Monday, June 22, 2009

Seeing Friends from Kellogg

In the last several years, I've learned about a saying that I think comes from the Appalachia. It's a warning: "Don't get above your raisin'".

Understood strictly, "Don't get above your raisin'" means stay where you were raised. Don't leave. Stay where your roots are. You belong where your people are. In come communities, to get above your raisin' is a sin against God. It's an act of pride, of trying to be different than you were created to be, and is an affront to God's plan for your life. Individual striving is not to be trusted, especially if it means turning your back on your family or your community.

Understood more generally, "Don't get above your raisin'" means go ahead and strive to succeed in the outside world, but don't put on airs, don't get to thinking you are better than where you came from, don't get pretentious, and don't get snobby.

Until I learned the phrase "Don't get above your raisin'", my way of saying the same things was, "Don't start thinkin' you're hot shit."

When my dad ran into someone who left Kellogg and returned and had got above their raisin', he'd say about that the pretentious guy thought his shit didn't stink.

My friend Ed puts it succinctly: "He's arrogant."

I've just spent the weekend with about ten friends I grew up with and/or went to high school with in Kellogg.

In terms of employment, I suppose it could be said that several of us got above our raisin'. Most of us are working in jobs that are more lucrative than what we could do in Kellogg.

But none of us have forgotten where we came from and how hard how mothers and fathers worked in Kellogg and how hard we worked and work in Kellogg to make what we presently do possible.

It's humbling. We know our own hard work and that of our parents has been rewarded. It's been possible to go on cruises or get into a mortgage or raise children who were not deprived; each in our own way, we've had it pretty good.

But, what I felt this weekend, as we told stories, got caught up, laughed, ate delicious food, shared memories, and told each other things about ourselves others never knew happened...what I felt was the humbleness that comes with the unspoken knowledge that where we came from was coarse, wild, hard, dirty, demanding, and, at times, lawless while at the same time full of vigor, mirth, laughter, tall tales, hard drinking, hard work, a lot of worship and prayer, and deep feeling for others.

Danger and death were always present: logging in the woods, floods and fires, mining accidents, hunting mishaps, car wrecks, fights, accidents in the Bunker Hill plants, not to mention breathing the toxic air.

Hard work, sacrifice, danger, and death: they keep a person humble.

How could a person grow up in this place and think they're hot shit?

How could a person grow up here and think their shit doesn't stink?

How could a person come out of the woods or the zinc plant or the smelter or a mine or see their fathers do the same or see their mothers worry every day that their husbands would come home safely and be arrogant?

Some have. Some Kellogg natives got above their raisin' and left Kellogg and looked down their nose at their raisin' and have scoffed at the very roots and communal identity that shaped their youth.

But the people I laughed with, ate with, embraced, shared stories with, and relaxed with this weekend have never got above their raisin'; we've stayed close to the values we grew up; some of us have remained raw, coarse, and vulgar; others are more refined; we've all stayed humble, loving, and respectful.

Our reward for not gettin' above our raisin'?





Good times.

Deep regard.


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