Yankee (Or Whoever You Are) Go Home

I “grew up”, at least from the time I was around 10 or 11 years old until I graduated from high school at 17, in a small town in North Carolina called Waynesville. Waynesville is exactly halfway between Asheville, NC and Cherokee, NC, and it’s on the outskirts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Asheville is the “big city” (population 83,393 as of 2010). Cherokee is the headquarters of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The Eastern Band consists of the people who hid out in the mountains and didn’t get caught, thereby being forced to move to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.
I was very unhappy there. Before we moved there, I had always lived in the “flatlands” of Tennessee. I found the mountains intimidating. Today, I can appreciate the beauty of the mountains, but I still wouldn’t want to live there.
Part of it was family issues. My parents separated the year we moved there. I had always been my father’s favorite, and when he left, that left me at the mercy of my mother, who didn’t like me. For real. This is not some childish whine. The fact that my father left and that I had been his favorite didn’t help me in the eyes of my mother, but it had started long before that. According to my Aunt Ruby (the amateur psychologist of our family), when I was born, my mother was not ready to have a child, and highly resented the fact that it happened anyway. So, it’s hard to overcome the fact that what you did wrong was being born.
Still, even with those problems, I could probably have overcome them better if I had had a support system of really good friends, but that didn’t happen until I was a senior in high school, when I was already preparing to leave. I was very lonely. I spent most of my free time at the library, or at home reading.
But a funny thing has happened. I’ve developed some nostalgia for Waynesville, and now through the miracle of the Internet, have become good friends with people I went to high school with that were previously only acquaintances.
So, why didn’t I have that support system for a lonely six years or so? Part of it was undoubtedly me. I had moved a lot as a child, and was subjected to the taunts and exclusion that are the fate of the “new kid”. So I became suspicious. But even more of it was Waynesville itself.
Not only is Waynesville a small town (around 7,500 when I lived there) it’s a small town in the mountains. In addition to the Cherokee, the mountains of western North Carolina are mostly occupied by the descendants of Scottish, Irish, and English people, who had their own reasons for hiding out, and therefore had a great distrust of “outsiders”. Just like in war, natural barriers (such as mountains) provide protection, but they also prevent exposure to the wider cultural world.
Today, xenophobia is alive and well there.
I joined a Facebook group called “Remember Waynesville When…” Recently a friend did a post asking if anyone remembered the sinks in one the elementary schools there. Apparently these sinks were extra-wide, with multiple spouts, and allowed several children to wash their hands at the same time. Seems harmless, right?
But today, that elementary school is home to the performers for an international festival known as Folkmoot USA. One of the commenters made the mistake of saying the school needs repairs (apparently those sinks are still there), because it makes a poor impression on their international visitors. Incidentally, the festival only lasts for two weeks a year.
My God, you would have thought Waynesville was being taken over by aliens or was under attack by terrorists. One irate poster absolutely sneered at the idea that money should be spent to upgrade the school to “impress” international visitors. Who needs these people? Nobody comes anyway, because it’s too hot when they hold it and it does nothing for local business (well, unless you believe the State of North Carolina, which says 75,000 visitors and $4 million).
My favorite complaint was that the year the Russians were there (2007), they built a bonfire in the yard and drank vodka until 4:00 A.M. The nerve of those people!
Obviously, not everyone in Waynesville is a xenophobe, otherwise they would never have landed Folkmoot. But you can see what I was up against.


12 responses to “Yankee (Or Whoever You Are) Go Home

  1. A very touching post FN. Thanks for sharing. It’s amazing how much we retain from our childhoods, sad or happy.

    We became readers for different reasons.

  2. Thank you, pt. I was already a reader before I got there; my father read a lot and probably set the example, and I had always been lucky to have good teachers who encouraged it. But reading was definitely my salvation during those lonely years.
    Somehow things started to turn around at about the end of my junior year. I was engaged in a lot of activities. I was in the chorus; I played piano (and on one occasion, harp) when the band did concerts; I was in the Honor Society; and most importantly for a teenager desperately wanting to fit in, I was invited to join the Sub-Deb club, a sort of pre-sorority that was by invitation only. I don’t know why that happened, I was the same me I had always been. I think it just took that long to be accepted in this very closed world.

