Summer Prayer of a Hebrew Redneck Wannabe


Every summer, right in the hot, soft belly of July/August, I’m hit with it in the head, like the skillet of an angry housewife: the urge to play Alan Jackson loud with the windows of my minivan rolled down (ain’t got no truck, just my luck), hang back on my porch at sundown, and go out drinking with the girls. You guessed that right, son – Redneck Fever.

I’m guessing I can’t be the only (sub)urban sophisticate, the lone overly-serious Jewish girl with an occasional thing for white trashiness. Growing up in Baltimore / Silver Spring in the 80′s, I was buffered by a strong, warm, and nosy Orthodox community, but just beyond the breach in the bubble stretched vast redneck territory, and boy: the country radio was sweet, and so was the drive out to the pool where I guarded up in Reisterstown, and the trip out to Spa Lady in Timonium. And going Down-the-Ocean, or to school down in Montgomery County via US route 29 from B-more, you best believe we crossed paths with plenty of Earls and Randy’s.

I’ll tell you what: The thing I miss most about America, truth be told, is not the jumbo sized Mountain Dew or even Bed, Bath and Beyond. It’s the people. The space they give you, the space in them. Things are simple, basic, and on an as-need basis. Ain’t no right or wrong way to breathe, hon.

 Take the relaxed way the locals speak, south of the Mason-Dixon, the reassuring gait out back to the truck to get another part, the walk of a man who isn’t quite sure (and doesn’t quite care) what the final result was of the Civil War. (Yes, I am aware – this has its downsides…) He’s got time, and he keeps his thoughts to himself. They are probably straightforward thoughts and not historically complicated, mired in guilt, or otherwise needing of footnotes and subscripts and ardent, multi-nuanced opinions.

And I’m betting on no Bluetooth sticking to his ear.

Where’s the Israeli ability to sit quietly with one’s thoughts? Or to separate sin from guilt, wrong from outright lost? We could use some self-forgiveness around here, some private 12oz. absolution. Calm contrition. Contemplative work. “Hell, was I wrong, but tomorrow is for fixin’. Now back to what needs doin’.” Can you hear that coming from a Levantine mouth?

 And excuse the non-sequitur, but what about baseball? Remember night games in August rained out in the 5th, beer and nachos floating down the aisles, sunburned women in yellow ponchos running to the car and thinking they’d be protecting their hair with the drenched paper program they were holding up over their heads? Shoot, ain’t nostalgia a bitch.

And if you still had any doubt that Rednecks rock, I have just two more words: True Blood.  This show had me at Howdy because it involves my two very favorite things of the moment: Rednecks and Vampires. I’ll be a network exec’s uncle if I know what they have in common (predators???) but DAMN.

Throw in Brad Pitt’s debut in Thelma and Louise and know this: 10 months a year I LOVE that my argumentative, close-talking, fast-walking, dark, intense, complex, spiritual and spiritual-phobic, text-obsessed, content-driven, sarcastic and bombastic, cell-phone shouting, hi-tech worshipping, God-ambivalent family of Jews is who I live among, but LORD – if I don’t wish every summer for a wide open I-64 and a beat- up old Ford, some Virginia dreamin’, and a bottle of Mountain Dew so big I can hear my kidneys screamin’.

 Amen.


20 Comments

  1. Heshy Fried

    8/3/2009 at 9:03 am

    Fellow Redneck Jew over here – I drive my subaru without a shirt (hebrew bumper stickers on the back) and blast country music all summer long.

  2. sarke

    8/3/2009 at 9:10 am

    pleased to meet ya
    you might get thinkin on tradin in that subaru for somthin american made, son
    :)

  3. Mia*

    8/3/2009 at 9:41 am

    Sometimes when I sit outside in the evening breeze listening to the crickets, I doze off and dream of swimming pools that smell of bar-b-que and beer, and blond guys with mustaches in pickup trucks, and “bless you dear”s, and giant mountain dews, and of people called Cindy and Kerrie, and Tracy and Randy, and Buddy… and the smell of a summer rainstorm
    And I hum little tunes about young cowboys and midnight rodeos.
    I guess a little bit of Texas still lives in my heart.

  4. sarke

    8/3/2009 at 10:30 am

    Mia girl that was purty

  5. Tom Morrissey

    8/3/2009 at 11:13 am

    Look on the bright side. The Orioles and Nationals are still horrible.

