One of the funnier students we have in Legacy is a Karen refugee who has a great love for country music. Today alone he played three songs, at least, that were country, and which I sung along with. One of them was my favorite Keith Urban song, “Somebody Like You,” which I asked him to replay so that I could sing it again. Another one was “Country Boy Can Survive” from Hank Williams, Jr, and the other song, which appeared to be his favorite, was “Thank God I’m A Country Boy.” Despite not growing up anywhere near Nashville or Plant City or anywhere else where country music is popular, he seems to have acquired an understanding of the down home appeal of the music, and greatly enjoys it.
I find this rather amusing in many ways. When I was a child growing up outside of Plant City, Florida myself, my neighbors and I would sing along on a daily basis to “A Country Boy Can Survive,” as we all knew that we were country boys as well. Given my background of growing up in the country, from a farming family of a kind not too far removed from many of my students, I find it ironic that I should be forced to confront with an aspect of my own upbringing that I have certainly downplayed and minimized for most of my life out of self-preservation. At any rate, it is good at least to be able to cope with the reminders of farm life and farm work and all of those other unpleasant aspects of rural life that I have sought to escape for quite a few years.
Most people who know me, if they knew nothing about my family background, would not assume me to be the kind of person to come from a farming or a country background. I don’t think that I have ever been snobby or harsh against the country, and certainly not against its moral standards, but as a bookish intellectual I always had a cultured and sophisticated and educated aspect of my personality that did not fit among the people I grew up around. It has always troubled me that my rustic background should lead people to make personal insults toward me (making references to incest, a considerably fierce matter with me, as well as movies like Deliverance) but that my cultured and intellectual ways should lead me to be distrusted by those who share my background.
At any rate, I am thankful that I can hoe and dig a hole without completely discrediting myself, even if it usually necessary for me (especially this week) to spend more time directing work than actually doing the field work myself, with scattered students and no one else to herd the cats. But at any rate, my time at the farm affords me constant reminds of my own childhood and teenage years, especially of times spent riding a bike all over the countryside of Central Florida, and of summer spent working in barns and on tractors in Western Pennsylvania. If only such memories brought me more pleasure and less pain, but what cannot be enjoyed must be endured. Thank God I’m a country boy, and a country boy can survive.