The river is up this morning. We got a little rain yesterday but it must have rained pretty heavy upriver because it’s up pretty high. One of my fellow travelers this weekend greeted me as I was walking down to take a shower holding a couple of catfish that he’d caught on his trotline. I took a picture of him with his fish because I know that’s what these redneck fellows like to do. I see it online all the time. They love their fish …. four wheelers … trucks … and boats. If there’s one thing I learned living all over the country, it’s that you learn the local ways as soon as possible unless you want to be considered an outsider. I set myself to the task of relearning my Louisiana hick ways this weekend. It can best be described as my Redneck Immersion Experience (RIE).
This weekend was planned as a Fourth of July camping trip for some of my old college friends. But, since I moved back unexpectedly to the area, the timing was perfect as a transition weekend from my life in Memphis to my new life in Louisiana. When I arrived to the undisclosed location in Amite County MS, I was already in a bit of a culture shock. First of all, I had to stop at a Wal-Mart. I hate Wal-Mart, but this is where you’ve got to get stuff that you have at home but forgot to bring. It was bad enough that I had to go to Wal-Mart, but I was in the Coke aisle (for you yanks, all pop, soda pop, soft drinks, etc. are called Coke down here) and I ran into a childhood friend of my brothers. I have lived away for 30 years. I rarely run into people I know. It happens on occasion, but it is rare. I said, “Michael?” He said, “Hey, I heard you were moving back here.” We talked for a minute, and, when he walked away, I realized that life as I knew it had changed. I now had the possibility of running into hundreds of people that I know anywhere I went in the area. I am going to have to behave myself. I totally forgot how it feels to be in a small town.
I arrived at the RIE location on Wednesday night. It was a small compound with several bunkhouses, an air-conditioned camper, an outdoor kitchen and a bathhouse. I was told the rules up front. The women will sleep in the camper with the air conditioning, and the guys will sleep in the bunkhouse. I already knew some of the other rules from previous experience. It will be loud. Some of it will be incomprehensible to my refined city mind. It will be crass. Somebody will probably get nekkid. There will be lots of meat cooked primarily by the men. The women will sit and talk while the men sit and talk somewhere else. On occasion, we will mix. The weekend, as always, will be timed not by a clock but by the meals. There were no directions to the compound. I was to be met by my friend Pam at the Dollar General to be escorted onto the RIE grounds. The only thing that was missing was a blindfold, but, since I was driving, that would have been problematic.
First of all, this is going to be a bit of a series. I was there for a about 64 hours, 22 minutes – but who’s counting? I could probably write my first novel based on this weekend, and I might. When I tell you – which, by the way, is a phrase heard often from the redneck ring leader Russel – that this weekend was rich with stories, it is a bold understatement. We covered some ground. I actually should say they covered some ground, because I was more of a onlooker than a participant. In my crowds at home, I can be quite the entertainer with my stories about dating and my off-kilter sense of humor, but I can’t hold a candle to my old college friends. They do seem to think I’m a bit of a novelty because I write this blog and expose myself to people through my writing, but I’m just a mirror. I reflect what I see and experience. They actually come up with the stuff they do. Anyway, I digress. There will be several blogs about this experience. I know I’ll have a redneck fashion blog, a cooking blog and a redneck business blog. Stay tuned.
The Amite River has two small branches that merge to form the larger Amite that flows through my hometown in rural Louisiana. We camped north of where the two smaller sections merge close to Liberty MS. The RIE occurred on the bank of this sweet little chilly river in a deep curve that completely nestled us in its watery embrace. I have to say that the place itself was a bit special to me, and I thought of my cousin Mike who drowned in the waters of the Amite when I was in high school. At one point in the weekend, I was sure he was walking the bank with me. I’ve spent hours on the Amite River in Louisiana, but I can’t remember ever being on a northern bank. And, I didn’t remember it being as cold as it was. I did remember the feel of the gravelly, sandy shore between my toes. I had a high school beau whose family had land on the Amite, and we spent some time playing around in that sand. But, don’t tell my Daddy.
