If I go to hell, it won’t be because I didn’t accept Jesus. No, it’d be for the time I chose to talk differently, to give up my accent. I got saved more times than I can count, just in case the last time didn’t take. No, I reckon if I bust hell wide open, it’ll be because I traded my birthright, my native tongue, so they wouldn’t laugh. There are things in this world worse than the kind of hellfire and brimstone the Bible talks about, the kind those who are unfaithful deserve. There’s the kind of damnation that comes about from denying where you’re from, who you are.
I was 15 and they’d ask, “What color is that wall?” and I’d say, “It’s white,” but I’d say it with a few extra i’s in it and they’d all laugh. And I didn’t want the girls to laugh, so white with the extra i’s became white like the way everyone else in the city said it.
Even if you leave your faith behind, leave home behind, you can’t get away from the hills and the kudzu and steeples that dot and cover them. They are there as a reminder that, no matter what, you are anchored to home. The argument could be made that they’re both invasive species – the kudzu and the missionaries that brought religion to the mountains.
The kudzu and the church houses, they might be more forgiving than at first glance as you come and go and toil in the world. They both cover things we all once hoped for, believed in, or at least wanted to. They hide things in plain sight. They were both brought here as a solution to a problem and spread like wildfire. They each tell a story in their own way; tell it quietly and tell it shouting.
If I could go back, I’d tell that lanky mountain boy to hold on to that kind of talk, that the kudzu would listen – extra i’s and all.
Bell County, Kentucky (between Pineville and Middlesboro).