The Appalachian culture is a rich and diverse one. Sometimes, though, we can get a little self-defensive. It’s easy to fall into that mindset when practically every media image and portrayal of your heritage is portrayed in a negative, derogatory, and stereotypical light.
That self-defensiveness can cause us to break everyone down into two categories: us and them. Even though we might be quick to define people as “us” or “them”, we also have numerous ways of reaching across those barriers in order to embrace people from all walks of life.
At Clergy School today I witnessed two of the ways that we do this… and I couldn’t help smile a little, wondering if the if the people being embraced knew just how profound a gesture it was.
One of the moments came when one of the guest speakers, Rev. John Ruehl, was being introduced for his segment. It was revealed that he had been born in Long Island (a Yankee!) and raised in Florida. There were friendly little grunts which seemed to be saying, “It’s okay, we won’t hold that against you.”
But Scott, who was introducing Rev. Ruehl, said, “But he’s married to a West Virginian.”
There was applause and chuckles and affirmations. We were letting him know that he may not have been born one of us, he may not have been raised as one of us, but he is one of us by virtue of family connections. When you marry into a family in Appalachia, you are family. You will never be introduced as a “cousin-by-marriage” but only as a “cousin.”
But the more subtle moment of acceptance came when Tex Sample asked during his presentation what the “big meal” is around here.
We could have said anything–beans and cornbread, pepperoni rolls, buckwheat pancakes. Those are, indeed, all staple meals in Appalachia (especially West Virginia). But what was almost immediately called out was “RAMPS!”
From all around the room the word “ramps” was popping up in all sorts of ways: Ramp festivals, beans and ramps, baked steak and ramps…
I doubt Tex knows what a ramp is. Unless you are from West Virginia (okay, maybe central Appalachia), you probably don’t have any clue. And that’s why it was so important why we were telling him all about that delightful little secret.
Ramps are West Virginia… I know people who have lived in West Virginia their whole lives and who have never eaten a ramp, but if you ask them to make a list of traditional foods from our region, ramps will be near the top of the list. Whether we like them or not, we understand them to be a part of our culture.
When we shared the gift of ramps with Tex we were opening our arms and bringing him in. He’s been in West Virginia with the United Methodists twice now, and he’s been a big hit. We like him. We can relate to him. His teachings are relevant to us and the ministries in which we are involved.
And now that he knows we eat ramps, he’s one of us.
*Ramp: A wild onion with a strong flavor and VERY STRONG garlic-like odor. (yummy)