Category Archives: patriotism

Viva the Tidewater!

A map depicting the various American Nations identified by Colin Woodward in his book, North American Nations.

A map depicting the various American Nations identified by Colin Woodard in his book, North American Nations.

This question has long flummoxed me: “How can I self-identify as both a Southerner and an American and still find the mindset of fully half of my fellow countrymen utterly incomprehensible?”

Or, to put it more succinctly, “What is wrong with these people?”

I’ve finally found my answer in Colin Woodard’s fascinating and compelling book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.  According to Woodard — and his arguments are extremely cogent — North America was … and is less a melting pot than a witch’s brew of fundamentally different and often diametrically opposed cultures that do not often see eye to eye.  It turns out I am not alone in my fear and loathing of “those people”.  We’re all in the same boat . . . just in different camps.

In a post for the Washington Post, Reid Wilson summarizes, as per Woodard, the three nations that made up the Southern block of the “United” States:

“Tidewater: The coastal regions in the English colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware tend to respect authority and value tradition. Once the most powerful American nation, it began to decline during Westward expansion.

“Greater Appalachia: Extending from West Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains and into Northwest Texas, the descendants of Irish, English and Scottish settlers value individual liberty. Residents are “intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers.”

“Deep South: Dixie still traces its roots to the caste system established by masters who tried to duplicate West Indies-style slave society, Woodard writes. The Old South values states’ rights and local control and fights the expansion of federal powers.”

I decided to poke around in my family’s history with a slighter sharper stick than I have hitherto deployed in order to ascertain what the Hell kind of Southerner I am,

This is what I discovered.

My direct forebear, John Hardy, was born in 1665 in Dorchestershire, England, immigrated to the James River in Virginia and traveled thence to the Albemarle region of North Carolina via the Chowan River, acquiring 640 acres in what is now Bertie County in 1695 and taking up residence on a property known as the Manor Plantation.  He owned considerable property besides along Salmon Creek and, contrary to my assertions in an earlier blog post, Ruminations on the Confederacy, that we were Crackers, the family was prominent enough that John’s son of the same name held a number of public offices, including sitting as a Member of the House of Burgesses – the oldest legislative body in North Carolina.  My people settled in the Tidewater more than three hundred years ago and  stayed put for fifteen generations. I think it’s safe to say that I am a Tidewaterite.

When I asked my Grandfather Hardy what his people had done in the Civil War, he replied, “Why, they hid in the swamp every time the recruiter came by. They didn’t think the war had anything to do with them. They were dirt farmers.  They didn’t own slaves.”

Turns out Pops was being  a tad disingenuous. Twenty nine Hardys fought on the Confederate side, we did own a small number of slaves, and we were by no means dirt farmers, even though, over time, large land holdings ceased to be the norm in the Tidewater as fathers divided land between their children.

Hardy Family Home in Bertie County -- the before shot

Hardy Family Home in Bertie County

All this explains why there was always something rather courtly about my grandfather, uncle and father — affable, humorous men with nary a whiff of the downright cussedness typical of the denizens of the Nation of Appalachia or the sanctimonious snake-eyed supremicism that characterizes those of the Deep South.

Slavery is a blot on all Southerners’  escutcheon and, no matter how hard you scrub, it doesn’t come out in the wash.  That being said, I’ll take my fellow Tidewater natives Thomas Jefferson and George Washington over Andrew Jackson and George Wallace any day.

 

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True Patriot Hearts

ohcanadalyricsNational anthems make me cry. Not all national anthems, just mine.  Because I’m a hybrid – that is to say, an Americanadian —  I have two national anthems: The Star Spangled Banner and O Canada.  My worst nightmare?  A joint Canadian and American event, kicked off by not one but both national anthems, usually with a bagpiper thrown in to up the emotional ante.     By the time the last verse wraps up, I’m heaving with sobs and in literal black face; even waterproof mascara cannot withstand the upwelling in mine eyes of tears unleashed by these patriotic paens.

And I don’t even much like these songs.  Not only are they impossible to sing, but they are fundamentally silly.  “True patriot hearts in all thy sons command.” Really?  What are all of Canada’s daughters doing? Canning?   And, “With glowing hearts, we see thee rise!”  Rise from where?  To do what?

As for the back story to The Star Spangled Banner — based on a poem written by a lawyer and amateur poet after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy  in the War of 1812.  All I can say is, “Keep your day job, Francis Scott Key!”  Besides, it wasn’t as if the War of 1812 was a real war.  It was more like a war-ette and one the United States lost, even though Americans are loathe to admit it.  Yes, the star spangled banner may have yet waved over Fort McHenry, but the British torched the White House and the U.S. failed in its attempt to conquer Canada – a victory Canadians attribute largely to Laura Secord’s cow.  That was some cow. The chocolates aren’t bad either.

So why do my national anthems make me cry?   Patriotism, in and of itself, is scarcely a virtue.  After all, what is patriotism but territorialism with an upgrade? Wolves pee to demarcate their territory and then proceed to howl about it.  We secure our borders with blood, sweat and tears — like urine, bodily fluids – then break out in renditions of O Canada and The Star Spangled Banner  — usually out of key — to celebrate the fact that it’s ours, not theirs.  “He’s too territorial,” we say of the dog that bites the postman on the way to the front door.  “He’s dangerous.  He’s got to be put down.”  What about those moron vigilantes patrolling the border between Mexico and the United States, those “patriots”?  Are they that much different from overzealous, rampaging dogs?  How about putting them down?

Canada is a thin warm line hugging a vast frozen frontier – bravado in the form of O Canada fortifies the spirit as we hunker down for yet another long, cold winter – “Yes, we are a people. Yes, we own this, albeit we scarfed it from First Nations. Yes, we belong here even though the land would, by its wintry actions, beg to differ.” It’s like my mother said.  “I understand why people went to Canada.  What I don’t understand is why they stayed.”  Needless to say, Martha Nell was not a big fan of cold.

As for the United States, I suppose there are more fractured societies, but it’s scarcely united.  Democrats think Republicans are from Mars and Republicans think Democrats are from Hell.  Yet, at every sports event, up to our feet we leap to hear our national anthem mutilated – our idea of a great send off to the men and boys who, twenty years later, will have puddings for brains.  Hooray for us!

Still I weep. I guess I’m a sucker.  For that one glorious moment when I am swept up in the heady romance that is nationalism, I feel at one with the past, with history, with those who have come before me and those who will come after me and all of those whose voices are raised alongside mine.  Isn’t this grand, I think.   Aren’t I blessed?  Does God not shed His grace on me?

And then the moment ends and I realize that I 1) don’t believe in God; 2) have racoon eyes; and 3) unless this is the Democratic Convention, many of my fellow warblers are probably from the Red Planet.

Maybe we should do away with national anthems altogether and commission an Earth anthem instead.  I could get behind that. Only, please,  can it be a little less lame than the ones we’ve got?