On the way to work this morning, I was reflecting on how far I’d come. No, not the block or so I had walked from the house at that point. That was not very far at all.
How far I had come in life. And I like to be quite self-congratulatory.
My dad’s side of the family were literal hillbillies: tobacco-growing, possum-consuming, Tennessee hill dwellers who lived in shacks on the side of Haydenburg Ridge at the foothills of the Appalachians. My father had dreams beyond the ridge, and was a voracious reader. He left high school, joined the Army, got himself stationed in Arkansas and then Alaska, then moved back to Tennessee, where he was drawn to the relative big-city life of Nashville. After years working odd jobs and preaching on the side, he retreated to the country again in response to my birth. As a God-fearing minister, he knew that he owed me a childhood away from the sinful life of the big city.
My mom’s family was from one county over in rural middle Tennessee. They were more townfolk than my dad’s family, but her dad was also a farmer. I have no clue what anyone else on either side of my mom’s family did. My mom met my father when she was about 17, and she was 19 when they married. As far as I can tell, she spent her life chasing behind my father while he chased his whims. She was smarter than she gave herself credit for, and way more grounded than my father, but because of her perceived duty as a wife, she ended up living in a state of reaction to him. I say all this to explain why I have no idea what she wanted to be or do.
What I just told you is 90 percent of what I know about my “heritage.” It’s just enough to make the knowing joke I make when people try to guess my background. Because of my chosen friends, my chosen family, and my chosen interests (and apparently a good deal of squinting), I have variously been identified as Italian, Latin, Middle Eastern, or even “mixed,” despite what I perceive as a rather Northern European countenance and an objectively verifiable melanin deficiency. I typically set folks straight by saying I’m half-hillbilly and half-redneck. In other words, the very opposite of the euphemistic “ethnic” designation.
So I’m really only proud of my background as a marker for how far I’ve come since then. I have two college degrees, one from Emory, the other in business administration. I’m a CPA, a city slicker of over a quarter century since moving to Atlanta after high school. I own two homes, I take economical but “real” vacations at least twice a year, and have traveled to London, New York, all around the Caribbean… and to Minneapolis!
And perhaps most importantly, I’ve severed almost all ideological connections to the place I was raised. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal living in the oldest historically black neighborhood in Atlanta with my partner. His name is Hasahn… and he gets stopped by TSA every single time we fly out of Hartsfield. I am the living, breathing nightmare of the majority of my former classmates at Macon County Middle School–but of course, I could have cleared that hurdle by admitting that I voted for Hillary for president… twice.
But enough about me…
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