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.