Most of the weekend was spent in talk. For most of us, we had lost touch. I had moved away. The others had raised kids and gotten involved in lives separated by distance and duty. The guys played football together at Southeastern. I was the Sports Editor of our little school paper and worked in the Sports Information Department. That’s how we all met. The guys basically lived together in college. Pam, Donna and MaryBeth were the college girlfriends of their husbands. I actually didn’t know them all that well in school because I just partied with them. The talk of the weekend was like the Amite that flows in and through this area. Its flow was unpredictable and muddy with memories and stories that started somewhere way upstream. The verbiage was wild and loud and then softened into gentle more reflective flows as we spent one on one time with each other, sharing things about ourselves that – at this midlife point in our lives – is peppered with the insight of hindsight. When we knew each other before, our lives lay ahead of us, and we had the innocence of inexperience. I’d like to think that each of us is now at that point in our lives where the experiences of our youth merges with wisdom picked up along the way. It is not lost on me that I am reconnecting to the people of my youth but each of us is bringing what we we’ve learned so that our relationships and connections are much deeper than they ever were. I’d like to think our best years lay before us as our paths, insights and experiences merge together and we actually know how to share and be who we are without the angst and impatience of youth. I imagine that the Amite picks up different things along the way, and, as the small branches merge, something different is created with the mix.
At one point in the weekend, the talk turned to guns. I have been dying to learn to shoot, and this was my opportunity. I asked them to teach me to shoot. Now, I know you can’t learn to shoot in one weekend, but I could start. That was one redneck skill that I had never learned, and I’ve been wanting to learn it since one of my Texas girlfriends has become enamored with shooting and carries her own Glock. Bam Bam – not sure how he got this nickname, but I’m beginning to think I know – just happened to have some guns in his truck. The next morning, we went to the other side of this gentle bend in the Amite and shot up some mud. I shot a 9 mm Beretta and an AK-47. OMG … that was so much fun. I may enjoy being a redneck again. I’m sure I was a sight in my bikini and sarong shooting that AK-47. I wished I had gotten a picture, but it’ll just have be a private moment. The pics you see here are some we took the next morning for the blog, but, like most things, you really had to be there.
This reformed city gal taught them some things, too. My friend Ray brought up my blog on The Balding of the Beaver. Several of my fellow travelers had not read it, so I read it to them. Russel was stunned that people were running around without the hair God gave them. He stood up and polled everybody on the status of their pubic hair. When he got to our only representative of the younger generation, and that young man confirmed my research on this cultural trend, he could not believe it. “Do NOT tell your Daddy that you do NOT have hair on your balls!!” he told him. He was quite confused by this whole trend and had no idea why this had caught on. This was definitely the first time he’d heard that anybody – male or female – would wax or shave unless it was to rid themselves of critters. By the end of the weekend, he was joking around with his wife that they might have to explore this little trend. I don’t know how receptive she was to the idea, but he was at least open to seeing what this new world might be about. I can’t wait to hear the story if they ever decide to try it out. You’ll hear more about this conversation later in the week as this became the basis of some new business opportunities in rural Mississippi.
I hated to leave on Saturday. For some reason, God decided to give us a gift of cooler weather on July 4th in the Deep South, and I never did get too hot to regret my decision of camping on Independence Day. I came really close to seeing a nekkid man, ate a ton of good food, got to run on a beautiful rural road, laughed my ass off for at least 3/4 of the hours I spent there and cooled off in that beautiful little river. One of the reasons I started writing this blog was because midlife has been a time for me to not only reflect on my life but to also really think about how I want to live the rest of it. This time in my life is rich with insights and experiences that are so much more meaningful to me than my experiences were in my youth. A large part of that is that I am present, and I am open. I just moved back home – something I said I’d never do. The people I lingered with on the banks of the Amite are real. They are smart – don’t let their country ways fool you. They are smart business people. They know how to raise kids. They know how to make mistakes and learn from them. They know how to throw aside what doesn’t matter and concentrate on what makes a difference. That’s what I learned from my Redneck Immersion Experience. It’s not what happens on the shore of my life that’s mattered. It’s the things that happened in its flow, the way I’ve handled the bends in my path, the stories I’ve gathered amid the snags and fallen trees that have tripped me up, and the way I’ve enjoyed the mud and the sand that have swallowed up my feet. No matter what’s happened while I’m sitting on shore, it’s never as exciting as being in the river of my life, letting it take me to new experiences and just going with the flow. That’s what a redneck knows. And, that’s what I re-learned this weekend.