So I've been reading a memoir called Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance because I wanted to better understand the rise of Donald Trump and wow. This is a powerful, eye-opening book, which I highly recommend. Vance is a clear-eyed commentator who both loves and grieves for his hillbilly community.
Now here's the surprise. I recognize a lot of my own extended family in the book, something I did NOT expect. We didn't have the violence or the addiction issues. At all. And I've written before that somewhere along the line, both sides of my family--the Edwards and the Coveys--made kindness to children a huge priority.
But here's the thing. My great-grandmother--who I still remember--used to sleep with a shotgun. She ran away from her old life and changed her name and possibly had a child out of wedlock. And, as my Aunt Ava (more of great-aunt several times removed) told my mom and me, Grandma Pat "liked the men." She wasn't much of a mother--as a little boy my grandfather was given pastries to eat at a boarding house in Ogden because his mother had disappeared and he didn't know when she was going to return--but she was a hell of a grandmother to my mother, TRQ.
My paternal grandfather, meanwhile, left school at the age of 12 to support his family. My paternal grandmother and her family were chased out of Mexico by Pancho Villa. She left school at the age of 14. Phil and Addie went on to have 14 kids. The Coach was the first to go to college.
The supreme hillbilly virtue is loyalty. The ultimate sin is growing too big for your britches. My family espoused those attitudes in spades.