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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Scioto Community: Accept the Roots of Your Raisin'

Just a couple of generations ago, community was very dependent upon proximity. Before the advent of automobiles, means of improved communication , and other devices that let the population "spread out" to the suburbs and beyond, people drew so much benefit from being massed in tight community groups that helped facilitate most of their needs.

Now, even though people may think of community in terms of school districts or in terms of towns and villages, the real "helpful" community is much more widespread. We can easily access both necessities and friends at greater distances. Naturally, a person's dependence on being an active member of a very small community has decreased as people have widened their travel opportunities and long-distance connections.

The True Scioto "Community"

So what are the limits of community as it relates to a resident of Scioto County, an area containing a total of 616.15 square miles and approximately 80,000 people?

"They came in with a horse, a cow,
 a sack of corn, an iron pot
and a wife and several children,
an ax and a long rifle."
 -Norman Simpkins

"And a King James Bible."

We who live in Scioto County are Appalachian residents. We can accept this distinction with pride or with regret. Over the course of history, Appalachians, both Native American and white settlers, have experienced isolation largely due to the inaccessibility afforded by the hills and mountains of the area. This isolation has helped preserve many old, treasured traditions while molding a distinct Appalachian character. However it has also caused the rest of the country to accept many stereotypes of our people and our culture.

For example, say "hillbilly" or "Appalachia" and immediately many Americans conjure these images:

* Welfare-type people

* A population that is not very intelligent

* Severe poverty including barefoot children and shanty houses

* Oppressed people in economically bypassed regions

* House trailer "trash"

* Inter-marriage and immoral behavior

* People who think different from the general population

In truth, many of these Appalachian stereotypes have developed because others misinterpret certain traits of the residents.

Traditional values of the mountain people include the following:

 * A present orientation with fatalistic views of the future

* Action vs. dialogue

* Fierce protection of self and kin

With these strong values, Appalachians developed a unique society that built upon its strength in isolation.

The people found it beneficial to do these things:

* Extend kinship networks

* Encourage children to learn from their parents and clan

* Make a family surname a meaningful mark of identification to link others to a kinship network

Strong family links such as these made the inhabitants of this area very independent within their clans. Consider the fact that many of these families survived in the mountains for generations by subsistence farming and by living "from the land" -- knowledge mainly acquired from their Native American predecessors. They developed a deep love of the "home place," and even their deep religious views developed as very important parts of their ties to the sustaining landscape.

So, damn the stereotypes. What are the traditional characteristics of an Appalachian? I understand that generalizing is insufficient, broad support to the scholarly, but, forgive me, I am just one of those shallow "hillbilly" philosophers.

Let's put it like this. Appalachians still seem to fit most of these traditional traits:

* They enjoy participating in a barter economy.
* They understand a "toot" work pattern (work hard, rest a spell).
* They are easy going.
* They are person oriented –see other people as whole individuals.
* They are a proud people
* They are a polite people
* They remain suspicious of "foreigners" (strangers).
* They believe staring is impolite.
* They believe in the equality of women.
* They are independent (love to "fight it out").
* They are more relational than goal oriented.
* They love good humor.
*They take stock in"I can talk about where I’m from, but you can’t."

John C. Campbell (1867-1919) was a distinguished American educator and reformer. His book, The Southern Highlander and His Homeland, published in 1921, two years after his death, deeply influenced the nation’s understanding of the distinctive problems of the region.

The work accomplished by Campbell during his life encouraged the people of Appalachia to become involved in their future by embracing the traditions of their past. Because of Campbell and many others like him, the unique culture and proud heritage of the Southern Appalachians has survived into the 21st century.

Campbell identified four distinct traits of Appalachian Americans. These traits are as follows:

1. Individualism

2. Traditionalism –familialism

3. Fundamentalism in religion

4. Fatalism –accepting life here as is and looking for a better hereafter.

We, in Appalachian Scioto County, are still strongly connected to the ties that bind us together as "hillbillies," "Appalachians," or an "isolated people." We can blame others or ourselves for the lack of jobs, industries, and general progress we have seen during the years. But, what does "looking back" and blaming accomplish today other than make us mindful of not repeating these old mistakes?

Is it not true that rather than investing in education, businesses, and other income-generating concerns, much of our federal aid was used to finance more consumption and more children? Is it  not true that welfare and state aid have become dominant sources of income? Is it not true that many have totally resisted attempts of reform and assimilation? And, is it not true that despite efforts to improve our area, the region has lacked entrepreneurship and education?

I believe blame and resistance to broadening our sense of community only hurt prospects for the future. The very strength of Scioto County rests in the character of the people and their NEW commitment to "come together," redefine "community" as county-wide, and put their traditional Appalachian attributes to the test.

We need to recognize the uniqueness of our Appalachian culture and demonstrate our love for our way of life and our land that has housed those who represent the strongest core of American values.

We can do this by 

(1) Getting off our asses,

(2) Promoting the positive features of our new, broader alliance,

(3) Rejecting (at least, modifying) any old beliefs that hinder our progress, and

(4) Accepting our responsibilities to sustain a proud Appalachian culture.

Do you older readers even realize how ignorant these words of advice sound to the younger generations that have been fed a steady diet of nothing but "Scioto -- my deadbeat, depressing, backwards home"? Like Appalachians of old, these young folks have school pride and small community interests; however, they largely view their county as a place with no opportunity and no interest in cooperation. Most of them can't wait to leave home for better employment or more education.

We must broaden our concept of home from Portsmouth, Lucasville, Sciotoville, Minford, the Burg and such to Scioto and Appalachia. Why? Because nothing is stronger than the human will blessed with the power of God. And, nothing can stop the combined good will of a large group of united Appalachian individuals marching toward necessary change. I believe that because I have seen the results of a handful of determined local people. And, I believe in the eventual victory of good over evil.

OK, folks, this old, half-brained man will shut up and quit his typical overly emotional ranting. Well, in a minute.... You can talk about your Western cowboys, your New England patriots, your West Coast pioneers, your Dixie rebels, and your Dust Bowl Okies. I respect them all and value their tremendous contributions to our American heritage. But, I will never understand how so many people can misjudge the character and contributions of the Appalachian Natives and settlers.

The Shawnee, the Cherokee, the Melungeons, the Scots-Irish, the Germans, the English. Tecumseh, Cui Canacina, Weyapiersenwah (Blue Jacket), Boone, Crockett, Kenton, even the fierce Lewis Wetzel. The people who have dwelt in Appalachia have defended their land against all enemies. Proud, independent, and fundamental they were, and they all loved the land we now call home.

The task of making our piece of Appalachia a better place falls to the people here. I fear too many have lost the will and the energy to help sustain the greatness of our heritage. All past generations here had overwhelming problems that had to face. Their nature was to fight "tooth and nail" to overcome adversity. Our old clannish ways must not stop us from working together to meet the challenges of today.

"A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong."

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