Adapted from the Wall Street Journal and edited for brevity by Mike Tumbarello
As I prepared to write the September Cover Story, I came across this opinion piece written by New York Lawyer Caroline Aiken Koster in the August 24-25 Wall Street Journal (my favorite newspaper). Based on some local, recent online “debate and discussion” (not on the Deep Creek Times) and the general climate of national and international socio-political divisiveness, I thought I would share this article with our readers.
If you are wondering what this could possibly have to do with our great full- and part-time community in the Deep Creek Lake area, please read-on. As you read the piece think about the veritable melting pot the Deep Creek Lake area is as locals, second home owners and over a million visitors from diverse backgrounds, geographies and socio-demographic segments come together to make Deep Creek Lake a very special place to live and visit. Here’s the article by Ms. Koster, shared here in the spirit of tolerance, understanding and courteous discourse, with some edits to save space. We are all different and yet we are basically all the same…
Late summer is family reunion season in Eastern Kentucky. As a child I’d drive with my parents 3 ½ hours south from our home in Louisville to Pine Mountain State Park for the annual Appalachian gathering of the offspring of Abraham Locke and Marth Jane Horn. It’d been ages since I went, and it’s a long way from my current home in Brooklyn, N.Y., but this year I headed back.
My New York friends found this curious. “Do your relatives think you don’t fit in anymore?” asked someone at church. “Does your family all watch Fox New?” my tennis partner wanted to know. “Is anyone black?” wondered my Trinidadian housekeeper. “Don’t forget to tell them you let the Hillary campaign workers stay in your spare bedroom,” quipped a neighbor as I climbed into a cab for the airport.
I told them I was going for a dose of unconditional Kentucky love. I was hungry for the potluck fried chicken, fried corn, fried apples, and green beans sautéed in bacon grease. But I also sought escape from the 24-hour news cycle, the East Coast echo chambers and my like-minded friends on Facebook. I wanted to remind my husband and two college-age sons of the things we had in common with the rest of America.
My ancestors, Scots-Irish farmers probably settled here because it looked like home. They made moonshine and farmed the land where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia meet. My paternal grandfather was crushed to death in a mine accident when my father was a child. My maternal grandfather lost both legs from complications of black-lung disease. My parents went to Eastern Kentucky University, moved to Louisville in the 1950s, and became teachers.
My cousins – educators, health-care workers, ministers, career military officers, contractors and small business owners – are sprinkled across the South. There’s a lot we disagree on… There was no avoiding tough conversations, no unfriending, no ghosting or canceling. My son Winn described racial profiling in New York. Cousin Diana said the same thing happens to her black grandchild at a nearby Target. Everyone hated racism, but some said it was hypocritical to accept “reverse racism.” Culton, my son, explained “white privilege” to some skeptical looks.
Like many Americans, I’ve been alarmed by studies and polls suggesting we’ve lost empathy for one another. Up in the mountains, love and civility forced us to talk it out. There was no room for identity politics when we sat elbow to elbow at the picnic table. We all knew we had to get along if we want to come back next year.
In the evening, we gathered on cousin Sylvia’s broad front porch. She’s 76 and holds everyone’s hand when she speaks to them. “We love you, sweetheart,” she purred to my beaming elder son. There was liquor there, so long as you kept it outside. Aunt Gertie doesn’t approve.
Touching down at LaGuardia Sunday night, I was grateful to be home. There were five pounds of white half-runner beans in my carry-on and five bottles of Kentucky bourbon in my checked bag. My family was still drunk on corn pudding and sausage gravy. My country accent had crept back, which would amuse my colleagues and tennis partners. I felt the love from a common bond and a connection to the rest of America. I want to bottle it up and share it with my neighbors and Facebook friends, but I don’t know how.