Warning: Dark Post

No fluffy bunnies here. If thats what you're looking for right now, best move on. You've been warned.

There are thing I like about the like about the South. Things that are so ... right ... that they just grab hold of your heart. I watched a truly hideous movie about the South recently ... Elizabethtown. It was a movie about how a non-Southerner experienced the South. It suffered from the fact that it was indeed a movie made by a non-Southerner about the South. For example, the tap-dancing at the funeral was SO under-played. What!?! Like she had time to get GOOD at tap-dancing between the death and the funeral. But other parts were so ... clear. Were so good that it was hard to breath. Were bitter-sweet reminders of what I'll never have again, and what my children will never have at all. The one scene that grabbed me was so very simple ... The non-Southerner (Orlando Bloom) and his cousin are walking along the road carrying a couple of boxes of stuff, and its a Summer night, and its hot and humid and the trees look like they're supposed to look in the South.

I know what that feels like. When the air isn't just the absense of land or water or sky. When the air is so heavy you can feel it on your skin like a blanket. A wet blanket. Everything is black and lush and quiet and there are millions of lightening-bugs. The trees seem to drip into each other. A bizarre sense of connection and permanence, peace and irrelevance. Knowing you are a part of something bigger, knowing who came before and who comes after. Something that is lost as we become part of a nomad society, moving further and further away from family. Losing the connections no matter how well-intentioned we are. No matter how much we visit. No matter how much we try. No matter how many words we use to explain to outsiders. Its like explaining color to the blind. If they've never seen color, where do you even begin? If they've never taken for granted that they will always spend Sunday evening watching lightening bugs or flames ... how do you explain that sense of security and complacency? That sense of sameness? How can someone who moved five times in his childhood understand the moment his new wife has a breakdown because she can't go "home" for Christmas and she has never EVER "missed" Christmas morning in front of the fireplace. Incidentially, that was the year he did manage to grasp that they would never EVER skip getting a tree again regardless of how expensive it was because it made her ... quiet. In a bad kind of way. Still, as amazing as he is, while he grasps the concept that it makes her sad, he can't actually FEEL that sadness.

My husband grew up in Florida, near the beach. I'm sure there are things I can't grasp about him missing the ocean. Sure, I like the beach. And the salt-air. But I can't imagine living there. Breathing it all the time. I wonder if that something he misses. Does he miss it all the time? Or just sometimes? What will our children take away from their childhood in the Mid-west? Is there ANYTHING here they'll miss?

Oddly enough, I started thinking these things because of something I remembered that I DON'T like about the South. Part of the whole small-town rural South stereotype is the corrupt local sheriff. Well, where there's smoke there's usually fire. That stereotype is often not that far off the truth. What do you do when the sheriff is the local crime-kingpin? This isn't a movie. Its real life. You don't get to call ClintEastwood or JohnWayne or Rambo. There's no one to call, except the Feds and even then you'd better have names and dates and tapes and be willing to go into witness protection with your whole family forever. You have to be willing to believe that the sheriff doesn't have a "friend" at the local FBI office who'll tip him to the "crazy" allegations before the investigation gets off the ground. Even then, you'll leave behind family and friends and neighbors who'll become "examples". Especially if you don't nail the whole organization. Especailly if the charges don't stick. And there's no guarentee. What do you do when you're targeted by the local sheriff? What would you do? And who's going to believe you?

Right now there's two suspects for shooting an officer and his ride-along in Kingston TN. Nobody saw them do it. But the local sheriff said they MUST have done it, so there are all kinds of SWAT teams and officers and volunteers looking for an "armed and dangerous" man who probably won't make it out of the county if he's taken alive, which would be doubtful in the situation, don't you think? A man who may very well be innocent of at least the shooting, although Heaven knows he's probably not completely innocent in the bigger picture. And because one sheriff who many whisper about as having a feud with the suspects suddenly announces that "They did it", there's all kind of armed men stalking the suspects looking to make an example of a "cop killer". Except that, excuse me, we live in America, remember? Innocent until proven guilty? Even if you're a paranoid idiot who thinks the local sheriff is out to get you.

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean you're wrong.


Hmmmm... your description of Southern sheriffs somehow reminds me of that old short-lived TV series, American Gothic, with Sheriff Buck.

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, and though I've lived various places around the country, I've always come back to the Midwest. The Midwest is a funny place, it's harder for me to put my finger on what makes the Midwest what it is. Endless cornfields? Stretches of pine trees, and the white bark of birch? Goat prairie on the southwest side of a hill? Robins flitting by your window? Local euchre clubs? Schafskopf? Pinochle? Men who wear seed-corn caps wherever they go, indoors or out? Or maybe it's the local small-town eating establishment where people gather for hamburger and fries— I had the most amazing pizza for supper the other night at a place which is billed as "Maggie's Dugout" on one sign outside, and "Maggie's Supper Club" on another: one feature of many small-town Midwestern eateries is that they don't have a single consistent name. I even know one joint over in Wisconsin which has two names on a single sign, "The Hawk's Nest," and then right below in smaller letters, "The Whipoorwill."

And I must admit I reached age 18 having mixed feelings about my home town— perhaps part of that came from growing up as a preacher's kid in a small, close-knit town where everyone else was related and we weren't. I moved 25 times in my first 25 years out of high school, only twice staying in one place for longer than two years at a time. Then, seven years ago, I came here to this corner of rural Iowa, and to an area which in many ways reminds me of the Midwest of my childhood, 40 years ago and more. Only better.

Paul Burgess | 05/13/2006 - 02:32 PM

Bingo. Sheriff Buck. Except that Leon turned himself in today, to a State Trooper. Without incident. So. Now they're both alive. And in non-county-custody.

Mysteriously, the charges have been down-graded from murder to assault. And a Grand Jury won't be convened until at least June.

I also notice the media coverage has shifted, not so subtlely. They're showing "real" pictures of them instead of the lunatic-fringe-mug-shot. And calling them "suspects" instead of "cop-killers".

Frankly, I suspect that several people who assumed that all the "hill-billy" locals were poor uneducated in-bred half-wits are about to have a seriously unpleasent moment when they realize that a significant amount of money and influence are vested in families with strong roots in that community. And when you get down to brass-tacks, blood is blood.

I'm just glad they aren't dead. I'm tired of stories like Ruby Ridge and Waco. Where stupidity and corruption are promoted and rewarded. It eats away at my perception of America as a fair and just place.

Lucy | 05/13/2006 - 07:36 PM
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