When I was in high school, my best friend’s boyfriend took us to a standup comedy show featuring the hot new comic talent, Jeff Foxworthy.We listened as he codified redneck behavior.“If you have a complete set of salad bowls, and they all say ‘Cool Whip’ on the side, you might be a redneck,” Foxworthy said. “If you own a home that’s mobile and 14 cars that aren’t, you might be a redneck.”Oh, my God, I’m a redneck.The realization came slowly, like staying in the sun too long and ending up with a terrific sunburn. Isn’t that where the term “redneck” comes from?I don’t know if my neck was red, but my face was.Then again, everybody I knew was some shade of red.We had rusted-out cars on our property (two: an orange Gremlin and an Isuzu pickup). We reused plastic freezer bags, and Cool Whip was our brand of picnicware. We had a working TV on top of a nonworking set. Our home was a mobile home with a stick-built addition. I don’t know if that qualifies as “more redneck” or less, but I can guess what Foxworthy would say.My friends were the same way. Still, we never considered ourselves rednecks.We were different from the city kids, yes, with their homogeneous, squeaky-clean manners and clothing. But we knew rednecks were something else, too: Rednecks hung out in honky-tonks, telling racist jokes and cracking pool cues over each others’ heads.And even if we were a shade on the red side, we also were proud that country people were hard-working and real.I guess you could say I have a love-hate relationship with redneckery. My best friend married the guy who had introduced us all to Jeff Foxworthy. The rehearsal dinner was in his parents’ garage. We ate on paper plates.“Redneck” was the unspoken motif of the evening. I would have preferred something classier, but it was their wedding, not mine. When his family went tubing on the New River later that year – with an entire canoe reserved for beer – I was happy to go red.And here’s the thing about so-called “redneck” behavior: It is not irrational. Most of the time, it’s just tacky repurposing.A garage becomes a social venue. A Cool-Whip container becomes a takeout receptacle for Grandma’s leftovers. That old TV came in handy in high school physics class; no one else’s parents would let them experiment by sticking a horseshoe magnet to the screen of their brand-new set.And you can learn a lot about home repair when yours is in constant need.I cannot mount a similar defense of the rusted-out Gremlin, but like certain redneck tendencies, sometimes it’s easier to let them lie and hope something more attractive grows over it.That’s what happened in my family. My dad’s side used to regularly get together for holiday dinners and games of Rook.Until, that is, every gathering became a fight. And I don’t mean an argument. I mean, someone is going home with a black eye.Now we see that side of the family only at funerals.We had one recently, and as I stood there in the autumn sun talking to my cousins, I realized: I kinda miss these people. When I got home, the back of my neck was just a little bit red, and I didn’t really mind.
Monday, Oct. 21, 2013
‘Redneckery’ is mostly just tacky repurposing
Erica Batten is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Erica? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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