  3. And a little addendum about the xenophobe woman who was irate at, among other things, the behavior of the Russians. She shared that her sister was killed by a drunk driver, and it was obvious that she didn’t just have a problem with drunk driving, but with drinking alcohol period.
    And boy is she in the wrong place. This is Lil’ Abner territory, where hidden stills and making moonshine and watching out for the “revenooers” is par for the course.
    Recently one of my friends from those high school days posted a picture of himself on Facebook, drinking a clear liquid from a Mason jar. He didn’t identify what it was, but he didn’t have to 🙂 And he looked really happy!

  4. I’ve been to Waynesviile! Or at least through it. We may have spent the night there driving the Blue Ridge to D.C.

    Too bad you didn’t make it to Manila because being “new” was the norm as parents transferred in and out of the country. One of my best friends in high school was there three (or maybe two) years at most. I was one of less than 20 “old timers” in a graduating class of 98 who attended the school K-12.

  5. Very likely, sc. Waynesville is on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
    Your description of Manila is the way I think of Florida as well. There are a lot of transplants. I’d say at least half the people I know, and probably more, came here from somewhere else, so being “new” here is not the stigma it was when you lived in an isolated place like the mountains of North Carolina. I should have moved here sooner 🙂

  6. Hello. I just found your blog from Rutherford’s site. My father and three aunts were born at Pittsboro. They were northerners who attracted attention because they let black guests enter their house through the front door. The neighbors called them Yankees and thought their ways were odd.

    My grand mother didn’t like the runny southern butter, so she made her own version, cut it into sections, packaged it, and sold it in Asheville stores. My father and his sisters picked cotton at times, and they knew a former slave who worked for the family.

    My great uncle was an engineer who worked in San Francisco and Chicago during the winter. In summer, he used a kerosine tractor and four bottom plow to plow virgin land in the Missouri River valley of western Iowa. He died in a bicycle accident and the family pressured my grand parents to move to Iowa to fulfill the plowing contracts and to manage the farm.

    My aunt was 97 when she told us the story. She cried because leaving North Carolina was a wrenching decision the family was forced into. Had they not moved, I wouldn’t be alive to write this.

    I have been in North Carolina and visited the old farm, but I would never want to live there. Your state has too many trees and too much humidity. The land isn’t flat, and you don’t often have blizzards. Otherwise, I like the state because some of my roots are there.

    When I was growing up, I wanted to be gone as soon as possible. I didn’t date anyone for fear she might be a cousin. I did see the world, and i married a woman who could never be a relative since her home was over 125 miles away. But she was related to our high school janitor and many other people in the area.

    Ironically, I live on the farm we own, the same one my ancestors settled over a hundred years ago. We bought all of the land from relatives and reassembled the farm.

  7. Welcome, James. Those are lovely memories and great stories. I seriously had to laugh at “didn’t date anyone for fear she might be a cousin”. But North Carolina is not my state any more. I live in Florida. So, do you live in Iowa?

  8. Thanks fakename2. I live on the Iowa-Nebraska border in the Missouri River valley. I can actually see Nebraska, not Russia from my front porch. HA! Our nearest neighbor lives two miles away. Right now, we spend most of our time in Omaha to help care for our year-old grand daughter. Some of my relatives live in Florida. Do you like the weather there?

  9. I asked you, James, because by coincidence, I lived in Iowa for two years, 1996-1997. In Des Moines. I’ve been to Omaha, since because it was so expensive to fly out of Des Moines, I would usually have someone drive me either to Omaha or Kansas City if I had to fly somewhere. I absolutely loved Iowa, except for the weather. I swore that if I ever got out of Iowa I would never complain about the weather again. I probably haven’t been perfect at that, but damn close. So yes, I like the weather in Florida 🙂

  10. Its nice that you were an Iowan for a while, fakename2. I have heard of other people who flew out of Omaha because it was cheaper. At least in Florida, you don’t have to worry about frost bite do you?

