We just celebrated Labor Day in the good ol’ US of A, spending the long weekend bopping around our little town watching the parade from the Courthouse steps (an awesome opportunity to see multiple fire trucks and all 12 high school marching band members in one place at the same time,) and making daily jaunts to the annual fly-by-night carnival that always appears to be held together by a wing, a prayer, and some powdered sugar.
As I stood on the park lawn last night watching the traditional fireworks display, tucked safely in the arms of my husband, I couldn’t help but think about blood. Not the kind of blood that runs through the streets of a Midsomer Murders fete, but the kind that runs in me.
Labor Day always makes me think of my ancestry, steeped in the rich history of coal in the Appalachian Mountains. My great grandparents, like many families during the fight to unionize the coal industry, were forced from their home and lived in a tent community during the coal wars. My great grandmother gave birth to a son in one of those tents. Sitting here at my desk in an air conditioned room; I find it hard to imagine such a thing…
Those who came before me played their parts in what became known as the Matewan Massacre, when union miners stood against Baldwin- Felts Detectives for the basic rights of a safer work environment and a decent livable wage. They joined in on the convergence at Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in US history, and stood witness to the only time in history that the United States government declared war on a state.
But even before the fight for miner’s rights, my family was bone deep in the mountains. My great, great, great grandfather was the notorious “Bad” Jim Vance, one of the front men and often an instigator in the infamous Hatfield and McCoy Feud. In August of 1882, Ellison Hatfield was stabbed multiple times and then shot in the back by three McCoy brothers. He was taken to the home of my great, great grandparents, where he later died on their front room sofa, adding fuel to a vicious fire that had been sparking for a while…the rest, as they say, is history.
I often wonder if the blood that runs through my veins is part of why I can so easily turn on my Miss Marple discernment in regard to those around me, and see undercurrents of malice stirring below the surface of small town interaction…maybe so. I do know that I come from a place that has been so washed in hard history, that it has its own psychological tag line – Appalachian Fatalism.
Many times I have been on these mountain roads with my radio turned up, going 60 mph without a thought as to what might be around the next curve and have found myself curious about the possibility that, even in this modern age of convenience and carpooling, I may have some Appalachian Fatalism resting in me…