Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Wanderers Among Us

Jim Webb’s opus to the Scots-Irish is, I fear, a book I will not finish.  Given me recently by a friend, I sit down in anticipation to read not just of his people, but of mine too.  But his history is not mine.  He speaks of red-necks and trailer trash.  My people, my Scots-Irish people, were farmers by and large and country people.  But they were not and are not red necks or trailer trash.  The South is not my culture.  Slavery is not my defining react-against event.  The Civil War is not something my family speak of in the present tense.  And labor unions are not anathema to us – we will always join with others when it makes sense.  And we’re not afraid of education.  Some of us just haven’t had the same chances as others and others of us understand that education comes in many forms.

We are West Virginians.  He gives us some nods in the book, does Mr. Webb, but I realize anew as I read how vastly different our experiences are.  And he can claim the vote in favor of George W. Bush in West Virginia in the first election to be about guns all he wants.  We all know it wasn’t about guns; it was about steel.  And Mr. Bush promised to bring it back.  He lied.  We should have known that.  It’s a been done thing with us.  But that’s another story.

But there is one thing in the few pages I read before I put it down in frustration that does resonate: the wanderer gene.  It may sound funny to describe a family, a tribe, that has inhabited the same few square miles of ground for centuries as wanderers, but it’s true.  Substitute the word restless for wanderer and you may have a better idea what I’m getting at.

I come from generations of restless people.  In our time, you’ll know them as the ones who cannot sit still for very long, the ones who don’t stay long at a party before looking at their watches, the ones who know a little about a lot, the ones who, if they have land, walk it often and know it well.

My grandmother, Mary, was a wanderer at heart.  She never got too far off the farm for very long, but she wanted to.  Every chance of a trip, she sprang to it.  Every ride down the road, she was there.  And when she was at home, she walked.  Constantly.  When a chore didn’t tie her down to place, she was a woman on the move.  All the time.  If she’d been a man, she’d have fought in every war just for the chance to go somewhere, anywhere.  The night I sat with her in the hospital after she broke her arm and she got mad at me for refusing to take her home, she walked around the circle of the nurses’ station all night without stopping.  All night.  Her hip would barely hold her.  But she walked.  Her sight without her glasses would barely lead her.  But she walked.  Even with no destination, she walked, sure, somehow, that the next step would bring her to something better than the last one.  Or maybe she just needed to walk.

That’s the thing of we Scots-Irish in my family – we’re home bodies who are restless.  So we want to be here and not here at the same time.  Some of us walk our desire.  Some of us spend our lives out-of-doors.  Some of us travel for work or for pleasure.  Some of us run ten errands a day.

Some looking from the outside in think we were made to work; that we’re not content to just sit still.  But that’s not it – we can do nothing like nobody’s business.  What we’re not content to be is in one place for very long.  Variety is the spice of our life, even the variety found in sameness.  So some of us who seldom leave the house where we live can tell you every kind of flower and weed and bug you might want to know.

My own restless wandering gene is harder to catch as it tends to arcs of time rather than moment to moment.  Maybe that’s the luxury of living in a healthier time, being assured in probabilities of a longer life span.  I don’t know.

I do know that after a month or two in the mountains, my feet literally itch to go somewhere – anywhere, whether with purpose or without, I have to just get out of here and go somewhere.  It can just be for the day, but go I must.  And every seven years or so, it’s time for change – life change.  Sometimes that involves moving.  Sometimes it involves changing jobs or careers.  Sometimes it involves schooling.  Sometimes it involves nothing more than a new hobby.  But every seven years or so, the orientation of my life must change.  I must look in a different direction, navigate a different vista.  I may not move an inch in life space to do it.  But move I must.

It’s been seven years here.  And I’m getting restless.  Wonder what the next change will be?  And I wonder whether the dreaming/visioning process I’m dragging the church I serve through is necessary to our shared future (what I want to believe) or just another symptom of my own wandering gene.

The others will tell me.  Of that, I am sure.  For if a vision isn’t shared, I suspect it isn’t a vision at all, but a dream.  Dreams are had one by one, but visions – those are community things.  And so, for now, I wonder if anyone wants to wander along with me.


  1. DON'T YOU DARE LEAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    "not all who wander are lost........."

    1. Hey Diane, quoting me quoting Tolkein to me -- wow! :-) For sure not all who wander are lost -- wish you could have known my Grandma - she was a pistol as well as a wanderer and I am her genetic clone in many ways. She was an amazing alto who always wanted to sing at the Grand Ole' Opry - a wish that never came true, alas, but boy could she sing (one trait we do not share, more's the pity). All that to say that Grandma Mary was never lost a day in her life. Hugs out, Beth (PS - for some reason, I'm not getting e-mail notification of comments to the blog - sigh - so it may take longer for me to see them - am going to check the settings to try to fix - ah what a techno world it is, eh?)

  2. Justin has that same Scots-Irish wanderlust...he knows every fold of the mountains. Nice to see it described so well.

  3. Ginny, thanks - it's actually not a bad way to be - the body isn't always all in one place at one time, eh? A lawyer buddy once paid me what I took (and what I think he meant) as a great compliment, saying that he hated to come up against me because I always saw things so differently that I brought up questions he had never thought of - I think it's that wandering thing there too - wandering of the mind as well as the feet. 'Every fold of the mountains' - I'm carrying that one with me. Hugs - and hey, what's your schedule - want to come to lunch at the house sometime soon? Beth