First, a story about stories
Today, I talked to my dad. True to form he was in his car, parked at the local Moose Lodge, and smoking a cigarette. I suppose in that moment he seemed quite the rural hillbilly stereotype. As we talked, he told me stories of stories. In particular, he recounted one his dad used to tell all the time and that I had never heard before.
It went something like this: My Grandpa Bob, Uncle Leroy, and Great-Grandpa Dall Roy were walking out in a field when Dall Roy pointed to a speck of a bird in the sky and said, “Watch this, boys,” cocked his .22, and fired without so much as aiming. Before they knew it, that bird was plummeting to the ground. Apparently, Dall Roy was quite the marksman. My dad had always assumed that was a tall-tale – an embellishment like much of the Westerns Grandpa Bob and Uncle Leroy both inhaled.
Years after Grandpa Bob died, we were having our family Thanksgiving down at the Church of Christ. Dad and Uncle Leroy were trading stories back and forth and Leroy launched into this same story, without knowing that it was Grandpa’s favorite. Dad said, “And by God, it was true! That whole time we thought Dad was lyin’ but he was tellin’ the truth!” This conclusion is substantiated by the fact that Uncle Leroy is a Deacon in the church and wouldn’t tell a lie, especially not while in the church.
This is usually how all conversations and family gatherings go. We tell stories. To remember who we are and who we’ve come from, where we’ve been, and how both have made us who we are where we are. We build our identities through these stories. We teach each other and ourselves who we are and who we want to be. We learn over and over again who and how we want (or don’t want) to be in the world. And isn’t that what all stories – whether written on a page or recounted by word of mouth – are for?
Both of my great-grandfathers on my dad’s side of the family only attended school through elementary because of the need for them to work and contribute to the family’s survival. Both are said to have signed with an “X” and it is debated whether or not they could read. But I don’t think that means they were illiterate. Just that they had some literacies that were strengths over others.
After hearing this story, I expressed to my dad my frustration with the stereotypes of hillbillies and rural folks as unintelligent and illiterate when we come from a culture rich with stories. Dad reminded me that Grandpa Bob not only loved Westerns, but he also loved poetry. One of his most prized possessions was a book of poems given to him upon his high school graduation. I remember it and remember him reading it. If my dad in his state at the beginning of this post represented the epitome of a rural hillbilly stereotype, the image of Grandpa Bob bent over his prized book of poetry reading is the antithesis of that stereotype.
And this is why our stories are important. Because they complicate, disrupt, and dismantle dominant ideas about what it means to be rural, to be a hillbilly, a hick, a redneck.
So, tell us your story
I recognize that my rural experiences are only my own. My hope for this site and the blog is that they expand our understanding of what rural is for folks other than me. So, tell us your story.
Thanksgiving is a prime story-tellin’ time for my family, and maybe it is for your family too. If you hear one that makes you think or helps you build your (non)rural identity in any way, I’d love for you to write it up and send it our way.
You are invited to be a guest blogger on Dr. Parton’s Literacy In Place. Here are some important details:
Our Founding Beliefs
Literacy In Place is founded on three major tenets:
- Rural stories are worth reading and studying.
- Rural stories are worth telling.
- Rural cultures are worth sustaining.
I am open to a variety of genres, including but not limited to:
- Photo Essay
- Short Story
- ~2000 words max
- Audience: primarily rural teachers and teacher educators but the site also reaches rural community members more generally as well as rural YA authors.
- Include an engaging title that gives us an idea of the focus or theme of your story and is inviting.
- Where possible and/or appropriate, use photos, videos, and hyperlinks
Visit (Non)Rural Voices Blog for more ideas about what’s been written about and how your piece might sit in conversation with it. Here are some possible questions for consideration:
- What does it mean to you to be rural?
- What stands out to you about your experiences as a rural person and/or student?
- What book, TV show, film do you remember reading/seeing that made you feel seen as a rural person?
- What book, TV show, film do you feel authentically represents you as a rural person?
- What do you want nonrural people to know about being a rural person?
- What are you learning about yourself as a rural person or rural out-migrant?
- What current events do you want to talk about or address from a rural perspective?
- What stereotypes about rural people drive you crazy and what about your own story could you tell to disrupt those?
- What interactions have you had with rural or nonrural people that has you thinking about what it means to be rural?
- What does home mean to you?
To submit, send your piece to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Guest Blog”. Please reach out if you have any questions.
Can’t wait to read your story!