I just came across this headline and photo on CNN's feature page:
LIFE IN APPALACHIA TODAY
I have two reactions, one socio-political and the other, personal memoir.
First, social commentary: C'mon, really? Life in Appalachia Today? More Like Wild Sh-t You Can Still Find in America Today. There are an estimated 3000–5000 Klan members throughout the US as of 2012. How many of these events could they possibly get together in a year?
I'm not saying the Klan is not a threat to society, or that this is not outrageous regardless of how few occur. But this is not Life in Appalachia Today. (Another photo CNN showed was of a snake-handler. I'm here to tell you that that's not too common either.)
How about we have a few pictures of more common aspects of Life in Appalachia, if that's what you say you're going to show? You could get some provocative shots of a church BINGO game. And if you're still craving that negative spin, focus on the obesity rate: You will see men and women at BINGO using two, even three, folding chairs together to sit comfortably. Now that, though negative, at least shows something relevant about Life in Appalachia Today.
Second, personal memoir: Sure, Klan events happen still; there are scattered occurrences all over. I'm not sure how often it happens today in Upper Appalachia, where I'm from. What I do know, empirically, is that it used to happen. I had a brush with it when I was five or six years old.
A loving, patient, soft and huggable woman in town had become my "Nana" by the time I was a few months old. She cared for me like a grandmother for the first decade of my life.
Nana Perkin's husband, Ernie Perkins, was driving us in his truck when we saw the remains of a burnt field right off 209, the main route to town. I don't remember a cross, but there was a large area of blackened ground with bleachers set up around it.
Ernie teased us, "You'ins want we head over to the Ku Klux Klan for a cross burnin'? Haw! You kin tell your daddy we joined up with the Klan!"
I didn't know what he was talking about but apparently Nana did. She told him to "shush in front of her" (me). Nana was always telling him that. Ernie was a good man—tender with me—but he was typical for a man of that time and that place, a hillbilly, plain and rough.
They didn't go into it further. I felt something sinister connected to that burnt ground and empty bleachers. What got burnt? Who burnt it? Who sat in the bleachers and watched? People I knew? I remember I shivered. I thought it maybe had to do with witches.