Monday, June 8, 2009

In Praise of the Inbred Hick (by Billy Coffey)

There are better things to be called than “an inbred hick,” and I had been called worse by many, but I had to admire the originality. And I wasn’t mad. The phrase was uttered with a sense of good-natured mockery common among friends in general and mine specifically. Especially the one who was not only a liberal, but also a Red Sox fan. I never said my friends were perfect.

This friend’s name? Dan. A truly brilliant man despite the fact I would never admit it to his face. Chair of the Asian Studies department at the college. Prolific author and lecturer. World traveler. Highbrow. All of which paints a pretty stark contrast to me. My only chair is the one in the living room, I am prolific only at spitting and shooting a bow, most of my travels are on dirt roads, and I am the very definition of lowbrow.

We have our differences, to be sure. And whenever we happen to bump into each other, we spend most of our time arguing over whose differences are right.

Like yesterday, for instance.

Dan brought me a souvenir from his latest trip to Japan—a fan with “Hanshin Tigers” printed on the front, along with a pretty ferocious looking cat.

“You should go with me one time,” he said after recapping his adventures. “Japanese baseball is great, and the Tigers have a good team this year. You need to see the world. You’re stuck here in this valley missing everything.”

“You’re only stuck if you can’t move,” I said, “I just don’t want to. And I’m not missing much. The world’s a crazy place. At least around here the crazy’s familiar.”

“There’s nothing here,” he said. “It’s all out there. The world’s passing you by. Your family’s been here how long?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I think we came with the Valley.”

“Exactly. Generations. As long as people can remember.”

“And that’s bad how?”

“You’re the product of centuries of people who refused to better themselves. Your life is no different than your great-grandfather’s and his great-grandfather’s.”

“So?” I asked.

“So you’re just an inbred hick. You could make yourself into a lot better person.”

The thought of making myself into a better person had never really crossed my mind, mostly because I’d always been pretty content with who I was. Then again, I’d never considered myself an inbred hick.

But my family has occupied this valley and the mountains surrounding it for centuries. Staying put in one place for so long tends to give you a sense of belonging. Of home. And though I would trade my mountains for the ocean any day, this place would always be home. There are a lot of my kin buried here in the Blue Ridge. I could wander away from those bones, but not for very long and not for very far.

So the inbred thing? True.

As for the “hick” part of that little insult, I’d have to say that was something Dan and his fellow urbanites just couldn’t understand. They’d never lived in the sticks, never spent much time with country folk, and so allowed their stereotypes to rule them.

Then again, all stereotypes are grounded in some semblance of truth.

It’s true, for instance, that one of my best Christmas presents last year was a bag of deer jerky and a jar of peach moonshine. And yes, some country folk live in trailers. By and large, “dressing up” means trading our faded jeans for dark ones. We are not generally well-educated. We do hunt and fish and ride four-wheelers. We live vicariously through Ric Flair and consider “Freebird” the real national anthem.

True. All true.

But there is more beneath the surface to life in the country. A lot.

Because to us, a trailer full of love is better than a castle full of discord.

And we’re not nearly as impressed with the clothes a person wears as we are with the person wearing the clothes.

We might not be able to split the atom, but we know what means much in life and what doesn’t.

We hunt and fish and grow our own groceries because food straight out of the dirt and the woods, sweetened with sweat and labor, tastes a lot better than what you can get at the store.

Our churches aren’t big, but they’re full. Our words are few, but they’re meaningful. We don’t want more of this world. We want less.

We are plain and simple people. People who will go hungry before letting our neighbors starve, drop whatever we’re doing to help a friend, and roam among the wild places to get a better glimpse of God.

The best people. My people.

Inbred hicks? Absolutely. Who could possibly want to be more?


katdish said...

Ha! I'm the first to comment, so there! Lest we not forget whose blog this is, hmmmmm?

Seriously, great post. Way to represent my home state (and my inbred hick family).

Wendy said...

My husband brings up Freebird at every chance he can get. Of course, he's got to lift his pretend lighter up in the air when he says Freebird...

But yeah, I can definitely see the appeal of staying on one place. Roots are good. Home is good. And dealing with the crazy you know is a lot easier than dealing with all the crazy out there.

Shut Up said...

Katdish, that's not fair! You cheated!

I don't want to play with you any more!


Peter p said...


I get so tired of saying Awesome Post! but it's true.

It's funny how Dan's telling you to get out of the valley to 'better yourself' and yet millions of readers are reading your stuff about living in the valley to better THEMSELVES!

Next time he calls you an inbred hick, you should punch him, just for the fun of it.

Then blog about the experience!

Helen said...

Good for you! My daddy was from a small town in Hungary. He left because of politics, became an American, met mom, then I came along, but I digress.
"we’re not nearly as impressed with the clothes a person wears as we are with the person wearing the clothes.

We might not be able to split the atom, but we know what means much in life and what doesn’t.

