking the ground, no cursing. Everything was positive about Sam LeRose. He never jumped on anyone for a mistake. He very patiently, and with his kind smile, helped us correct our miscues. He lifted us up and never did we feel humiliated.

Next to my parents, Sammy LeRose was without a doubt the most influential person in my life. For a period of just twelve weeks when I was turning seventeen, this man gave me self-confidence and allowed me to succeed. He may have saved my life. Rest in peace, good man, rest in peace.

          Sam LeRose coached the St. Albans High School football team from 1953 to 1956 and from 1962 to 1973. Every season was a winning season. His record was 124-35-3. He coached a state champion football team and four state champion track teams. Coach LeRose died November 3, 2003. My junior year under the previous coach I played thirty seconds in one game. My senior year weighing 150 pounds I played left tackle, nose guard or linebacker and made the all-conference team.

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Names for sale

An excerpt from Sam’s Branch Essays, a book I am working on.

I despair at the commercialism that causes ball parks and bowl games to be named for whatever company puts up the money.  Poor Watt Powell.[1] It’s getting as bad as public radio and television having “corporate sponsors”—-some a little short of criminal in their own operations and/or tearing the environment limb from limb.

In the spirit of incorporating everything once holy in America, I offer the following possibilities:  Counties and towns in West Virginia could seek “corporate sponsors” and endure such name changes as, Amazon.com Cabell County, Toyota Putnam County, Arch Coal Logan County, and Wampler Moorefield. Mudsuck and Big Ugly will have a hard time finding a buyer. West Virginia could become The National Coal Association West Virginia. This could catch on.

Actually the corporate naming is just a continuation of the tradition of naming towns and counties after robber barons.  In the old days companies were often dominated by one aggressive and greedy capitalist. Thus towns got named Davis, Elkins, Huntington and Itmann (for I. T. Mann) and streets for Camden and Ruffner. Towns like Junior were named for robber baron children. In the past we didn’t charge for the free advertising.

However, we must be careful–the legislature might try to continue the tradition of giving away the store. In keeping with the super tax credits and the decision to pay NASCAR for giving them free advertisement on license plates, the legislature will probably offer to pay the National Coal Association for the privilege of connecting their name to West Virginia.  After all “West Virginia is Coal” you know.
[1] The name of an old baseball park named for a man who organized the first baseball teams in the Kanawha Valley.

 

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Progressland

Excerpts from Sam’s Branch Essays, a book I am working on:

Progressland all looks alike. It is four lane highways that have destroyed small business in small-town America. There are trashy stretches of fast food joints and filling stations on all sides of every little town. The little main streets are boarded up and wasting away. People in the country are locking their houses now that the four-lanes bring criminals right to their doors—- A man drove on Interstate Highway 64 from Virginia almost all the way across West Virginia, took a random exit and drove into a random driveway, knocked on the door and shot the woman who answered the knock.

A campus guard at Emory and Henry University in western Virginia told me she was armed because Interstate 81 runs right past the campus. And an author and doctor in Johnstown, Tennessee writes that interstate highways are a conduit that brings AIDS from the metropolitan areas to more rural communities by way of truck drivers and local truck stop male and female prostitutes. The interstate highways are also conduits for invasive exotic plant species and plant diseases.

 

More on Progressland and development: When coming into West Virginia from Ohio on Interstate 77 cross the lovely Ohio River into Wild Wonderful West Virginia, do you see beautiful tree-filled mountains? Nope, you see giant billboards covering what are probably beautiful mountains. Of course they are notifications that can’t wait. Instead of looking at those pesky mountains, McDonalds and their ilk let you know immediately where you can find quaint Appalachian hamburgers. It is the same on the Virginia border coming into West Virginia from the south. McDonalds gets you on both ends. Who needs mountains when you can come to West Virginia for hamburgers? The song will have to be changed from “Those Beautiful West Virginia Hills” to “Those beautiful West Virginia hamburgers”, and don’t forget the cappuccino. Pretty soon all our mountains will be either strip-mined or covered with billboards or both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Republicans and Money

An excerpt from Sam’s Branch Essays, a book I am working on.

I published in the Lincoln Independent, January 31, 1996:

The Republicans do not care if they balance the budget. A balanced budget is being used as a smokescreen to hide what they are really doing. They are trying to erase all the reforms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. They want to destroy Medicare and Medicaid. They will go after Social Security if they get a Republican president. The environment means nothing to them but a roadblock to more profit. School lunch programs and other programs benefiting children are on their hit list. They want all that money for themselves. A tax cut for the rich shows how badly they want to balance the budget. If they really want to balance the budget, why are they giving the military $7 billion more than they wanted?

It was under Republican presidents that the budget deficit boomed to three hundred trillion dollars—mind you they had plenty of help from Republicrats in the Democrat-controlled Congress. Our money went down the bottomless pit called the military. Of the money Congress can allocate at its own discretion the military gets more than all the others combined. We have over thirty nuclear submarines that can each destroy all of the former Soviet Union. They cost five billion dollars to build and ten billion to arm—each!

Five billion dollars is enough money to solve all the financial problems of all the school districts in the country. One nuclear submarine less and all of our school financial problems are solved. Less a couple of more submarines and you have free medical care for everyone! We could still have twenty-seven submarines capable of destroying the former Soviet Union. Military spending has been a big boondoggle for military contractors.

When we spend our money on the military we don’t spend it on other things like hungry children and old people. Military spending is a dead-end street–it doesn’t generate any more money. A missile just sits there after it’s built. The same money spent on education causes individuals to earn more money, contribute to society, maybe employ other people, and buy groceries, cars, houses, gasoline. A missile just sits there. We’ve got a zillion of them just sitting there. Spending on peaceful items generates more money in the economy. Missiles just sit there.

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Back to Back

An excerpt from an essay I may include in a book of my op-eds:

Ugly politicians—I used to see pictures of all those ugly, sour-looking men standing on Lenin’s tomb in Moscow and would then turn to the local paper and see the same guys shaking hands with Rockefeller in Hamlin. If it wasn’t for the language difference you could switch their guys for ours and no one would know the difference. I concluded that the Soviet Union was just a bunch of Lincoln Counties back to back.

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