The standard of living within that area is reflected in the 1960 census, which lists two of those counties, Martin and Magoffin, as having the lowest per capita income of any all-white population in the United States. If we had known that particular statistic, it would have been interpreted by us Lord-lovin' churchfolk as a positive sign, since the Bible says, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." I have never worried about that particular proclamation, since I feel certain that, if any of my people do not make it through the pearly gates, it damn sure will not be because we gathered unto us too much in the way of worldly goods.
For me, looking back on my life has been a lot like reading tea leaves. I drank that tea, sip by sip, and thought myself cognizant of its most minute properties; yet, as I have sifted through my memories, I've found myself uncertain of specifics of stories I have passed on for years. Thus, I offer this work as my own reality, as I saw it. These tea leaves get no more legible.
I want first to take you back with me to the place of my growing up, where I learned to parse the world--to look at it and interpret it as it was processed through this body and by this mind or some earlier incarnation of same. I am my history; and however much I may think I have changed, in retrospect, parts of me have hardly changed at all. I believe I have always had the same desire--one that is not too unusual, although it probably shows itself in different ways--the desire to be heard. For the most part, children are not heard anywhere, and it was no different where I grew up. In my community, power was thought to come straight from the Word of God, revealed to us through biblical scriptures. Although many people probably could not read much past sixth-grade level, they believed that every word in the Bible was true and were fond of proclaiming that, often and vehemently, to cut off any questioning or curiosity.
Transgendered people speak of having felt early on that they had been born into the wrong body. Although I cannot identify with that statement in terms of sexual orientation or proclivity, it accurately describes my feelings about my early life. My world never folded around me in the way it seemed to drape itself lovingly and warmly around everybody else I grew up with. Early on, I was a bundle of curiosity, not fixed on any specific object but largely random and uncontrolled. In a world full of people who bent their shoulder to the wheel and accepted the hard life filled with the physical work and misery that God had given them, I was pretty close to worthless. As children, everyone took on the serious responsibilities of working in the fields, raising crops, and caring for the farm animals and the younger children. Although I carried out my assigned duties, I always lacked the attitude of seriousness embodied by my peers. I was like a bale of fencing wire: No matter how much I tried to roll myself into a tight little bundle, something was always springing loose, which necessitated some poor overworked grown-up's trying to put it back.
As a child, and even as an adolescent, I was far more hindrance in everybody's life than help because I had to be closely supervised to make certain that I did not waste time daydreaming or blurt out some outrageous comment that would hurt people's feelings or make them mad. The biggest problem, from my perspective, was that I could never figure out exactly what the folks who peopled my world wanted from me. I realize that it seems, upon reflection, remarkably simple, since I could, even then, repeat after folks the words they told me. But all my energies, traits, and desires kept getting in the way of my carrying out my prescribed role.
Step one of my journey back must be to revisit Two-Mile Creek in my growing-up years. Those early years taught me what to expect of myself and everybody else, and the strength of those early beliefs shaped the way I lived and gave meaning to the rest of my life. First, let us look at a map of Kentucky. If you do not remember its shape, I would refresh your memory by reminding you of the oft-repeated description that "Kentucky is shaped like a camel lying down." Now let your finger, or your mind, travel as far east as you can go without leaving the state, right nearabouts that camel's tail. If you look north of Pikeville, you will see Prestonsburg, as in Linda Sue Preston. That's me--or was. Keep traveling north to Paintsville, the county seat of Johnson County, the county where I was born and came into knowing as much as I can believe I know. Then head east toward Inez, which is hard up against the state line, if you do not count the little communities of Beauty, Lovely, and Warfield--which nobody with any sense does. Between Paintsville and Inez, you will find Meally, which is Buffalo; Williamsport, which is Two-Mile; and Boons Camp, which is Greasy. I could go on and tell you about Thelma, which is Bob's Branch; Thealka, which is Muddy Branch; and Whitehouse, which is Bee Branch, but no need. All the places have two names.
Copyright Linda Scott Derosier. Published with the permission of the publisher, The University of Kentucky Press.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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