We hunt and fish and grow our own groceries because food straight out of the dirt and the woods, sweetened with sweat and labor, tastes a lot better than what you can get at the store.
Our churches aren’t big, but they’re full. Our words are few, but they’re meaningful. We don’t want more of this world. We want less.
We are plain and simple people. People who will go hungry before letting our neighbors starve, drop whatever we’re doing to help a friend,"

Describes him perfectly, so I guess he was a Hungarian Hick, and I wouldn't change a thing about him. He was also related to everyone in that village. I am not sure if he was related to himself, but if he were, it wouldn't shame me none.

As for the Peach Moonshine, well, I may be from Chicago, but I bet I would find it to be my favorite present if I were to get some, too. ;-) Hungarians love their peach liquor. And their cherry liquor. And their plum liquor. and their wine....You get the idea. ;-)

Denise said...

As one who grew up "cityfied" I always considered country, well, less than. Now that I am grown, I would trade this city life for less than moments - less than neighbors - less than church - less than clothes - less than traffic in a Washington DC heartbeat! :o) I would love to deal with the crazy I know than all the crazy I don't know or expect here!

Until then, keep writing so I can live vicariously through your stories.


Denise said...

Give me the country life anyday my friend. I really enjoyed this post, thanks for sharing your life.

~*Michelle*~ said...

This deserves a big *high five* and a huge AMEN:

"We don’t want more of this world. We want less."

good stuff!

Annie said...

Took my son, several years back, to a monster truck show. It was the most fun, had the most friendliest people and no one was rude. Yet going to a event with 'city' folk proved just the opposite.
Here in Michigan, up north is where the people are laid back, friendly and carefree. Down where I live people are hurried, and look constipated as they converse on their cell phones. Thank goodness, I live on a small piece of country land so I can destress.
And yes I have lived in the same state for 46 years and lived in the same city, in the same house for 27 years. Guess I am a redneck too!

Annie K said...

Billy, do you make moonshine? Cause that would be awesome.

I live in the same town I grew up in, although I've lived many other places (like the big city, hickville and the south). My town was hickville, a small logging community, until the Californian's invaded (kinda like the North vs. the South, only far worse according to Bendites). and brought their money and attitudes. Sigh.... Favorite place I ever lived? Big Horn, WY, population 217. We lived on the corner across from the 'Last Chance Tavern' with a drive up window. Good times.

katdish said...


Helen loves Jesus, but she drinks a little.

Billy Coffey said...

katdish - You might live in Texas, but you're Virginian through and through.

Peter - you know, that's a good idea. I think I'll punch him.

Helen - tonight I'll raise a glass of shine in your honor.

Annie - Being redneck is a state of mind. I think you have the right state of mind.

Annie K - If I ever move, it's gonna be to Big Horn, WY. That sounds like my kind of place. And I don't make moonshine. I can hook you up, though. Our little secret.

Anne L.B. said...

Billy, I grew up big-city and LOVE to travel, I fought the Lord tooth and nail when He tore up my mountain roots and moved me to the water (learning to be content wherever I live and make home the place of the heart), the Heinz 57 make-up of me & my kids makes us anything but inbred, and I prefer a nice glass of Riesling to the fire of hard liquor I learned to drink on.

All the same, I appreciated every word. If there's anything I can identify with ... "We don't want more of this world. We want less."

Nice post, Billy. Katdish, you've sure got a nice gig going with this guest blogger. Course if an inbred hick belongs anywhere it's on a blog called, "Hey look, a chicken!"

sherri said...

From one redneck to another....
Thank you for sharing this. It's exactly how I feel about my redneckness.
People don't know what they're missing!
Well, after this, maybe they do.

April said...

Way to take a stand, Billy! Awesome job! It's people like you who make me proud to be who I am...a country girl, born and raised! Rednecks unite! :)

RCUBEs said...

The Lord always warns us not to judge. Because we don't really know what's in the other's heart or life. That man assumed you haven't seen anything because you have to go out there and that's his way of accomplishments.
He was right about one thing:"that the world is passing by." And only God knows if he will be seeing that "true home" He offers to everyone. Because this world and everything in it will pass away.

Beth said...

I had a very similar conversation with a friend of mine a couple years back...I left that conversation pretty hurt that she would make fun of the place I live and the way I choose to live my life.

I like to travel and see new things. And maybe God will call us to move to a different part of the country someday. Yet to be seen.

But if He doesn't, I will be incredibly happy to live in Rural, Indiana, full of the people you described here. Plus we like to build big fires in our backyard, and I'm not sure I can give that up...

Helen said...

Beth, you live only a few hours from me. Where does this friend live? I will kick her @$$ so far, she will be waiting for you in 2010!

Helen said...

Billy, I did not offer to kick your friend's @$$ because I have yet to receive my pink fuzzy mancard with the white ribbon bow on it. When I do, his @$$$ is gr@$$$!

