Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dennis Covington's Redneck Rivera

Why is it that I'm reading more books about the South now that I've left the South than I did when I was actually in the South. It is probably because, from a distance I can mythologize my experiences, fabulize, the terrain, the people, the trees. Soft and low sweeping mountains covered with limb and moss and chlorophyll are majestic yes, but when you see them every day they can lose relevance. When I had trouble paying my bills in Atlanta, I would dream of black boxes in Chicago and New York. When I have the same trouble in the north, I think about the seeming, emphasis on seeming, ease of Florida and Georgia.

So, that brings me to Covington's Redneck Rivera. The jacket promises the sort of ragtag redneck geek show that one would imagine in O'Connor, but the story Covington tells is a much subtler one about how those in the south pursue the American Dream. How the American Dream for most is still over the horizon. How even today in the USA some have to protect their dream not only in the courts but also with brute force. It also is story of how the Dream itself is probably our most prevalent inheritance from father to son. Even if that dream bankrupts one, the dream will remain and will drive the son onward.

Covington's father left him a small piece of land (small in southern standards, only a couple of acres). When Covington goes down to appreciate his inheritance he is met with a hunt club that have fenced up all access to the land that is rightfully his.

Reading this story took me back to days when my own family lived off dirt roads in Florida.

Where the kids used to climb trees to avoid packs of stray dogs while waiting for the school bus,
where a redneck bully actually tried to run me over with his car and almost succeeded by inches,
where once a lost bullet ricocheted off a tree in our yard,
where we raised and slaughtered our own pigs,
Where we discovered that those same pigs could be vicious carnivores,
where my dad had built a small fort for me in our enormous backyard,
where cutting the grass was a weekend affair,
where my sister and I had made our own pathways through the section of the side yard we referred to as the jungle,

Those people in the book, not so over the top or outlandish as comic book characters but still weird and unusual. They were so much like my people back then on the edge of the Florida Everglades.

The Palm Beach County Rabbiteers
The Goetz who had 2 trailers welded together into a T shape on their land
The uncle, nephew, cousin, whatever of theirs who bathed in the man-made pool in the front yard and tried to chase down a stray horse on foot instead falling all over his own drunk ass. -Are you OK? -God damn it! Yes I am!

Snakes and storks and tree climbing. Covington's book somehow brought all that back to me. And from my apartment in Chicago, I can wax nostalgic for all those long gone days, I might even pick up head back there. But after about a week, I would dream of leaving there and coming back here. It's not so much that the grass is always greener. It has more to do with wanting it all.

Wanting it All!

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