Why the hole in the age groups? Is it that the middle generation is not interested in the cultural history of West Virginia? Does the music, traditional dancing and food not appeal to them? Or is it something beyond their control?
Buddy Griffin and Mack Samples, 2009
These questions have been on my mind ever since my friend's comment, and I think I might have hit on a possible answer. I think that what happened was timing. Thirty and forty years ago, West Virginians were leaving the state to seek work elsewhere because the economy here was in poor condition with the loss of many underground mining jobs and the gradual shift of other industry to the sunbelt regions in the south. Interstate highways had passed the state by because of the complexity and expense of building roads through rugged terrain. Those who remained either had good jobs as teachers, doctors, postal workers and in the remaining plants, or they were struggling to get by on incomes below the poverty level.
The families with good jobs also had access to television and saw what the rest of the world was doing. Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet and other shows extolled the suburban way of life and that might have had an impact on people who were smarting from the negative media publicity the state had received in the early 60's. They might have aspired to join mainstream America, with the brick rancher, two cars and food from the grocery store. They might have wanted to listen to the popular music of the day, eat at drive-in restaurants and buy clothes and furniture at department stores.
The old ways might have been disdained. Who wanted to eat beans and cornbread if they could eat at McDonald's like the rest of the world? Why make quilts when you could buy lovely bedspreads with matching shams and curtains? Why can and preserve when there were grocery stores filled with canned and frozen food? Why even grow a garden? Television people didn't have gardens and cellars filled with canned food. They had modern kitchens and cabinets stocked from the store. Andy and Aunt Bea, of course, continued to portray the old way of life with folksy humor, and the shows, though popular, seemed to be a charming reminder of how things were, rather than how things are.
The children growing up in this environment of keeping-up-with-America were only exposed to West Virginia's traditional life when they visited their grandparents or family homeplaces or perhaps the occasional canner of beans was prepared at home. Gardens were relegated to out-of-the-way places if there was a garden at all, and were primarily for eating fresh. Music came from the pop or country radio stations instead of from family members playing their instruments on the porch. Folk festivals sprang up, and as a historian once told me, whenever they start having a festival for something, it's a lost art. So craft fairs celebrating the old mountain crafts, old-time music festivals and others sprang up. For some, these events were not a celebration of a past way of life, but of the way they were still living. The generation born in the 1950's and before continued to garden, farm, can and play music, but as years passed their numbers grew smaller and many gave up the old ways to join the traffic jam to new culture.
So most of the 1960's and 70's children grew up in a different way of life. Their parents were eagerly embracing new conveniences and saw no reason to teach their children about the old, even possibly embarrassing way their parents had lived. They wanted new, streamlined, modern, and automatic, not old, traditional, and manual. These children grew up with televisions, microwaves, and air conditioning. Few taught their children to play the fiddle or banjo, or to can green beans, plant by the signs, or any of the many self-sufficient skills taken for granted by past generations. Who needed those skills when a machine or a store could provide the same result with less labor?
Now there seems to be a new interest in traditional life by the new generations, those born in the late 80's and the 90's. Music festival abound in young people with fiddles on their backs and banjos in their hands, giving the old music a new twist and a new life. There are communes in cities where young people grow urban gardens and try to live off the grid. Some who can afford to are moving out, buying land and rediscovering the joy of providing for themselves. Those who are held in towns and suburbs are growing gardens and trying to live as "green" as possible with an environmental awareness that seems foreign to their elders but in place with the traditional ways of living.
I think perhaps technology, the thing that pulled people away from the old ways, may be partly responsible for bringing the younger generations back as they discover old-time musicians on YouTube, or stumble on blogs that detail how to raise goats and chickens and make jam. the Internet with its far-reaching powers now provides instant access to people who can share their expertise in the most forgotten of arts and who will even chat or talk on forums. There are photos and videos and all sorts of tools instantly available. When I was learning to do things on our land, I relied on books and the neighbors. Now there is a world neighborhood available online.
I may be way off track in these ruminations, but right or wrong, it makes me happy to see the young fiddle players and homesteaders rediscovering the value of what was taken for granted for so many years.
I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. Anyone care to chime in?
(An interesting observation: the spellchecker doesn't recognize "canner" or "homeplace." Hmmm.)