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Redneck by Association

Some years ago my sister married her first husband. I refer to him as first husband, because there ended up being a second and much improved husband that would follow. Number one wasn’t a bad guy, but from my point of view he had a stuck in-high-school kind of way about him.

Number one was not a dumb guy, but he seemed to want to foster and nurture being a redneck. This is not my opinion, he referred to himself as such. It’s always great to see people reaching for the stars.

Just to clarify, the term redneck didn’t start by rural people calling themselves rednecks. It started by people, usually not rural, calling people rednecks. Most commonly the name is thought to have come from coal miners wearing red scarves in West Virginia in the 1930s Yes, perceptive reader, as you may have guessed, working in a mine 16 hours a day to feed one’s family did not leave much time for wine tasting classes or maybe even learning to read.

Another possible origination of the term comes from Scotland in the 1640s. A group of rebels called the Covenanters rejected rule by the bishops and wore red cloth around their necks. The nobles referred to them as rednecks. Clever nobles. They later simply became known as Presbyterians. So this term may have followed with the immigrants to the south – redneck and Presbyterian.

I grew up in the country and believe that I learned many things doing so. I know for a fact that many of the people I knew or know who live in a rural setting are intelligent people. There are uneducated people everywhere. In fact, since there are more people in cities, if you do the math quickly, you’ll find that there are probably more uneducated people there.

Such is the fad to have intelligent people in rural settings calling themselves rednecks in order to own it and show those mean city liberals that they won’t back off the foundation of the redneck credo – which, unfortunately looks like at its core seems to be that whatever is the status quo is the way it should be. But, just recently when having this discussion with my own mother, I was told that if she had a flat tire on the side of the road, she would prefer a redneck to stop and help her. You know what, maybe your average run of the mill redneck could change a tire faster than the average city liberal. On the flip side, if we want to continue the generalizations here – and I guess I do – the average city liberal may be able to get a tow truck faster on their smart phone rather than hoping somebody’s standing by on a CB, good buddy. (No worries, I can say that because I know some rednecks have smart phones)

It’s such a beautiful thing where north and south rural alike can join together and claim redneck pride. Don’t get me wrong, self-proclaimed rednecks reading this, I do like Larry the Cable Guy and think he’s pretty funny. Seriously, non-rednecks, if you have a chance in between the last episode of The Splendid Table and your next show on BBC America you should give him a listen.

It’s very popular to be a redneck – even if you’re not a narrow-minded, uneducated person. At least, if this is claimed, your neighbor who really is a redneck won’t call you out as some fancy thinkin’ liberal and everyone stays happy and the same.

That said, number one was a college educated, self-proclaimed redneck who had just married my sister. Number one and my sister had been living in an old brick farmhouse with a garage and some outbuildings. The day after their wedding we all came to their farmhouse to open the gifts. It was a beautiful summer day. We all sat outside on chairs in a large circle. There were probably about twenty-five people there made up of both families. Chairs were seated in the sun and the shade. I made sure I was in the shade. Next to me were my wife, I’ll refer to her as Cynthia, and a couple of cousins.

My cousin Sandy and her husband Gary were in the sun next to Cynthia. Sandy and Gary are very good people and one might go as far as saying the antithesis of rednecks. They might be Neil Young and number one would have been Lynyrd Skynyrd (even though that would have made him a group of people). Sandy and Gary were and are vegetarians and, in general, opposed to killing animals. Number One hunted and fished. But we are one diverse family, and as families tend to do, we don’t dwell on the differences so much.

As we unwrapped the presents, one of the bridesmaids was throwing the wrapping paper in a large container. One of the presents was opened and it was discovered that the contents were stabilized by the friend of the outdoors – the wily styrofoam peanut. Fortunately, there was only a light breeze that eased through occasionally, pushing the freed peanuts onto the grass and other natural resting places.

I imagine the styrofoam peanut waltzes through life just wanting to be loved, clinging onto whatever has enough static charge to hold it. It doesn’t know how it is despised by rednecks and vegetarians alike. The poor styrofoam peanut has the ability to bring people together in their common dislike for the faux peanut. Maybe the styrofoam peanut has a calling in the Middle East helping people come together.

However, on that day it was the Middle West where the good peanut was doing its work. With the peanuts flitting about, Number One headed to his garage. He quickly emerged with an industrial shop vac and a long extension cord. He quickly plugged the machine in next to the biggest pile of peanuts. The next bit happened so quickly that I don’t know if I can do it justice. Dear talented reader, please imagine the next two paragraphs in slow motion since the whole scene only lasted approximately six seconds.

Number One turned on the shop vac and aimed it at the pile of peanuts. The shop vac noise roared, but nothing was sucked up. There was air coming out of the shop vac. I realized that it was set to reverse. This is an option on the industrial vacs. Instead of sucking, it was blowing the contents out of the vac. Some sawdust came out and in the next moment a mouse came out and five little pinky baby mice. Their nest had been blown out and now they were resting on the unnatural bed of peanuts. There were some sounds of surprise. Number One turned off the shop vac without showing any signs of surprise. I thought he may have seen these mice before. There was quiet when the machine turned off for a moment. In that moment, both Sandy and Gary voiced an angelic and in unison, complete with brimming smiles,


The next moment Number One had switched the vac back to sucking and this is what happened. Without a moment of hesitation he shop vacced the mouse and pinkies and sawdust and styrofoam peanuts all up. His even-handed approach rendered them all equals – the natural and unnatural all resided together now in the dark belly of the vac. Hopefully the mouse and pinkies felt safe inside, as outside there was a loud shriek of terror that went something like,


As Sandy and Gary’s voices once again joined – this time in sheer terror to gasp out the above line. All else in attendance were to say the least surprised. The majority of family and friends were rural people who have, on occasion over the years, been witness to the harshness that can be meted out to mice and other creatures vying for the natural and unnatural spaces with us.

Number One’s split second decision to remove the mice via high pressure backwards air may not been the path that the majority of us would have taken. To be honest, I’m just not one hundred percent positive how that could have turned out personally. I like to believe there’s a big part of me that would have relocated the nest to a field, but I can’t be sure how one might act in the heat of the shop vaccing moment. His option looked so simple and clean. So, I’m thinking that this just might also make me a redneck. I was afraid of this, because I don’t necessarily want to be a redneck.

After the chaos, and stomach ache that followed trying to keep laughter in my body after hearing the juxtapositioned sweet “aw” followed quickly by the “aahh” of high terror, I needed a drink of water. I stood up and headed towards a cooler.

As I passed behind the chairs where Sandy and Gary sat in the sun, I caught a glimpse of the back of their heads. Sandy had her hair pulled back in a pony tail and Gary had short hair. Scanning down to their necks I realized that their fair skin was bright red. Was it from the sun? Or, oh no, had even Sandy and Gary, my kind-hearted, PETA loving, vegetarian cousins become rednecks – just by associating with Number One on that surprising warm June day when everyone got a little rednecked just by redneck association.

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