It’s been a strange summer, full of humidity, thwarted plans and daily grind. Throw in a few come-to-Jesus moments relating to health and finances, our first home-grown tomato that looks like a pair of conjoined twins, and new windows in the kids bedrooms instead of vacation on the coast of Maine and that about sums it up. There was, however, an unexpected trip at the urging of my spouse to the one and only Bass Pro Shops. It’s hard to explain this place if you have never been. Picture a scaled-down Disney for Rednecks. Well, in fairness there aren’t any rides. But there are shooting galleries for kids, a country store and restaurant, enough camouflage to outfit a small army, and when I say small I mean that literally as well. From tiny toddler overalls to chic ladies handbags, just about everything came in splats of puke green and putty. There were life-sized replicas of bear and deer and other forest animals hanging by a manmade stream stocked with fish of some sort (bass perhaps?) as well as a gigantic whale hanging from the ceiling. Fishing poles, campers and guns, oh my. And I am talking about an entire stockade of guns.
There were Coleman stoves and lamps and microwaves and dinnerware and sideboards (I swear!). There were talks about camping and hunting every hour at a little theater set up with folding chairs and a clock with moveable hands to denote the next show. So just who goes to Bass Pro Shops, you might ask. Everyone. Men in rugged fishing vest full of orange and purple lures and feathers. Pregnant women toting another four children around the camping equipment. Old couples eating chili and cornbread at the country cafe. It was LL Bean meets My Big Redneck Vacation. It was festive, practically gentile. On the way out they asked us to contribute to saving the elks while we walked by a rack of hunting magazines.
This experience was followed a few weeks later by a trip to the flea market at a nearby speedway (told you this was a strange summer). Yes, that’s right. More rednecks. These were east coast rednecks as well, but not so much LL Bean in this mix. Lots of playboy bunny decals on cars, missing teeth, scraggly beards. Card tables full of yellowed appliances, tattered paperbacks, plastic jewelry, broken toys, worn and dirty stuffed animals. Blankets or sheets were thrown on the ground when people didn’t have a folding table. Wares spread out like a strange excavation site.
In my family, there are a few rednecks on my mother’s side. Half brothers who wore white t-shirts stained brown under their arms. They took old cars apart on the lawn. Hooted with other men and leered at woman. They’re both old now, sober, limping around in Florida. They’re kind, sentimental, dazed.
One of my favorite books way back when was Blanche McCray Boyd’s Redneck Way of Knowledge. I think she is still out there teaching creative writing somewhere, still embracing and defying all sorts of stereotypes, still making people laugh. Trisha Yearwood on the Food Network made something she likes to call redneck humus. It’s really called Georgia pate but it’s made out of boiled peanuts and she laughs and talks about it like she is embracing her inner redneck. Is this the same thing as gay men joking about decorating or broadway musicals? I’m not sure but I think I’m going to try the recipe. I’ll eat it while drinking a can of raspberry seltzer covered with my new Pro Bass koozie. Maybe there’s a little redneck in all of us.