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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Quote of the Day | January 11, 2008: Raw and Hillbilly

From Tom Wolfe's 1965 Junior Johnson piece, "The Last American Hero":

Junior Johnson's house is going to be one of the handsomest homes in Wilkes County. Yes. And -- such complicated problems of class and status. Junior is not only a legendary figure as a backwoods boy with guts who made good, he is also popular personally, he is still a good old boy, rich as he is. He is also respected for the sound and sober way he has invested his money. He also has one of the best business connections in town, Holly Farms Poultry.

What complicates it is that half the county, anyway, reveres him as the greatest, most fabled night-road driver in the history of Southern bootlegging. There is hardly a living soul in the hollows who can conjure up two seconds' honest moral indignation over "the whiskey business." That is what they call it, "the whiskey business." The fact is, it has some positive political overtones, sort of like the I.R.A. in Ireland.

The other half of the county -- well, North Wilkesboro itself is a prosperous, good-looking town of 5,000, where a lot of hearty modern business burghers are making money the modern way, like everywhere else in the U.S.A., in things like banking, poultry processing, furniture, mirror, and carpet manufacture, apple growing, and so forth and so on. And one thing these men are tired of is Wilkes County's reputation as the center of moonshining. The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax agents sit over there in Wilkesboro, right next to North Wilkesboro, year in and year out, and they have been there since God knows when, like an Institution in the land, and every day that they are there, it is like a sign saying, Moonshing County. And even that is not so bad -- it has nothing to do with it being immoral and only a little to do with it being illegal. The real thing is, it is -- raw and hillbilly. And one thing thriving modern Industry is not is hillbilly. And one the burghers of North Wilkesboro are not about to be is hillbilly. They have split-level homes that would knock your eyes out. Also swimming pools, white Buick Snatchwagons, flagstone terrasse-porches enclosed with louvered glass that opens wide in teh summertime, and built-in brick barbecue pits and they give parties where they wear Bermuda shorts and Jax stretch pants and serve rum collins and play twist and bossa nova records on the hi-fi and tell Shaggy Dog jokes about strange people ordering martinis. Moonshinging . . . just a minute -- the truth is, North Wilkesboro . . .

Tags: Tom Wolfe, Junior Johnson, Esquire, The Last American Hero, author, literature

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