The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Snuffy Doesn't Live Here!

By Bob Heafner © 1991

Issue: August, 1991

Several years ago, it was my pleasure to spend a night at the Fox Hill Inn, one of the most beautiful bed & breakfast inns in the Blue Ridge, located in an alpine-like sitting on a mountaintop in Grayson County, Virginia. Unfortunately, an "official" with the Virginia Department of Tourism was also spending the night. We were both to speak to a local tourism group the following day. After dinner we had taken up seats by the roaring fireplace and were engaged in small talk. I didn't realize how "small" until he started talking.

The "official" eased into an easy chair, propped up his feet and told how Southwest Virginia was settled. According to his theory, the "cream" of early settlers moved on westward. Those too ignorant, or lazy, to continue westward stayed in Southwest Virginia. As he expounded on this theory, his laughter indicated just how "clever" he considered this verbal fertilizer to be.

To say I was shocked or outraged would be the understatement of the century. However, I controlled my Irish temper and took my Mother's advice. She always said that when a fool was talking one should, "just look at the source and ignore it."

This "official" was simply "parroting" the misconception that a slow drawl means a slow wit. His opinions, no doubt, were attributable to the "Snuffy Smith" stereotypes, which portray mountain people as lazy gun-toting moonshine drinking illiterate hillbillies.

In reality, mountain folk are far from this image of the lazy, slouch hat "hillbilly" sitting beneath a shade tree with his "jug" close at hand, his hound "dawg" curled at his feet and his rifle ready for "revenuers." This image has been perpetrated by uninformed or unscrupulous and bigoted individuals in their scramble for the almighty dollar or vain attempts at cleverness, as with our "official" from Richmond.

This type of so called "humor" is a disservice to our region and it's people. In my years of observing and writing about the true character of mountain people I can assure you such stereotypes are far removed from the truth. In fact, mountain people are the epitome of ingenuity and good common sense. As for lazy, in the not to distant past, when city dwellers were riding automobiles to the store 3 blocks away, mountain folks were walking as much as 10 miles a day, over mountain ridges and footpaths to attend a one room school.

Do I detest the "Snuffy Smith" hillbilly stereotype? Yes! Bigotry and stereotypes are offensive and degrading no matter who is being ridiculed. I admit my speech, and that of my mountain neighbors, is marked with an accent, but when you hear it you can rest assured that you're hearing the voice of a person who believes in an honest day's work for an honest day's pay; a person who will help you if they can; someone who can make do with what they have and accomplish more, with less, than anyone would think possible; and someone who's been "brought up" with an abiding faith in integrity, ingenuity and self-reliance.

In short, I'm proud of my heritage and mountain culture. Just because I speak slow and prefer the music of a banjo and "fiddle" to an opera and biscuits and gravy to caviar does not mean I'm an uncultured "hillbilly;" it simply means I am a product of my culture and proud to be so. It does not mean that I am a rube when confronted with multiple forks and glasses at a formal dinner nor does it imply that I cannot enjoy an occasional concert or metropolitan night on the town.

However, given my preferences, I'd rather be "on the mountain," far from the blaring of horns, the wail of sirens, and the glitter and glitz of a city. This is my home, where friends and neighbors still sit on their porches at twilight and listen to a bubbling stream and crickets chirping. Where the squeak of a front porch swing or rocking chair and the gentle laughter of honest people is an everyday sound.

To the "official" from Richmond, I can only say that "Snuffy" doesn't live here anymore. He passed through, but didn't stay long. We think he probably turned around and headed back to where he came from. Fact is, lazy trifling people just can't survive in these mountains. If our "official" would like to know where "Snuffy" went, I'd suggest an examination of his own family tree. As for "Daisy Mae," she never even passed through.