“Don’t believe anything that you hear about mountain folks… unless it’s good.” Archie told Sal. “ I’ve lived here for over thirty years now and I am surprised everyday by how resourceful these people can be, and how mysterious. When I first met Naomi and her children, I thought that I had landed on some exotic island. I’d never seen people so beautiful. I’d been around Italians and Frenchmen, Spanish folks and the like up in Boston, but I never saw such fine features on such dark skin as there is down here. In the summer time Naomi and her boys’ skin looked like mahogany wood. Naomi tried to keep a hat on her head or stay in the shade, but her skin was perfect…so smooth. I never saw a blemish on her anywhere. From the first minute I saw her I couldn’t take my eyes away. ” Daddy smiled at the recollection of the conversation and the worshipful way his step-father had looked at his beloved mother.
“And Naomi isn’t just the most beautiful lady I’ve ever know, she smart too.” Archie continued on with his high praise which was his custom. “She was my advisor on how to survive in and around these hills. ‘Archie’ , Naomi warned me right after I had moved down here to live ‘I don’t want you to take it personally if people don’t take to you as quickly as we have.’ At first I didn’t understand her, but soon I realized what she was saying. Mountain folks might seem simple, but they are probably the most complicated people I’ve ever known. They are not warm until you get to know them…and then their “warm” can have a chill running through it like unexpected currents in the lake or air. Outsiders might think that these folks are slow or dim-witted, but that’s a terribly false perception. These folks are just hesitant to open up to strangers. They will usually be hospitable, rarely down right rude. They can just sometimes be slow to answer or short on words. That only means they are thoughtful and cautious. Don’t get me wrong, I have certainly come across a few busy bodies that won’t stop talking long enough to let you get a word in edge-wise, and a few completely discourteous souls that wouldn’t give me the time of day. But mostly people here are short on content and heavy on meaning.”
Daddy told me that he had added his own perspective for his Uncle Sal’s education on the complexity of surviving among Hill People. “We were told to choose our words carefully… to guard our tongue. Momma would say, ‘The Bible talks about people who gossip and slander and lie to cause mischief. We are suppose to avoid those folks and avoid being one of those folks. It’s a sin to go around telling half-truths and bold-faced lies about people. And there are some truths that can cause problems and hurt others also… those kind of truths should be handled with care. Evil people who spend their days stirring up lives like they are stirring up a witches brew are making poison.’ Momma would know about that. There was a lot of gossip about her right after Harold Turner disappeared… and for several years there were still rumors and whispers. All kinds of theories and accusations were tossed about…like where did he go? and why? Momma had already been through a lot, and nobody knew where he was. Her biggest concern wasn’t where he had gone, but if he would ever come back. He put her through hell, and people who made up stories about her put her through hell too. But I think that people who cause others pain will eventually have to deal with God. He might have a big hot pot to toss them in and then they will see how they like the heat… but that is not my concern. Mostly we have to watch out for our own selves and watch our own sharp tongue.”
Archie agreed, “Mostly, Sal, as I’ve said a million times before, the folks I’ve met here are good people. You know what our Dear Mother said, Sal, when I told her that people down here are good?”
“No. What did she say?”
“She said, ‘Of course they are good. They love God and Jesus and the Mother.’ Our mother was no doubt referring to the Virgin Mary, Mother of the World, but she had it right… people down here are taught to love their momma.”
“I know I love mine.” Daddy declared.
“And you know I love her too!” And Archie gave Daddy his same sweet smile that Daddy had seen on the very first day he had me Archie so many years ago.
Daddy told me a story about some words of wisdom that Naomi and Archie’s preacher had given Archie on his wedding day. “ Brother Moore, was a kind old man of about 70. His light blue eyes looked like they had seen a whole lot, both good and bad, during his lifetime. ‘It‘s like this‘, he told Archie right before he and Naomi married, ‘If you are from here, and your Momma and Daddy and Grand momma and Granddaddy are from here, then you are one of them. The mistake that most outsiders make is that these folks are going to welcome you with open arms. If you move in here from somewhere else with no family connection then you can live here for 80 years and still be an outsider. Now, if you marry one of them and have children, then your babies will belong, but you still never really will. It’s not because they are cruel or cold-hearted. They are just about as polite as you could ever hope for. They’re all gonna be nice to you – but just luke-warm nice. And it may even feel cold to you because of how they love their own family with a red-hot passion. These folks are secretive folks and keep mostly to themselves. They’re private and clannish and they still do things in the old way…And by all means, Archie, if you know what is good for you, don’t ever say a foul word against anybody. For one thing you don’t know if the person you’re talking to is related to the person you are talking about! And what’s more, if someone is talking bad about their own family you just remember to hold your tongue… they can talk bad about their own all night and day but if an outsider ever says a foul word then you might as well have just challenged them to a duel. Being down here all alone, you sure don’t want to cause a family feud.’”
Daddy laughed at the thought of Archie ever causing a feud. “Honey, Archie was the most gentle, peace-loving man a person could ever know!”
Then Daddy continued on with what Archie had said, “’Thank you, preacher, I think.’ Archie was nervous enough…but those words of wisdom became the sagest advice that he could have ever hoped for. The preacher had made Archie’s expectations so low, and he expected to be treated so badly that all Archie could do was try to be happy and friendly regardless of how he was treated in return. ‘I can only suppose that I wore everybody down,’ “
As Archie’s aged and his health faded, Daddy had spent a lot of time with him. And during that time, Old Archie told him a lot of things that Daddy would never forget. “’One thing that I always try to remember when I come across someone who is hard or mean is that we don’t know what has made them that way. They might have been a sweet, kind person at one time that just got hurt one too many times’. Archie said that when he came across somebody that he was going to have to be spending time with he did the unexpected. ‘They might have expected to keep me at arm’s length, but it was hard for them to do after a while. It’s amazing how easily barriers can fall when they are put up to protect a broken heart. I never demanded a thing. I didn’t force my way in. I just sincerely and patiently loved. I opened myself up, arms wide open. I let them know I was always available if they wanted my embrace…and to hold onto me they would have to let go of themselves. People just need a person to connect with, to trust, to feel safe with. That is what I wanted to do…make people feel safe with me.’
“Archie said, ‘ Me, Naomi, MeeMaw Joy and you boys had enough love between us that it wouldn’t have mattered if the whole county had shunned me. We would have been alright just us. But I’m glad they didn’t. I love these people and this land like I have been here forever.’”
Daddy paused for just a minute before continuing, “Archie had the same sweet smile lighting up his face that Naomi had fallen in love with so many years ago when he said, ‘I think it just goes to show, that while the natural order of things might be for the most manned group to win a war, that sometimes a single person can change the rules of engagement all by him or herself. It just takes the right kind of ammunition. When tried and true offenses and defenses don’t work, sometimes you just have to kill them with kindness’. That’s something worth thinking about, I think.”
I agreed. There are people who act mean because they’ve been hurt. Somewhere inside most folks have a kind soul. But there are people in this world that no matter what, they are gonna act mean. No amount of patience or kindness will charm the stinger off of a scorpion, and the person that thinks differently will find out the hard way what poison will do. I figure that I will trust in goodness anyway…trust in Good over Evil and if I get stung then hope for an antidote.