April 2, 2011
A Lesson on the Real AmericaBy Kevin Jackson
People often ask me why I decided to get involved in politics. The answer is simple: I got tired of people talking down America and calling my friends racists. This is why I asked Joe the Plumber to join me on the Ebony & Ivory Two Nekkid Heads Tour.
I have always measured people by their deeds, not their skin color. Growing up in a small Texas town, I got to see America from the inside out. I have friends who are acknowledged "Rednecks," and that is their charm.
You will never see many of my friends at the opera or the symphony or, God forbid, an art museum -- unless Elvis paraphernalia counts as art. They see these things as a complete waste of time. They would be happier noodling for catfish, and don't say "NASCAR" unless it's on TV or you have tickets. I know this is strange to many city folks and Hollywood types, but for country folk, fishing and hunting are entertainment.
I remember "riding the drag," a term many small-town people will recognize. We'd just go up and down the main street (drag) in our town for fun. The object was simply to be seen. New ride, new girlfriend, new beer choice, it could all be determined on the drag.
There was hardly a man in Brady who didn't look forward to deer hunting season, and in fact most women did as well. Most of the boys I knew either dipped Copenhagen snuff or chewed Big Chief tobacco.
The town where I grew up is a community of farmers and ranchers, ex-members of the FFA and the 4H club, supported by business owners who wish they were farmers and ranchers. Even the grocery store owners, bankers, and other merchants tended to "have acreage."
I remember when we first visited what would become our new home, my family was traveling down Highway 71 to the ranch, and the occupant of every vehicle we passed waved. We thought it was an accident at first, that they thought we were somebody else. My grandmother laughed, saying, "Surely there can't be that many black people living out here." After a while, we began to wave back.
On all country roads near Brady, the highway to San Saba, San Angelo, Brownwood, and all the others, people waved. We quickly noticed that this was just the way it was. It didn't go unnoticed by me that these people didn't care that we were black. But these people's hospitality was more than just gestures, as we would find out.
One Sunday we were headed back from San Antonio after visiting family, and my grandfather forgot to gas up on Saturday evening. This was in the late '70s, when, thanks to Jimmy Carter, gas was being rationed, and most stations were closed on Sunday, particularly in small rural towns.
With the gas we had, we left San Antonio and managed to get just outside of Mason, TX, still roughly 30 miles from home. The car began to sputter, and my grandfather knew we weren't going to make it much farther. He pulled the car off the road onto a small farm.
Not a minute passed before an old, sun-worn white man emerged from a small wood-frame house, his hound dog at his heels. The old fellow wore the uniform of the country: overall jeans, plaid shirt, and an off-white cowboy hat complete with the sweat-ring around the brim, proof that the hat was not just for show.
"How can I hep ya?" he inquired.
My grandfather explained our situation.
The old man simply said, "I think I got enough to gitcha home."
He gave us about two gallons of his gas -- all that he had. I remember the gas not being the right kind, and my grandfather and the old man deciding that it wouldn't be a major problem.
My grandfather offered to pay, but the old man wouldn't accept payment. He said, "I figure you'd do it for me, if I needed it." My grandparents would have, without a doubt.
We left the old man's place on that fateful Carter-era day, our old Chevy Impala valves knocking the entire way home. But we made it -- thanks to that old leather-skinned cowboy, who likely would never know the impact his gesture of kindness would have on me. Had it not been for the kindness of that old cowboy, my family would have likely slept in our car until the gas stations opened on Monday morning, and I would be absent one thread in the fabric of my life.
There are people in this country who refuse to understand that old cowboy or his way of life. I grew up in the country, and even I can't imagine living like him. But I understand and respect him. In that very small way, my family needed him to be right where he was on that day, at that time.
It seems these days there is always somebody who wants to tell you what or who to be. I call these people meddlers. Too many people who lack real world experiences are telling others what to think or who to be, when they in fact don't know who they themselves are.
These meddlers don't seem to recognize that people are all different. No matter what a meddler does, he will never make people all the same. America's differences used to be celebrated, and they are what made America great. Nowadays, however, many would try to convince us that recognizing our differences is our worse trait.
There is as much to be learned from "good ol' boys" as from the intelligentsia; actually, I think there is more to be learned from old country people. The problem in America is that people have abandoned much of their God-given common sense and have over the decades come to believe that those in the ivory towers know what is best for us.
Why it has become taboo in America to embrace our differences is beyond me. We are one Unhyphenated America, where neither color nor culture matters. The cowboy culture is just as necessary as the cocktail culture, and there are no black experiences or white experiences -- just experiences. We can learn from it all.
All over America, in every state, there are cultural experiences unique to that state. Joe the Plumber and I are intent on exploring America with this in mind. We believe that the Ebony & Ivory Two Nekkid Heads Tour is vitally important in showcasing those differences that make America one and the same -- a gift from God and the greatest country in the world.