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and life along the winding road

Friday, June 15, 2018

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance is categorized as a memoir, but it's so much more. It's about post-WWII migration of workers from the Appalachian mountains to industrialized steel mills of Ohio, about poor white people referred to as hillbilly people and even in the most abusive of families, a strong sense of family protection (his grandfather's distant cousin married into the Hatfield family and after killing Asa Marmon McCoy started the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud in American History)
Communities sprouted up around factories offering jobs in the north, but when the factories shut down leaving behind an economic crisis, only the wealthy could afford to move, leaving behind communities of poor people with no work and many already living beyond their means.
Many of those in the Appalachian mountains are from Scots-Irish descent (note: Scots should never be referred to as Scotch - that's the drink not the person) They had their own sense of justice and family protection. A man accused of rape, during his trial was found face down in a lake with 16 bullet holes in his back. The verdict was "foul play expected." No investigations followed the event. When J.D. Vance's grandparents found their son outside a toy store because the owner had asked him to leave after he mishandled expensive toys, they marched into the store and smashed both the toy and several other items!
His grandmother, who he called Mamaw, told him that if she found him with any of the kids who were smoking weed and misbehaving (she had a banned list) she would run them over with her car and no one would ever find out.
His Mamaw's encouraging words were "You can do anything; don't be like those f***ers who think the deck is stacked against them."
One of the things J.D. Vance discovered after reading the Pew Economic Mobility Project is that there is no group of Americans more pessimistic than working-class whites. Only 44 percent expect their children to fare better than they.
I'm a believer that you only need one person in your corner, for you to be a success and that person for J.D. Vance was his grandmother. Despite having numerous step-fathers, an unstable home, moving frequently, a mother who was taking drugs and at one time nearly killed them both by driving erratically, his grandmother was a loving constant in his life. He joined the Marines, worked several jobs to stay out of debt and went on to attend Yale law school. Although being in his early 30s J.D. Vance has a rich story to tell of family loyalty, family abuse, and despite it all, an optimism to succeed.

You can view a video with J.D. Vance here


2 comments:

Jenny said...

Oi! What a life!

Pat Wahler said...

I've seen this book before, and thought it might be one I'd enjoy reading.