Tracy said...

I love it! Freebird is indeed a great song. Thanks for sharing.

Beth said...

Haha. Helen, right now she lives in Bloomington (IN), which is about the most UN-Indiana city in Indiana in my opinion. But it was probably more in the way I took it than the way she meant it anyway. No a$$ kicking needed. At the time, she was returning from....Japan. Billy, what does Japan DO to people?!? It must be a super place.

Of course, along with her inbred hick family, our lovely blog hostess IS half-Japanese. Do you fight with yourself, Kathy? Inbred Hicks vs. Japanese. Sounds like an episode of Deadliest Warrior...

Billy Coffey said...

Helen - I'm giving you pink fuzzy man card with a white ribbon bow. Just because you're starting to scare me a little.

Beth - I would SO like to see that episode. Maybe I'll write them a letter.

Sarah Salter said...

Are you sure we aren't related?

I'd share my favorite "why I know my family are rednecks" story but it's not appropriate for this venue. Just imagine chewing tobacco, an unlabeled Mason jar full of some clear unidentified (but really strong) substance, and enough cussin' to make my Mama's head almost explode... And with my Daddy's family, they can't have a full conversation without using the N word...

JayBee said...

can't tell if I'm a hick cos I can't see round the back to check if my neck is red or not. :-)
remember who placed you where you are and ignore the advice of those who attempt to steal your joy.
I'll be back for another taste of your super blog.

Stacey said...

Billy, I love this post. I grew up in the sticks of Louisiana. The older I get and the longer I'm away, the more I miss my home. I'm not too far away here in Texas. We try to go home as often as possible, where our real roots are and where our ancestors lived and died.

I wish more people understood that living simply doesn't mean being simple-minded. Some of the smartest, sweetest, kindest, most hard working people I know are country folk. I wouldn't trade any of them for the most educated, well-traveled person in the world!

JJ (Lady Di) said...

It's funny - one of the reasons I chose Va Tech is because it reminded me a lot of home. Seeing the Dairy Farm as the first thing when you came in helped a lot. I really wished that I could have convinced hubby to move to me instead of me moving to him, but honestly, my job was more movable than his. It doesn't help that my mom and sister are still there (although that is the extent of my roots in the Valley). Everytime we return I still wish I could stay - but at least I've moved him out into the country (and actually where we live now is more country than where you and I grew up now). It took a lot of convincing, but he now says he loves it, even with the lack of cable (and high speed access). We watch how my (our) hometown is changing and wonder if it's going to happen to here - not to mention watch how Richmond moves toward this way too.

I get to hear the conversations between the "city folk" and the "country folk" and the term hick is used quite a lot around here too - in pride and derision. I am not sure if I would be considered one since I don't have any "roots" and people that hear me talk about cooking consider me a gourmet-style cook. But I am more of a country girl than city. The only thing I appreciate about the city - it doesn't close at 5 pm. :)

Joanne Sher said...

I love this. I WISH I'd grown up in this. Sounds SO much better than "highbrow".

Grew up in Los Angeles, now happily living in "ruralish" West Michigan.

I THINK I'm getting closer ;)

Billy Coffey said...

JayBee - That's some wise words there.

Stacey - They say that home is wherever you are. I think you and I know differently.

J.J. - It's nice to know that your heart's still here. It's amazing how much this town has grown. And kinda sad, too.

Candace Jean July 16 said...

There must be inbred hicks everywhere, and I'm here to tell you they make the best husbands. Mine is from a town in IA called Wapello (which I fondly refer to as Dropaload) and you just can't take the Dropaload out of the boy.

In the end, wherever you go, there you are. That's the beauty of a hick.

Fabulous as ever, Billy.

jasonS said...

When you post things in 2 places, I never know where to comment, but I guess either place I would have said great post. But I knew you needed to hear it from me to feel complete. :)

Julie said...

You've got it right... You really painted the picture well. It's true. Country people wouldn't let their neighbors starve. I've found the most generous people here in these Blue Ridge mountains.... a little slice of heaven on earth!

Loved this Billy!

Billy Coffey said...

Jason - You're right. You. Complete. Me.

Hucklebuck said...

I live in a suburb of Houston now and every time I go to visit my "hick" friends and family, there is such an overwhelming feeling of peace and simplicity that the city doesn't offer. I miss that place where people talk a little slower, sweet tea is always on the menu, and nobody blinks an eye at the sound of a gun shot.

JML said...

are you bloody kidding me? what is peach moonshine and how do I get some? Kind of kidding. Again, you're a wonderful writer!!!!

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...


What a great post. I loved your comment that, "our churches aren't big, but their full."

Until this church plant, my favorite years in ministry were spent with an amazing group of peeps outside of Chatham, VA. Sheva, to be exact. Sunday's were a celebration, but the rest of the week was great too, because they really knew what it means to BE the church.