A few weeks ago, I was sitting at an outdoor café across from Tel Aviv Art Museum. I was meeting a friend and had arrived early and was enjoying the late morning autumn sunshine. To my left I heard Russian. To my right I heard French. And in front and behind—Hebrew.
All of these sounds kept time with the music in my earphones. I closed my eyes, sat back to feel the sun on my face and put Spotify on shuffle.
And wouldn’t you know it—the first song that arrived in my ears was Little Big Town’s Boondocks. The first lines hooked me, grabbed me, took me back a few dozen years: I feel no shame, I’m proud of where I came from; I was born and raised in the boondocks.
I wasn’t raised in the boondocks, but I spent a good chunk of my formative years there. With my first cousins. And aunts and uncles. And Gramma and Grampa when he wasn’t in jail. And I spent much of my early years trying to leave the boondocks. Trying to erase the stain of the boondocks. Trying to be something else.
And I did.
I opened my eyes, and saw the museum and the Israeli palm trees and heard all the languages, some of which I somewhat understood. Yet, in my desire to erase the stain, more accurately the shame, of the boondocks, I cut out a huge part of who I am. On a visceral level. The level of sensory perception. The level of taste and sound.
I didn’t grow up Jewish. I didn’t grow up singing Jewish songs or eating latkas or cholent or the yummy sufganiyot—jelly donut Hannukah sweets. I grew up with Gramma and Grampa and all their drunk friends having jam sessions with banjos and mandolins and harmonizing and yodeling and remembering the good ol’ days of touring with Hank Williams and performing at the Grand Ol’ Opry. I grew up eating mashed potatoes with more milk and butter and flour than potatoes, Cool Whip out of the container, meat loaf and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Hmmm…even my now-vegan taste buds can remember the smell of that freshly cracked open paper container of KFC, the salty gravy smell, the buttery biscuit smell.
Honestly, it wasn’t all bad.
And just like the old Donny and Marie Show theme song, I’m a little bit country. Actually, I’m a lot country. Not southern. Country. The banjo runs through my veins. And the old country gospel tunes. The simplicity of life and the lack of pretense. The not needing to say how much money you have or where you travel or how many degrees you have. The not needing to size someone up and think…what can this person do for me?
I’m not romanticizing country; I’m not romanticizing my childhood. Because there was plenty that was, well, let’s just say that Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina was pretty close to home…
But, it wasn’t all bad.
And I think it’s time to honor those parts that weren’t all bad. And I think it’s time to honor those parts of me that are country. And be all of it—the new and the old. Be the jelly donuts and the buttermilk biscuits. Be the traditional Jewish melodies and Gramma’s yodeling. Be the girl who grew up poor, ran barefoot in the woods, spent too much time going to AA meetings with her stepdad and was told education was stupid. Who loved Christmas and Easter and read the Brontes by flashlight. Who became Jewish and married an amazing man and got that stupid education and raised three wonderful kids. And still reads a lot—but now by candlelight, in the wee hours of the morning. Before doing yoga.
I thought all of this before my friend arrived. And moments later, she and I were sitting in the sun, discussing books and our kids and the art at the museum and life and getting older and marriage and the new ice cream machine at the café. All of it.
Ya, I’m all of it. I’m proud of where I came from. And I’m proud of where I’ve come. All of it.