I grew up in quiet, Appalachian suburbia. Let's face it, I may claim to be a West Virginia hillbilly, but I'm truly a city girl. Charleston isn't a big city, but it's West Virginia's biggest city and I spent my formative years in the lap of Chemical Valley. My parents weren't wealthy. Heck, they were more like holding-on-to-lower-middle-class-by-their-fingernails. It was our neighbors, the people who worked for Union Carbide, Rhône-Poulenc, and FMC, who were upper middle-class, who owned the suburban dream and who funded my public education with their tax dollars. It was the children of these people who were my friends. I had an easy childhood with two parents who loved me and were law-abiding citizens. None of my friends were trouble-makers, their parents worked high-paying jobs with the chemical companies, and we all took the buses to and from school while the coal barges and coal trains took our black gold (and its profits) elsewhere.
Just 40 minutes away from my hometown of South Charleston is Boone County, West Virginia. Just 40 minutes away from all of us living the Appalachian dream, there is a completely different world. It's a world of coal mines that can kill you in a heartbeat, coal companies who don't care if their miners live or die because they can replace one miner with two or three waiting in the wings. It's a world of live today because you may be dead tomorrow. It's a world of lying to, cheating, and stealing from your fellow man because King Coal and the government has lied to you, cheated you, and stolen from you your whole life and what other way is there? It's a world of pickin' and clickin'.
It's the world of the White family.
I remember watching the Dancing Outlaw on PBS when I was 13 and being completely astounded by the spectacle of Jesco White and his family. Six years later, Jesco was the half-time entertainment at the local Thanksgiving Day football game. His tap-dancing Elvis act was marred by a horrible sound system and the inability of the game announcer to play Jesco's requested music. Jesco then precluded his dancing with a drunken barrage of foul language directed to the announcer and the audience in general. That day will forever stick in my brain.
Now, 20 years later, I have watched the Wild, Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, a documentary about the White family, produced by Johnny Knoxville. The White family still takes my breath away. Yes, reader of mine, there are true hillbillies still living in the hollers of West Virginia and they are immortalized on film. Not all West Virginians are like the Whites. In fact, I don't personally know anyone from West Virginia like this family. But, they do epitomize all West Virginians to a degree. We will all give you the shirts off our backs and the last dollars in our wallets if you need it. But if you do us wrong? Well, then you may not want to stick around to witness the consequences.
Ladies and gents, I give you the trailer for the Wild, Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. It's currently playing on Showtime and available on DVD. It's 90 minutes of your life you'll never get back, but it's 90 minutes of peeking into the lives of some old-school, hell-raising, West, By God, Virginians.
(BTW, maybe watch this at home. Stuff is bleeped and fuzzed, but still. Just to be safe. Don't say I didn't warn you.)