Tuesday found me in my garage staring at my blackened hands. Turning them around in the angular light I had a flash of my Grandpa's. Bocephus (Hank Williams, Jr.) started singing into my heart, "Country folk can survive..."
My people get dirt under their nails because they exercise self-reliance, ingenuity and determination. We fix our own stuff, rather than call a repair person. We patch and darn and keep things usable. Grandpa Andy could make anything grow, shape steel with his own kiln, bellows and anvil, carve intricate moving objects from a single piece of wood, and cobble shoes. When neighbors died, he constructed coffins and Grandma Andy made the burial outfits. He mined coal or built highways during the day, walked home carrying sacks of supplies for the family and then worked in his garden until after dark.
Grandpa Shinn could dismantle and reassemble engines, transmissions and other vital systems on diesel-powered equipment. He could listen to a car engine run and tell you if it had certain defects. He once lifted an entire 2x6 framed wall section and set it on the foundation 18 inches high. When my brother stepped on a nail, Grandpa pulled it out with a pair of pliers to help relieve his pain!
Both my Grandpas worked hard and came home dirty. Both, though, would wash off the day and you could not find a speck afterwards. They both lived in quiet confidence and a sense of self-worth that defied the judgement of those whose hands were never soiled with manly labor.
So as I crouched in the semi-light of my garage, changing my wife's brake pads, I saw on myself the line of my ancestry. I was not ashamed of the dirt streaking my hands. Instead I swelled with love, appreciation and pride as I thought that I, too, am Appalacian. Maybe I was just a little bit like them. I am carrying forward a rich heritage of tenacity and knowledge that has allowed my people to thrive in this rugged, isolated and rural place for generations.
Thanks, John and Oscar, hope I can pass on your strength to Eli and his sons, too.