Excerpt from one of my manuscripts. If you’re a hillbilly.
You’d never be able to guess from laying your eyes on us, or hearing me talk, but I was born in Arkansas. Just like my daddy and his daddy before him… I’d be the last. It took a while, but I finally figured out that you can take the hillbillies out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the hillbillies. That takes generations.
My dad and his siblings were born to a half breed American Indian man who was a cotton picking sharecropper. He ran moonshine to put beans on the table and for the spirited perks. Theirs was more like a prison sentence than a childhood. Folks reared in those harsh times lived by the unspoken oath to teach kids to be tough for fear that otherwise it could mean certain death. Or worse, disgracing the family name and tarnishing the only thing they ever owned outright; their pride.
The brood born in the struggling south couldn’t trade that pride for milk, a chicken, tobacco, tomatoes, okra, or a swallow of shine, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t valuable. They couldn’t trade any of those luxury items for any leather bound copy of the Good Book neither, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t worth more than silver or gold. It’s just that everybody they knew already had one—even if they couldn’t read it or never did. That was the job of the preacher man I suppose. One thing they learned good and fast was to quote the parts of the Good Book that justified their lives and actions, but that’s not an art practiced only in the South, maybe just perfected there.
My dad’s oldest brother, my Uncle Buck, swore it was Troy and Leatha dropping him in a gunnysack and nailing him to the wall of the shack that made him so damn mean. That shack they called home was more like a shelter than a house, and if it happened to snow outside, a fair amount ended up inside.
The nail they used to hang Buck on the wall of the shack was a lot like them, and all of us really. You push and beat on a person enough, whether it be mentally or physically or both, and pretty soon the weak part shows up where we bend just like it does in a nail.
There’s a place in all of us that is softer than the rest of us, a place that is apt to bend first. It’s our weak spot, like the weakest link in a chain. And once we bend in a particular way and place, we’re prone to bend there over and over… even after meticulous re-straightening.
A bent nail is close to useless… not suited for the job it was designed for. It almost takes a miracle to drive a bent nail. I suppose that’s why all of us, just like the nail, try to keep our loved ones on the straight and narrow… but the paths of this life are beset with detours.
If you wanna make a boy tough, you take him into the cotton fields. You wanna make a boy mean, you trap him in a sack like an animal and pin him to a wall with a good and straight nail until he thinks like a badger. Or, if you’re a hillbilly, you do both.