Years ago, I read Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce
by Robert Penn Warren. While looking for today's Famous Appalachian Quote of the Day, I came across the following excerpt from this work. Though the story is completely unrelated, deep down I feel it can apply to the Appalachia we live in today:
My father held my hand, and he died.
Dying, said: ‘Think always of your country.
Your father has never sold your country.
Has never touched white-man money that they
Should say they have bought the land you now stand on.
You must never sell the bones of your fathers-
For selling that, you sell your Heart-Being".
I can't say if it was because I was fairly young and self-absorbed when I read the poem, or that now that I'm older I can be a little more introspective, but those two stanzas stuck a deep chord within me.
Why it rings more true to the way I see my Appalachia now versus the Appalachia I was literally clawing my way out of when I was seventeen can only be ascribed to the responsibility I feel for preserving the legacy of my Appalachian heritage today. I am guilty of being ashamed of my roots for a period in my younger life. I can't take that back, but I can learn from it.
I think as we mature we begin to see the merits of our culture and upbringing, and the value of sharing it with the next generation. Traditions fade with time, simply because they go dormant, unused, unmarried with the cultural chattels passed down to the successive generation.
Each era possesses less and less to identify with it's foundations, and instead of embracing the old ways and redefining them into a new identity, they're rejected and shunned. In order to attain the "modern" ideals of the non-rural lifestyle for the sake of progress
, we are "selling the bones of our fathers", and losing our unique identity as Appalachians.
Labels: Appalachia, Appalachian life, culture, identity, poetry, Robert Penn Warren, tradition