I have never claimed or pretended that my background was one of pretentious airs. My family stock was one of hardworking people – Granny grew up picking cotton, and then went on to work in a sewing plant where cotton was turned into work coats for other hardworking people. Pop and my Uncle Bobby were roofers, putting on roofs every day, no matter how hot, or how cold it was. They often came home tired, sweaty and covered in tar. Mama had a fine job as Granny called it, as a telephone operator, where she worked in an office and didn’t have to toil over hard physical labor.
I was dating my first – and former – husband, when Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might be a redneck” line of jokes first came out.
“I think you can relate to Jeff Foxworthy,” the ex said one evening. “Who?” I asked. I had not heard his routine yet and wondered how I could relate with this newly famous Georgia son. “You will, just trust me,” he said.
Now let me give you a little bit of back story. The ex always had an air about him that attempted to make you feel inferior. When I had dropped out of technical school shortly after we began dating, he was livid, saying he was ashamed to date a girl without a college education. He was told to get over himself, I was “taking a moment” to figure out what I wanted to do the rest of my life. But he loved to constantly point out that while his parents both had college degrees and professional careers, my divorced mom came from people who had toiled in “blue collar” positions. (I know what you’re thinking – Mama still says it – “And you married this jerk?”)
So one day, I was heading into work and had the radio on. Over the waves came Jeff Foxworthy with his “you might be a redneck if…” routine. The one I remember particularly was about his mama’s Elvis Jack Daniels decanter getting broken and him saying she screamed “We can’t have anything nice.” I was in tears by the time I got to work – not just over an heirloom like an Elvis Jack Daniels decanter, but I had heard those words uttered by my own Granny when her porcelain praying hand statue had crashed to the ground.
“I swunny,” Granny had said exasperated. “I reckon I can’t have nothing, not the first thing nice in this house.”
“Oh Mama,” I said, while laughing hysterically, recounting Foxworthy’s routine. “Maybe we are rednecks.”
“We are no such a thing,” she replied indignant. “We might be hillbillies, but we aren’t rednecks.”
Years went by and I graduated college – in pursuit of my own dreams, mind you, not the ex’s, even though he felt relieved. And a little miffed since this little “redneck” graduated with much higher honors than he did. A year later, we married.
For the holidays, the ex decided we would stay in a hotel instead of staying with either family.
They say you don’t really know someone until you marry them. My ex had no idea Granny had a whole arsenal of guns, which she had laid out across her guest bed when we arrived.
“What are all those guns doing on that bed?” the ex asked, appalled.
“Well, I knew ya’ll weren’t staying here, and I figured the holidays as a good a time as any to clean the shotguns,” Granny answered matter-of-fact.
“Why do you have so many guns?” he pressed on. “No one in the family hunts.”
Granny snorted. “Just ‘cause we don’t hunt don’t mean we don’t have guns. You never know when you might need one.”
Not only did the ex find Granny’s artillery, he also came across the hidden blackberry wine bottles. “Why are these hid?” he asked.
“She puts wine in her fruitcake, she doesn’t want the preacher to see it when he comes over,” I answered.
Then at dinner, Mama’s cat Bennie did the unthinkable. She knocked over the porcelain praying hands, crashing them to the floor a second time. “See there, just see,” Granny exclaimed. “I told you I can’t have nothing nice and not even on Jesus’ birthday is my praying hands sacred!”
On the way back to the hotel, the ex was painfully quiet for a while, digesting what to me, was just a normal holiday. “You know, I think your family is way more redneck than I realized,” he finally said harshly.
I laughed. “No, we’re not.”
“You don’t think a guest bed full of shotguns, hidden wine bottles and praying hands being held in high regard is not some sort of redneck dysfunction?”
“Oh no,” I said, still laughing. “We’re hillbillies. Not rednecks.”
“What’s the difference?” he sneered.
“We drink moonshine, not Bud Light,” I began. “And we have much better aim.”