Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Look Away, Dixie Land

 For Southern nostalgia buffs who like to sing "Dixie," here's something to consider: that "land of cotton" the song mythologizes is with us still, though not in ways that would make a person long to go there. The Daily Yonder, one of my favorite websites, has a story today on "persistent poverty counties" as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When it comes to rural poverty, the original Cotton Kingdom, also known as the Black Belt because it contains a high number of counties where African Americans are an overwhelming majority of the residents, shows up in vivid green as a a band of overwhelming rural poverty.. I recommend you click on the link to see the map; it leaps out at you. It's worth noting that the other striking pattern of rural poverty is in--who woulda guessed?--Appalachia.

The South doesn't have a monopoly on rural poverty, but it's close: it has 84 percent of the total. According to the USDA report, "There are no non-metro persistent poverty counties in the Northeast, 29 non-metro persistent poverty counties in the Midwest, and 20 in the West. The remaining 252 ...are in the South."  If you live in the rural South, there's about a one-in-four chance that you will be living in poverty.

Seventy-five years after FDR called the South "America's Economic Problem Number 1" and 45 years after Robert Kennedy toured Appalachia, some things haven't changed. The big thing that has changed is the difficulty facing the people who live in these counties: in 1968, the difference between the poorest and the richest in this country had been poking along at about the same rate for decades; starting in the 1980s, the rich started getting richer, and that trend has been accelerating ever since. It's no wonder that the Honey Boo-Boos of the South exist; the wonder is that they manage to be so darn cheerful. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Screaming Hour

Tonight I was sleuthing through some old computer files looking for something, and I found this. It is dated February 2007, and though the computer credits me with being its author, I have no memory of writing it. I was having some, um, mental health treatments around about that time, which created a wide swath in my frontal lobe's memory banks, so that probably explains why its discovery today comes as such a complete surprise. If anybody is interested in the original saccharine and insipid literary gem to which this refers, you can find it here.

And now, here offered without further comment:

With No Apologies Whatsoever to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the Old Fart

By Tracy Thompson


Between the dark and the daylight
As the night is beginning to lower
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations
That is known as the Screaming Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
A thunderous sibling stampeding,
A slam that would shatter a doorframe,
My six-year-old howling, “I’M BLEEDING!”

From my study I see in the lamplight
Two divas descending the stair.
“I DID NOT!” comes my 10-year-old’s roaring;
“YOU DID, TOO!” yells Miss Curly Hair.

A whisper, and then a silence
And I know from the whimper-marked hush
One’s raiding the Band-Aid supply
While her big sister hisses, “You wuss!”

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the door!
They’ve seen me! They descend full of grievance,
Tales of woe, wrongs endured, marks of gore.
Little Sophie hits “delete” on my keyboard
While she rats out her big sister’s sin;
If I tell them to leave, they ignore me;
Emma screams, “I HATE BEING TEN!”

Oh, what I’d give for an icepick
I’d stick it right into my brain
Maybe a home-made lobotomy
Would keep me from going insane

From this 5 p.m. scourge of fighting,
Low blood sugar, wails, homework hell.
Then again, the racket these kids make
Would penetrate a well-padded cell.

Do you think, o mother who reads this,
That because my kids cause me these woes
That you’re a superior parent?
That your children will never be foes?

Maybe so. All that I’m sure of
Is that if H.W. Longfellow were here,
I’d say, “You think kids are so darling?
Take mine, then. I need a beer.”