“Here’s to the boys back in 628, where an ear to the wall was a twist of fate.” These lyrics refer to a pack of vicious gossips, overheard by the narrator while talking a bunch of smack about him. This tickled me when I first heard the story behind it, because 628 is the telephone exchange of the small town where I grew up and, as the saying goes, a more wretched hive of scum and villainy is scarcely to be found.
Well, okay, so that’s an exaggeration. But, as I found out when I ventured out to work in surrounding cities, we do have a reputation for being a hardheaded, clannish, unpleasant people, and it’s not entirely unfounded. I never really wondered about this – I hated that reputation and found it embarrassing, but it was what it was – but I never thought about it until recently.
A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Huey Long, A Biography By T. Harry Williams. I thought I was going to read a biography of, you know, Huey Long, but first I was treated to a pretty frank and commonsense summing-up of the parish where I was born and raised (we don’t have counties here in Louisiana, we have parishes). Back when Louisiana was being settled, the area that would become Winn Parish didn’t have much to recommend it, according to T. Harry, whom I assume knows what he’s talking about. The soil was too poor for farming, really, and there was nothing to trade (this is before the lumber industry took ahold). The people who settled here were, by necessity, stubborn and possibly delusional. They were a people not much swayed by others’ opinions, and of this select group of settlers, even fewer dug their heels in hard enough to find success. What success they did find was pitiful by wealthier parishes’ standards, but Winn Parish people likely neither realized that nor would’ve cared much if they had. When the regional climate turned rebellious in the 1860s, Winn Parish collectively spat on the ground and instructed their delegate to vote against secession. They weren’t slaveholders, they reasoned; it wasn’t their war. The delegate shared this view and voted the Winn Parish conscience, and when outvoted, refused to sign off on the decision. (He did, however, dutifully raise a force to send to fight for the Confederacy.) This was the climate that produced Earl and Huey Long, the former a poster child for Winn Parish jackassery and the latter a perfect storm of intellect, ambition and ruthlessness.
My takeaway from this, filtered through my own experience, is that if you have roots here (my own family has buried our sixth generation at Pleasant Hill cemetery), you likely have a strong streak of stubbornness running through you. This can be a fine thing if it’s tempered with the thoughtfulness and purpose exhibited by our ancestors. The “Winnians” of today, though, tend to have this manifest in what can only be described as douchebag behavior; insular, unthinking, a backwoods strain of pigheadedness that’s no credit to anyone. It’s unfortunate, because we can be so much better than we are. We have the blueprints; we have the inherited ability. It’s a good thing the dead can’t reanimate, as it’s my belief that if our forefathers could see how we’ve squandered their legacy, they would summarily kick the shit out of us.