I've pretty well quit smoking. Good for me, you say? Yes, good for me. Cold turkey, you ask? As it happens no, I still subscribe to a bird of a different name.
Since coming of tobacco-buying age I've enjoyed "smokeless tobacco," as the hippies and the yankees call it. I'm a Red Seal man, and where I come from we call it snuff.
A little pinch between the cheek and gums on the golf course or while playing the gamebox with buddies is a wonderful thing, but a local cultured lady, a patron of the arts and holder of fancy parties with wines and newly discovered cheeses, dropped in my office one afternoon a few months ago and was shocked to see my snuff.
I had no idea that you dipped, she said. Of couse I dip snuff, I said, do you not know that I'm from Izard County and that in Izard County we dip snuff?
I've been considering my cultural status over the last few years. I'm American, for sure, and certainly southern, but where do I fit into further delineatoins of southern culture? My people are from the hills of north-central Arkansas — White River Valley folks and hillbillies of the first order. I've got some Cherokee in me, but not too much because I make the most tremendous noise when stalking through any forest, though I do seem to carry the paddle-a-canoe-silently gene.
I'm removed from my hillbilly culture by distance and, more significantly, by time. I've seen the last of the old-time hillbillies fade away, and I see few new ones rise up to take their place. This would be the process of modernization, as UCA's Dr. Corcoran would call it.
I fancy myself a hillbilly on some days, depending on amount of drink, and certainly I'm drawn to the classic Hillbilly trappings of whiskey, guns, lively music and fast cars.
But, like many modern hillbillies, I'm a conflicted creature. A 30 pack of the Natty Bumpo and a catfishing expedition in the middle of the Ozark wilderness is about as good as it gets, in my book, but I've had my beer in Berlin too, you see, and at the end of the day I'd rather listen to it when it's called a violin and not a fiddle. Indeed, Bob Wills is still the king, but my music pod is full of Paganini's violin caprices; Johnny Cash is still the Man, but I've got to say that Leonard Cohen is pretty good too. I've accumulated a closet full of military-style rifles, though I can't say exactly why and at the end of the day have to agree that there's no good argument for them — who needs to shoot a deer or an o'possum 30 times without a magazine change? It's lunacy, isn't it?
I love the Chevelle SS 454 and prewar Maseratis and Alfa Romeos equally well.
I'm a champagne snob and I'll turn my nose up at Andre, but beer and whiskey don't get too cheap to drink and I love my snuff.
I've been studying my hillbilly culture lately, helped tremendously by the writings of our scholar, Brooks Blevins. We're a strange tribe, us hillbillies, and this country has periodically been fascinated with our people and lands. The Beverly Hillbillies was a wildly popular show, with the hillbillies portrayed as outwardly a bunch of violent simpletons who, upon closer inspection or when met with conflict, prove themselves to be resourceful and clever enough to confound their cultured, educated or wealthy opponents, and this has been the theme of the hillbilly in popular culture since The Arkansas Traveller.
Chuck Yeager was a West Virginia hillbilly, and it is his legacy that even an airline pilot from Minnesota will sometimes unconsciously adopt a West Virginia drawl when addressing his passengers over the intercom. Hunter S. Thompson was a Kentucky hillbilly, and Arkansas hillbillies can claim both Billy Bob Thornton and Gen. Douglas MacArthur as their own, and these two men achieved two of the highest honors American popular culture can bestow on someone: having relations with Angelia Jolie in the back of a limo headed to the Oscars and being portrayed in film by Gregory Peck.
Is there any shame is being a hillbilly? Certainly there is. I can't train my tongue against the hill people accent I was born with, and ordering at a fancy restaurant in Vail once invited the most awful scowl from the cute little waitress as soon as I opened my mouth. That was a trying experience, and in its way very humbling.
This is the south, and hill people like me are, it must be said, very backwards, but I wouldn't change it. At least we're not yankees or (shudder at the thought) midwesterners.
As long as I keep my Red Seal I'll find cultured people who are shocked to see me with it, but I'll keep at it because that's one of the marks of my people. The Scotish have their kilts and fanny packs made from carnivorous rodents, and we have our snuff. I love my snuff, and make no mistake,
The ladies love my snuff too.