Holdouts in a Border State
Originally named Augusta Carolina, St. Mary’s County is seventy miles southeast of Leesburg, Virginia. Just as settlers from above the Mason Dixon have colonized that Southern city and surrounding—and now notorious—Loudon County, they, since the early days of World War II, have been descending on St. Mary’s by the tens of thousands. The newest arrivals and those of Yankee stock born in St. Mary’s never seem to want to leave though they hate it because it is the sticks and because they find that “there’s nothing to do” here. While they have contempt for the locals in general, they have a particularly low regard for those who work in the trades—the pickup-driving, toxically mannish rednecks of The County.
Preferring to keep to themselves, these country “throwbacks” live in remote areas such as Scotland and Ridge at the southernmost reaches of St. Mary’s. They can also be found in the “infamous” Seventh Election District farther to the north. A sparsely populated pinewood neck, it is avoided by the carpetbagger element because they have heard the legend that victims of foul play and private justice have been discovered, from time to time, mouldering in the Seventh District swamp. The transplants have also heard that the “crazy” rednecks in The Seventh all have guns. And as the head of his family, the redneck does take seriously the obligation to protect his home. He is often at target practice or in the woods hunting. In his rural domain, however, no one pays any attention to gunfire.
The St. Mary’s “inbreds,” as they are known, are easily spotted by the “come-heres” because they drive Ford 150s and 250s or old GMC and Chevy trucks. Showroom perfect or rusting and in need of paint, their pickups are a point of pride. And, unlike feminized hybrid drivers, they under no circumstances would ever own a Chartreuse Prius.
And neither would a redneck wear a man bun. Rather than getting his hair styled at a unisex boutique, he gets it cut at places like Tom’s Barber Shop.
A “backwoods” patois is another indicator of inbreeding and ignorance to the new people. Ignorant himself of the provenance of the ancient and beautiful dialect of the British Isles that the redneck speaks, the carpetbagger, like the London toff who mocks the speech of the Cornishman, believes that the Celticisms of the country boy in the Borderland South are in need of remediation. But the inbred reckons that it is the transplant’s talk that needs the correcting.
As pleasant as the redneck’s speech are his manners. Rednecks reflexively say “Ma’am” and “Sir” and hold doors for others. They pull their trucks off to the side of the road when meeting a funeral procession. Their courtesy is not, however, the affectation of the metrosexual waiter looking for a more generous gratuity at a niche market restaurant. It isn’t something put on when it suits him but a heart-felt politeness, a connaturality.
The redneck can be sentimental at times, but he is not treacly. He gives very generous and practical gifts on special occasions: In honor of Mother’s Day, he will take Mama’s car to Big Ed’s for new tires and a high-dollar synthetic oil change.
The musical taste of the rednecks runs to Creed Fisher not to Garth Brooks, the latter a favourite of the transplants because he is woke and not too “hillbilly.” These, on the other hand, are the reasons why the rednecks dislike Brooks as much as they do the new NASCAR.
Years back they were such fans of this once great Southern pastime that, when Earnhardt’s car hit that fatal wall in 2001, they mourned as if he were kin and attended the memorial service held for him at a local funeral home. But even before The Intimidator’s untimely death at Daytona Beach, the bell had already begun to toll for NASCAR. And twenty years later, many in the St. Mary’s “redneck nation” no longer bother to watch the races on TV or to drive over to the Richmond track.
As NASCAR has become more political—banning Battle Flags and absurdly and cravenly making a fuss over garage door pulls—so have many of the formerly disaffected rednecks. A surprising number of them had not bothered with voting until more recently because they believed the ballot box made little difference in their lives (or worse, they had blindly voted Democrat out of a misplaced reverence for a tradition that goes back to the 1860s). Then Obama had shaken their complacency while Trump, in spite of the fact that he is a crude New Yorker, had impressed them with his stance on the defense of the border and his seemingly noninterventionistic inclinations.
As a result of Biden’s “victory,” however, for a lot of rednecks, cynicism has returned. For others, who, though they honour their Confederate ancestors and believe that the South was right, had not given present day secessionist movements much thought, dissolution is no longer such a far-fetched notion. They know that their beleaguered county, their occupied state of Maryland are not likely to exit the union, however, so they think about leaving for somewhere more welcoming to their people. But unsure of where to go, many are reluctant to pull up 400 hundred-year-old roots. So they wait and see.
For now, they live peacefully among themselves, hunting, fishing and preparing for any eventuality. They throw themselves into their back-breaking work, the jobs from which they come home with dirty faces and mud-caked tee shirts. But they are also getting away more often to go four wheeling in West Virginia and Kentucky. And all spring and summer long, and down into November, they spend a lot of time at a campground across the river in Virginia. Not very far from St. Mary’s as the crow flies, it’s a family retreat where they can relax in the company of fellow rednecks from The County and from places like Mechanicsville just outside Virginia’s ever more unrecognizable capital city. On Saturdays, they put “the pig in the ground [and] the beer on ice,” and have what they call trailer crawls—making the rounds and visiting with these kindred souls from sister states.
When not over in the Old Dominion, St. Mary’s rednecks get together at Bob Boy’s, one door up the state road from Tom’s Barber Shop. Rumoured to be collateral kin to a famous Southern general, Bob Boy runs a respectable tavern where coarse language is not permitted. It is St. Mary’s County’s version of the village pub though far humbler than a Garland Ox or a Golden Lion. A plywood paneled redneck social centre, Bob Boy’s is an oasis with “a jukebox and a country song” just a stone’s throw away from the Seventh District swamp.
8/29/2021 06:17:07 am
Thank you, Miss Joyce, for a wonderful article! It's both sad and encouraging, especially coming from a state so ravaged by invasion and "progress"!
8/29/2021 03:36:10 pm
7/15/2022 04:11:44 pm
Love this. Viva Dixie.
12/5/2022 06:01:56 pm
Thank you, Lisa.
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Joyce Louise Bennett is the author of Maryland, My Maryland: The Cultural Cleansing of a Small Southern State and a contributor to the Abbeville Institute Blog. She lives with her family in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.