Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Arrrr" is for "Redneck"

The Appalachian appellation redneck has a kick-ass history. Beyond the standard ‘sunburned neck from day labor’ theory, there are several possible roots of the word, including, believe or not, a Celtic one. No, leprechauns did not sneak in and paint some poor sod burner’s neck red. Yes, our skin reflects our moods rather accurately. Light the ire of any Son of Erin and you’ll soon discover what redneck means. We all flare quickly and righteously.

There are many similarities in temperament between the Irish and rednecks. Both appreciate a decent home-brew, are fiercely loyal to their clans, disdain nosy government, and are ever ready to defend their turf with a verbal barb or bullet.

Obviously not all rednecks are Irish, and many of these same traits apply to Scots and others. There's a reason I'm treating 'redneck' more like an attitude and not a nationality - when you're as friendly as rednecks are, your gene pool gets a bit muddy.

Just like rednecks, Irish clans are based not on blood but on friendship. Stop in any Irish pub and you’ll quickly find that out. Everyone’s a friend-in-the-making. And they don’t care if your family is blueblood or redneck. Cross them, however, and you’re done.

On the rare occasion anyone crossed him, I remember my Celtic father’s neck turning a deep scarlet, the color soon flowing up to his face. One corner of his mouth would curl, much like pulling the hammer back on a shotgun. It seemed his words alone drew blood.

“I was supposed to go to that meeting,” he once purred to an arrogant coworker, “but they found out my parents were married.”

You may be surprised to discover rednecks living as far north as New York, but the idea that they're limited to the South is untrue. Once they figured out how to put chains on snow tires and chill beer in a snowdrift, they were everywhere. And while the borough of Brooklyn runs deep in our bloodstream, the Appalachian mountain chain runs deep into New York State, so we're closer than two fleas on a coonhound. The accents on these particular fleas, however, are a bit tough to decipher.

An Irish New Yorker moving out to the country is not a huge leap, nor is it a new idea. Early in American history, cities often encouraged their rowdier, warlike inhabitants to ‘Go West,’ where they acted as barricades or buffers between civilization and the Indians. Rednecks neighbored Redskins, bonded, traded baseball cards, and did just fine.

Yo, Vinnie, hold my beer and watch this.

England shipped its rowdies to Australia. New York City used the Taconic State Parkway. Not sure what rowdy, warlike things my parents did to be encouraged to ‘Go West’, but by the time they got there the Indians had been replaced by a much more frightening group – the Yuppies.

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy defines redneck as "a glorious lack of sophistication.” Seems to me that after a while, living in the ‘civilized’ city can get tiresome. Everyone needs to let their hair down, scratch,
and dig in the mud once in a while. Whether you ever put your city shoes back on again, well, that’s your call.

For me, through the years, the term has moved from being a derogatory accusation to a badge of pride. It has taken me a long time to represent my roots, but I’m finally there.

Hell, yeaaaaaah! ….You got a problem wit dat?

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