For his partial native blood, his biker leathers and his uncanny ability to converse intelligently despite having drunk more 151 rum than any human should attempt, Billy was a redneck. A Minnesotan, dyed in the wool iron range hillbilly who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into polite company. He never did quite manage to tame his wide eyed biblical aversions to homosexuality despite my trying to cure him of his fears with some gentle admonishment and not so gentle correction of his language, he managed to be insensitive in all kinds of ways despite meaning no harm at all, and charmingly wandered the streets of NYC with fishing lures spiking his pockets, next to his guitar picks and bar room matchbook collection. I had to cure him of his dip habit early on in the friendship, I could not bear to see him spit brown stained juice on the floor while my European self tried to make excuses, and stop the stares of more refined company. I know, I know, it is not fair to try and change somebody if you love them, but he was really in need of some help if he was going to survive two minutes in the big bad city.
Billy could catch dogs, despite refusing to chase after them, they trotted right up to him, nosing his hand for a treat or a pat, horses adored him, in fact animals of all kinds seemed to sense a kindred spirit in him. He took me to visit an old friend of his from times and professions gone by, a scary older guy, with a huge beard, a gruff demeanor, and three wolf dogs. I was standing next to Billy, but not close enough, in this junk yard, discarded car wreck of a yard, when the dogs started circling me, getting close and closer. He quietly moved over to me, grabbed me by the jacket, and virtually threw me the other side of the fence before I could even protest. While I was rubbing my shoulder and about to start to give him a piece of my mind, one of the wolf dogs threw itself at the fence, ears pinned back, eyes showing the wild within. Yes, sometimes I was grateful Billy was a redneck. When we needed to cobble together a fix for something in the RV, or hang a washing line, or I needed him to wring out the washing with his big old bear paws, or take out the trash, dump the black water tank, and other such dirty jobs which he did without a murmur I began to gain affection for the more earthy of this beautiful country’s citizens. He always could find a washer or a screw that fit everything from a motorcycle to a cupboard door, he would scour the floor, picking up lost bits of hardware like some kinda hardware obsessed magpie. He could fix almost anything to last for a day, but almost nothing to last for a month. I never saw him judge the poor, or the struggling or the addicted or the afflicted. He would gave a hungry man half his sandwich, and help anyone if they needed it. I figure in Minnesotan winters if you are not helpful and kind and find yourself in trouble, your neighbors might well just drive on by. I suppose it benefits everyone to be kind and helpful, and there are lessons I learnt there in giving and being grateful for what we have.
I never really understood Billy until he took me home, home to Minnesota and the Iron Range. These small deprived towns, the inhabitants the butts of jokes about Ano and Toivo poaching deer, or going to dances with girls with wooden eyes, are full of decent, salt of the earth people. Friendly, warm, unpretentious, welcoming people. They like their guns, and they like their hockey, they love their fishing and their keggers, they don’t much like being told what to do or how, or that their freedoms are curtailed in any way: these communities are essentially good. When I saw Trump gain a foothold in these places, fooling these decent people that he was there for them, that they mattered, that he liked them and appreciated them and their life-long hard work, the slog of making a living off the mines and the farms, I breathed a sigh of dismay. He used them, maliciously, wantonly, without a care for their wellbeing, and I knew we were in trouble.
Trump stands for everything I detest in this world, his rich orange ass playing Everyman, whilst lining the pockets of the billionaires, but these decent people are dragged into a game they have no idea he was playing, and I fear it is not over yet. Billy started to make noises supporting the Don, and that was that. The start of the end of a decades long friendship, and the cause for many many disagreements. He brought out the worst of the small town suspicious mindset, and that was that for me and Minnesota. I could not do it any longer. In the end, it was not wholly responsible, but it put an end to our relationship and our friendship, a gap in experience and mindsets that we hopped usually with no trouble, turning into a chasm, a gulf we could not cross any longer. The death knell for any relationship is contempt and I started feeling it in bucketloads, as sad as that is.
I never felt unwelcome within Minnesota’s borders, the children accepted mostly without issue, but a vein of racial tension hung in the air, even then. We headed back west, and I felt a longing for the lakes and the big trees, the hills and the loons. I did not miss being bitten by mosquitos that left Billy and the kids alone, but took huge chunks out of me, every day for months, swelling up into huge welts, not for the Minnesotan-roulette game of getting bitten by ticks, pulling them off, and hoping not to see the tell tale lyme disease bullseye welt appear. I did miss the fishing, the hockey, the open honesty and unpretentious friendliness. I missed people saying hello and meaning it, instead of the cool ignoring of Oregon. I still do, as much as the city and California suits me, as comfortable as I am here, I will always miss it, and the people who live there.
A lot of my foreign friends don’t understand the goodness, the strength, the resilience and beauty of the people who live in these less populated areas and communities. Redneck is employed as a sneer, and post Trump, I plead guilty to sometimes feeling it myself, my anger at the shit show that transpired, the racism and the cruelty and the disaster, the wreckless law breaking and making wearing masks a political statement, rather than responding to the crisis by trying to protect each other. I am sorry. I don’t agree with you, but I have no desire to be mean.
I love you guys, even if I feel attacked and not much love coming back from them to me. I won’t ever agree with rodeos, worrying for the safety and comfort of the animals, I wont ever be swayed from my pescatarian diet not even when you plate up vast delicious slabs of BBQ that you have lovingly smoked yourself in your own backyard smoker.
I might not always take the more than curious requests for my life history and explanations for my accent, with as much good nature as you might like, depending on the tone in which you ask me. Start on that racist bullshit, which I know you are ALL much better than, my friends, and you will get to hear my supposedly refined ass tell you what is fucking what, but I admire you. I admire your ability to make do and mend, I admire the fact you stick together, blood ties or not. I admire your commitment to freedom. I admire your ice fishing capabilities, and your dog taming skills. I admire your ability to mix a great margarita, build a campfire, and steer a pontoon – not all at the same time, though I wouldn’t put it past ya!
I admire your grit, your determination and your warmth, and I hope to see you again, as a friend, once this country has fully healed from the rift that Don caused. I will ask, politely, people who don’t live here, who don’t understand, don’t get the culture, and the goodness, please don’t shame or mock. We are trying to heal over here, and it really doesn’t help. We need to reach out and get better, as a society, and there is absolutely no way the USA will ever make guns illegal. Conversations need to be had, but it really isn’t the right time: we are all hurting too bad.
It will be too late for me and my redneck, he won’t be there, and for me that is a personal tragedy that destroyed a lot of affection and admiration built over decades. Fuck Donald Trump. I love you guys.
The Grrrl with the accent that you can never quite place.