I learned in High School World History class that Buddhists believe that having completed one life, the disembodied soul chooses the next life as a way to fulfill its unmet karma. So, if one is a good person, they may choose from Menu A lives, which includes a higher socioeconomic level. If a person has done okay but is rough around the edges, they may choose from Menu B lives, which are little less enviable in status and culture, and perhaps will include greater amounts of manual labor. People who committed crimes or hurt other people must pick from the Poverty Menu. Then, really terrible people become mosquitoes and flies. Excellent people seem to become cows and this makes no sense to me at all, because cows attract mosquitoes and flies.
I am not certain what a person has to do in order to be issued the Redneck Menu of lives, but I am fairly certain that I was wrongly accused in my last stint here on earth when my soul was handed that particular choice. However, I could have needed humility… but, rednecks are a proud people and so I don’t think that is right. Perhaps I was an intellectual snob in my last life, but rednecks are smart, just in unconventional ways. All I can think is that I was not handy in my previous existence, because rednecks are some of the most inventive people I have ever met; and, brave, much too brave.
My family of origin were not just rednecks, they were hicks. My mother grew up on a cotton farm. They were salt of the earth people, but I think if grandma sewed mother’s dresses out of flour sacks, she qualifies. To her credit, mom did graduate from high school, the first in her family to do so. Had she married better, mother could have shaken off her hick status with clever stories about how her family survived the Great Depression. But, she married dad.
Dad’s life was significantly less wholesome than mother’s. While she overcame her humble beginnings as best she could, he gloried in his status as a hoodlum, a term which has the modern translation of “juvenile offender.” Dad took pride in his dropping out of high school the last semester of his senior year. If cornered, he would admit to getting his high school diploma later in life, as he could not find meaningful work until he did.
Upwardly mobile rednecks, my parents moved from their childhood home in rural, east Texas to the big city where I grew up. It was a small suburb near Houston, but with 25,000 people, they felt citified. I had an aunt that lived in that town and she felt far more affluent than us because her road was paved and ours was not. Apparently Aunt Agnes got to choose from the Redneck Menu A, while our clan got stuck with Redneck Menu B. I’m not certain, but Agnes made mother cry when she pointed out the disparity in their socioeconomic status.
I helped mother stop crying when I reminded her of Aunt Agnes’s accent, which was a sign of poor upbringing and lack of culture. Mother still had a Texas accent as all good people should; but, she had adapted her east Texan nasal twang to be a more metropolitan Houstonian accent, a feat to which most Texans aspire. Having a Houston accent in Texas is akin to having a Midwestern accent to the rest of the country. It just sits in your ears nicely.
Rednecks look at the world differently and perhaps, if one believes in karma and reincarnation, it was for this purpose that I picked my upbringing. Working hard is a redneck value, despite the stereotype of laziness. Working smart is not the same in that culture. A better description might be working clever… er, cleverer, or more clever. Cleverly. That’s the word, working cleverly. Okay, it really doesn’t work, but bear with me.
Say you have few resources. With little money and big tasks to do around the house after work, a well-set redneck family only needs, duct tape, WD-40 and at least one working vehicle to get most things done. Cardboard can be found for free. Used wood can be appropriated. Broken appliances and tools can be scavenged. With all that material, rednecks can build just about anything. The goal is to spend lots of time building or creating something that will make the job at hand easier.
For instance, let’s say you need to move a load of bricks from the front yard to the shed; and, of course, there is a shed. Your kid has outgrown that wagon. It’ll do fine. Is the wagon missing a wheel? Not a problem, there’s an old wheel in the shed that came off the oldest kid’s skate. It doesn’t matter that it’s three sizes too small. It’s a wheel. It rolls, at least when the wagon tumps down low enough on that end. Boom! You just spent two hours fixing the wagon, then thirty minutes moving the bricks, 2 and half hours total. If you had just carried the bricks in the first place, you might have only spent an hour and half total. But, that doesn’t matter because you have a working wagon, which means that you can tote stuff in the future. Well, you can tote stuff in the future when you replace that one wheel, because it broke again.
It’s a mindset, being a redneck. You make do. You get creative. You are proud of the weird contraption you invent to do the job. You spend $0 doing it.
When I announce to my friends in Kansas that I am a redneck made good, they are shocked until they remember that I am originally from Texas. My redneck upbringing did not prevent me from attaining white collar, middle-class status, which is both a dream and a nightmare for redneck parents. Those parents want their kids to do better in life than they did, but they also fear those kids will “get above their raising.” This dichotomy of existence often causes me to laugh, but the redneck lexicon of work values comes in handy.
A few years ago, I went on vacation with my two older kids, one grown and one about to be. The little motel we found on our way to Chicago had free breakfast, which is always a plus, but jackpot for my redneck frugality. I was the first one in the room to get up the next morning, but one of the last stragglers in the motel to get goodies. I decided to get the kids a plate or they were going to miss out on free food. We can’t have that. While getting biscuits and gravy, coffee, and a banana for myself, I also carried two other plates of food for my kids. On the way to the elevator, I filled the ice bucket and bought two cans of pop. I carried all of that to the room in one trip without spilling or dropping. That, my friends, is proof that I am a redneck rockstar.
Assuming reincarnation is true and that I may pick my next life from the karma menu I need the most, I take pride in thinking that I will avoid Aunt Agnes’s Redneck Menu A. After all, I live on a paved street, except mine has curbs and gutters, where hers only had ditches, not that I’m bragging: Aunt Agnes shouldn’t have made mother cry is all. No, when I survey the totality of my life and assess what is missing, I am guessing that I will be handed choices like Athlete Menu, Ballerina Menu, or Quiet, Humble Menu. I don’t assume I will get to be a cow and I am fine with that.
(Image "Redneck Sunset Alt" by: Flickr User Derek Gavey)