  6. Huw

    8/3/2009 at 11:38 am

    One Needn’t apologize. There is ample history of good (and of course bad) below the M-D line jsut as above. One should read up on Judah P Benjamin…
    en.wikipedia.o...

    And there’s also this
    jewish-history...

    But, not to dash your romantic dreams, I think a good many of my friends in Dixie have bluetooth now.

  7. themiddle

    8/3/2009 at 11:53 am

    Nice writing, Sarke.

    By the way, I think the Israeli equivalent to the “redneck” you describe is a certain type of kibbutznik or moshavnik. They’re the quiet ones who know how to fix anything, tend to gravitate to the physical work in the fields and end up in the commando units where they hardly ever speak, just go about doing the heavy lifting quietly. After they marry, they drive beat up Peugeots with storage in the back and go with their earthy Israeli spouses to shira ba’tzibur-public singing- type of events where they sing old Hebrew songs. Of course, their wives wear simple dresses, no make-up and have sons that compete with their dads to see who is tougher. Lots of moustaches in these families.

  8. sarke

    8/3/2009 at 12:43 pm

    TM – remember raful? like that. mustaches seem to be a hallmark of the subset in every culture! hunh. whats up w that?

  9. Ephraim

    8/3/2009 at 1:09 pm

    My mother’s family is from Montgomery Alabama, and to her dying day my grandmother had an accent so thick a knife couldn’t cut it.

    There are some good things south of the Mason-Dixon Line, I grant you: cornbread, buttermilk biscuits, fruit cobbler, gumbo, etc. And there’s nothing better than a mint julep on a hot summer day.

    However, I think they could have done without the cross-burnings on their lawn and the kidnapping and assault that put my grandfather in hospital and nearly killed him and almost assuredly contributed to his death a couple of years before I was born so I never had a chance to know him.

    Other than that, I suppose Dixie can be a nice place.

  10. Ben-David

    8/3/2009 at 1:14 pm

    … and “settler youth” are just a religious version of that.

    With Torah scholarship n’all.

  11. sarke

    8/3/2009 at 2:42 pm

    Huw – aw cmon say it aint so.

    ephraim – jeez. other than that!

    ben david – mmm…not sure about that. on several levels. thinkin on it.

  12. Ephraim

    8/3/2009 at 4:27 pm

    Oh, yeah: chicken and dumplings.

  13. Tom Morrissey

    8/3/2009 at 7:27 pm

    Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane. Eudora Welty. Sally Mann. The Republican Party.

  14. ML

    8/3/2009 at 10:29 pm

    Judah Benjamin….really? The man who was referred to as Davis’s “house Jew” by most of the generals.

    I’ll take some Kinky Friedman though.

  15. sarke

    8/4/2009 at 12:36 am

    TM – so interesting that this gets taken to a place of content / sophistication (with possible exception of your last example) when the whole piece was an escape thereof. I guess some of us cant help it. :)

  16. themiddle

    8/4/2009 at 1:10 am

    It’s all thanks to Tom Morrissey. ;)

  17. Mike Darnell

    8/4/2009 at 1:55 am

    I discovered Rednecks and Israelis share a lot of great qualities when I was granted “Honorary Redneck” status by my friends in Hot Springs Arkansas last year: flickr.com/pho...

    BTW I strongly recommend the place…
    : )

  18. Mia*

    8/4/2009 at 6:39 am

    Ephraim, My grandma was from Mobile but lived most of her life in New Orleans and had the accent to prove it. I get goosebumps whenever I hear old ladies with thick Southern accents, which is almost never except for right after Katrina.
    Yes I know Southern Jews go way back. I sometimes think of my forfather who came to America in the early 1800′s taking a look at New York and thinking fffeh I’ll get off at the next stop and landing in Alabama.
    But those blond people in the boots and hats are so much more interesting and romantic.
    I never thought of the resemblance between rednecks and kibbitznikim, though I do kind of see it now that you’ve mentioned it.

  19. Ephraim

    8/4/2009 at 5:37 pm

    Mia, how did your grandmother pronounce “New Orleans”?

    My grandmother always called it “Nawlins” (or “Nyew Awlins” if she was trying to be careful about pronouncing it properly).

  20. Mia*

    8/5/2009 at 2:17 am

    Ephraim, That’s right. The N is very short and the “aw” is long. I used to try to say it like that when I was little, but it’s hard to get it right.

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