    The outsider references in your Yankee Go Home post has made me wonder if you might like to learn about the Sami people. They like many indigenous people have become outsiders in their own lands. They are the Laplanders or reindeer herders most of us have barely heard of. Christian governments attempted to exterminate their culture and religion, and they still face discrimination.

    They are now reviving their old ways while living in this century. A critic called Sofia Jannok a woman of steel. She interrupts her shows to talk politics. She calls the Swedish government the “occupying regime.” Jannok is blond and blue eyed, but at certain angles, her face shows subtle Asian features. Sami and their relatives, the Finns carry up to a third Asian genes. Some still call them mongoloid mongrels.

    Her video Sofia Jannok Irene official video is a joik, one of the oldest music forms in Europe. It may date back to the Ice Age. The spirits assign an individual joik to each person. They use the chant to communicate with the spirits, dead loved ones, to tell stories, and just for fun. Some have learned they can make a lot of money by comercializing joiks for the public.

    The Sami as migratory people had little time or energy for normal ornamental craftmanship, so they used music. Sofia is describing in Sami how they searched for and found her Aunt Irene’s reindeer herd. Part of the video was made at the Ice Hotel in northern Sweden.,

    Another song “Thunder of the Three Heavens” was made with Finish singer Kristian Anttila. Googling Sofia Jannok Thunder of the Three Heavens on YouTube should get it. Sofia is wearing what I believe is a sun ring to ward off evil spirits.

    Other Sami like the Finish band SomBy want to make their culture “cooler” for their generation. They perform rock music, and they wear traditional costumes. The stitching tells to what clan they belong, their home towns and other information. I think three of the band own reindeer as Sofia Jannok does.

    Liet International 2010: Jousnen Jarved on YouTube They are Russian Veps and in this song they are also joiking. They claim with some genetic justification to be the last of the Cro- Magnons. They formed a band to help save their culture.

    Our Rights to Earth and Freedom;Sofia Jannoki at TEDxGateway on YouTube. She discusses what it is like to be Sami.

    Amazing sami song in Sweden’s Got Talent Youtube . The singer was adopted from Equador and raised as a Sami. His best friend died, and while he was mourning, his friend’s spirit came to him with a joik. He repeated the joik and felt better. Later he put it to music and performed on Sweden’s Got Talent. The audience and judges gave him a standing ovation though they couldn’t understand a word he sang.

    Thisislotta is an eighteen year old who talks about her live and country. In this video she tells why she thinks Fins seem to be shy and anti- social.

    Sorry about the long comment. You probably won’t have time to look at any of this, but maybe you might. At least you would know more about the region than any of your neighbors. ha!

  11. The joik was once banned for being of the devil. I read that instead of singing about something, the singer becomes the song. The whole community is participating, so the singer must set a high standard. The joik is one reason the Sami culture still survives.

  12. So, James, do you have some personal connection to the Sami, or is it just a subject you find very interesting? As for being considered an alien in your own land, I earlier mentioned the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. I know two members of the tribe, but there is an upheaval going on there as we speak. To be a member of the Eastern Band, you have to be at least 1/16 Cherokee and be able to prove you have an ancestor on the Baker Roll, a census done in 1924. The Enrollment Board, which determines whether or not you qualify, is proposing to use a different roll now–one that goes back 150 years rather than 90 years. If that proposal is adopted, then you would have to be able to prove you had an ancestor on that roll or else be essentially “evicted” from the tribe. If I understand it correctly, that would mean that any property you own within the tribe’s territory would revert to the tribe.
    My friends believe this is just discrimination rearing its ugly head again. Remember the term “half-breed” in the old Western movies? They were held in greater contempt than Indians by white people, and it turns out Indians feel the same way.

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