Strangely, as soon as I walked into one of the stores I saw something I thought I might want. On a table just to the right of the door, sat a short pile of copies of At Home in the Heart of Appalachia, which is a memoir by John O’Brien, who’s a Philadelphia native whose dad was raised in Appalachia. I picked up the book and immediately recognized the name. I’d read about it in the newspaper, or heard about it on National Public Radio, or maybe both. When I saw that Edward Hoagland and Stuart Dybek had contributed nice blurb quotes for the back of the book, and then I saw that it was just $8, I went for it.
I told the woman behind the counter that I’d heard of this book, and that I’d heard it was very good. I told her I was from Pittsburgh, which isn’t too far from Appalachia. I knew as soon as I'd said it that I'd overstepped--I could tell from the disgusted look on the woman's face.
“Pennsylvania—that’s Yankee territory,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m from Kentucky.”
I said the Appalachians stretch all the way up into New York, you know.
“Pittsburgh’s just forty-five minutes from West Virginia,” I offered.
“That’s the Yankee part of West Virginia,” she said dismissively.
I thought of telling her that technically, all of West Virginia is Yankee, since the state was created because it did not side with the Confederacy during the Civil War. I wanted to inform her that the book was written by a Philadelphia native, too. But I knew there was no winning a war of words with this woman. I said I was looking forward to reading the book, I thanked her for it, and I walked out.
I walked down the sidewalk and into the wine shop next door, where I’d initially gone in search of my wife when she’d bolted into the shops. The young woman behind the counter in the wine shop had an easygoing expression and I had noticed a Northern accent when I’d asked her earlier if she’d seen my wife. I wished I’d liked wine a lot, because she was so nice I wanted to buy something, but I didn’t need any of it.
It turned out the gal, whose name was LeeAnn, was a Vermont native. I started to vent.
“You know you’ve got a Yankee-hater next door,” I said. LeeAnn laughed. I explained the interaction I’d had with the fifty-something lady next door.
“I came down here for my niece’s wedding, for just a couple of days, and I thought I was going to make it home without being called a Yankee. But sure enough, on my way home, someone called me a Yankee,” I complained. Actually, I was a bit shocked that it happened. I find Virginians in general to be very urbane people, and being called a Yankee was a bit unexpected. But after all, she is from Kentucky.
Just like my uncle’s family, the Lee family, who are originally from Kentucky. I also have a great uncle who’s been in Nashville for decades, after he married a true Southern Belle. My brother-in-law is from Virginia, another brother-in-law is from North Carolina, and I have a sister-in-law from North Carolina. My older sister and my eldest brother both went to college in North Carolina. I find Virginians and North Carolinians to be among the most gracious, kind and thoughtful people in the South.
It does annoy me, though, when some people start throwing around the Yankee word in a disparaging way. It makes me want to ask them, so are you a racist who thinks the world would be better now if the Confederacy were just allowed to go its own way?
It’s like some people in the South are still fighting a 150-year-old war, I said to Anne as I talked to her about it when we were further down the road. They can’t get over it, I added.
“Where would we be if we hadn’t fought that war?” she asked disgustedly.
I said I know, I agree. “But she didn’t mind taking my northern money,” I said. “I felt like telling her that one of my great-greats fought on the winning side.”
Anne told me that the lady and another woman were talking after I’d walked out. They were saying how hard it was for them to understand the speech of people from New York and New Jersey when they stopped into the store.
“Then they started talking about how their county is the meth capitol of the nation,” Anne said.