Defining History: What stays? What goes?

Posted by | October 10, 2007

Please welcome guest blogger Timothy W. Hooker, author of the Sushi Tuesday blog. Tim teaches English at Cleveland State Community College [TN], is a “Point of View” moderator for WDEF-TV 12, and is the author of several works, including: “Rocket Man: A Rhapsody of Short Stories,” “Duncan Hambeth: Furniture King of the South,” and “Looking For A City.”

The old Bob Seger song, “Against the Wind,” is stuck in my head.

Why?

It’s the time of year for me to consider, like the songwriter, “what to leave in, what to leave out.”

As a history buff, it’s an important concept. A lot of stuff is constantly going on all around us. How do we decide what’s history and what’s not worth our attention? What do we hang on to and what do we discard?

That’s why journalism is called “the rough draft of history.”” A newspaper reporter can discover the Who, What, When, Where, and How of a story. But, a reporter will never have the time or resources to discover the Why.

It could take decades for the Why to come to light.

And, history is all about the Why.

This is further complicated by being a Southern Appalachian. We come from an oral tradition, dating clear back to the Druids, who spent decades memorizing the components of their faith system. Sure, as various invaders came to the British Isles, they brought written forms of their languages with them, and those various influences evolved into what we think of as Modern English. But, we in Southern Appalachia have a long tradition of keeping our stories alive by passing them down speaker-to-listener, from generation to generation.

This creates a problem, though.

History is a function of memory. Memory is a function of language. And, if your language base is oral, then history becomes a function of communal memory. We remember it because we all got together and Aunt Sally remembered a little bit. Cousin Bob remembered some of it. Grandpa remembered a bit. Junior recalled a portion.

And, thus, if no one is around to remember it, it may easily fall through the cracks.

But, on a more selfish note, this is a time for me to consider “what to leave in, what to leave out” because today is my birthday. And, as I stand in the middle of the River of History, I find myself looking at what I’ve chosen to hang on to, where I am now, and what I hope to send down the river to future generations.

From my ancestors, I’ve clung to the stories, family stories of hard times and hanging on in spite of them. I’ve hung on to the sayings of my father. I’ve kept the revolver my great-grandfather used to commit suicide. I’ve got pictures of ancestors who I never met and I really couldn’t tell you who they are; but, I can see myself in them. I’ve got one picture of my grandfather’s generation, back when they were making and moving moonshine; I call it “The Wild Bunch” photo.

I’ve got my mother’s Scofield Bible, all marked up and colored. And, I’ve got two rings that my father lathed down from stainless steel bolts– one for himself, one for my mother.

So far, I’ve got three published books to my name. I’m married to the most beautiful girl in the world. I have four cats. I have a home. I have a red Ford pick-up truck. I have a pump shotgun. I can’t count how many books I own. I have a wall-full of college degrees that say I’m trainable. And, I have a website I’m pretty darned proud of.

What I’d like to leave to future generations is the clear message that you can have anything in this world that you want, if you want it bad enough. Nobodies can become somebodies. Losers can become winners. And, love is the only thing worth getting up in the morning for.

History.

What to leave in, what to leave out.

It’s up to you.

TWH

Sushi+Tuesday Timothy+W.+Hooker appalachia appalachia+history appalachian+culture history+of+appalachia

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