Yesterday’s blog about my Facebook Former led to some questions about my life before becoming The Gaelic Wife. So to get everyone on the same page, let’s begin, shall we?
Chapter One: I was born. No, no. That’s too far back. But it’s a good back story for character development. You see, I haven’t always been The Wife, but I’ve always been Gaelic.
Imagine growing up in the town of Maycomb, Alabama, that Scout (Miss Jean Louise Finch) describes in the opening of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. That was pretty much my childhood, transposed to the 1970s. It was a town bypassed by good intentions. The race track that would have brought in a steady revenue stream was located elsewhere because the thought of having racing nearby bothered the town elders. The four-lane road from the interstate directly connecting through the town toward an outlet mall was nixed because they feared people would speed through the town. Now they speed by it on the interstate never knowing that it lies a mile to the west of the right-of-way.
Factory work kept the next generation close to home, except for a few who were shooed away by well-meaning parents in hopes of a better life for their offspring. In its heyday, there had been a cotton mill, a tire and rubber plant, a steel plant, a pipe shop, and a foundry. As my Baby Bust generation came along, the cotton mill sat empty with broken window panes; the pipe shop was out of business; the foundry was long gone, overtaken by Mother Nature’s weeds and vines. The steel plant was operational as much as it sat idle. The tire and rubber plant seemed the only way to go. It ran shifts round the clock, six days a week.
Blue laws kept the plant shuttered on Sundays, as well as the department and shoe stores, the libraries and the grocery stores. Mine was a dry county which didn’t allow the sale of alcohol. The county line, and the first liquor stand, was a thirty-five minute drive following the serpentine of the river around the bends and fingers of the mountains which dipped toward the water.
My section of the Deep South was at the very end of the Appalachian Mountains. There’s a certain twang in our voices that carries along the crests of the mountains. Nuances are honed in the hollers and ridges down the eastern backbone of the country. My family instilled a pride of our Scots-Irish heritage. Bluegrass and traditional Celtic music carry the same lilt and resonances much as our souls carry the same religions and prejudices and suspicions.
Once upon a time there was a trolley line that ran from my little town to the county seat. The trolley fell out of favor, replaced by busses. With the increasing encroachment of civil rights into small towns, bus lines were shut down rather than having mixing. The last solitary public pool was left to turn putrid green with algae rather than clean it for the black kids since only the Blanche Dubois’s of the world would darken the doorway of the shower house. Some years later it was backfilled to make room for a mobile home retailer.
In winter, my father would throw us in the car and race to the nearest fire in the N-town on one side of the tracks to watch the firemen futilely battle a fire started from a coal fireplace, a gas heater, or just plain old negligence as it raced through timber-frame structures sitting squat to the ground. In summer, he would pile us in the car and meander to the sirens of gospel music wafting from the N-town on the other side of the tracks. Our neighborhood was a thin slice of 1950s prosperity sandwiched between two sets of railroad tracks against which shanty-like houses shouldered sheltering the poorer blacks in town and giving those sections of town their pejorative names of N-town.
Hierarchy was learned at an early age. Families that once had been well-to-do saw their fortunes evaporate during the war as their farmlands were confiscated. Families whose reputations survived were knocked off their pedestals in response to a d-i-v-o-r-c-e. Conditions such as divorce, and cancer, and affairs were only spoken of in whispers. Some things, like mental illness, were never discussed because it just didn’t happen to anyone you knew. Pity and shame kept people quiet about unmentionable subjects and kept them in their places if they dared to even dream of straying from the straight and narrow.
[Editor’s note: The author has been convinced that this should be serialized since it’s already much longer than most of her blogs. More of the “Previously on” blogs will be forthcoming soon.]
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