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Response to xocet (Reply #6)

Wed May 28, 2014, 08:22 AM

7. It's the barefoot thing that pricks a particular nerve

Many of my friends used to kid me mercilessly about my "barefoot hang up". Now, I can only speak for the idiosyncrasies of my particular area but back in the day, going around barefoot was tantamount to a scandal. Folks were very sensitive about being considered hillbillies and to go out in public with bare feet was considered especially low -- it made you a "white trash" hillbilly, the kind mocked in the funny papers and cartoons. So no matter how raggedy folks' clothes might have been, they all wore decent shoes because it at least identified you as a better class of hillbilly. Didn't matter if it was 95 degrees outside, socks and shoes. And no sandals. Any exposure of the bare feet was considered a no-no. Hell, if you were going to run around barefoot, why not completely shame yourself and go all out by stripping down buck naked!

About 20 years ago a group of my friends from NYC and DC came down to visit with me in my hometown and the subject of the barefoot taboo came up. They laughingly dared me to prove that the locals, even on this blistering summer day, would all being wearing socks and shoes when they should be found in flip flops, sandals, or (horrors!) barefoot. I took that dare and offered 20 bucks to any one of them who could find a single person, man woman or child, who had broken the rule. I even sweetened the pot by including sandals of any kind in my bet. We hopped in the car and drove to town -- they, joking and confident that within seconds they'd dispel that barefoot taboo and me, confident that I'd never have to pay that 20 dollars. I had to be pretty darn confident because I didn't have 20 dollars, anyway!

So we drove. And we drove. Up and down the streets of the town, down 'round the park and playground then to the municipal pool, where even kids dressed in nothing but ill-fitting trunks and hand-me-down swimsuits wore their socks and shoes until the very last moment when they made a dash for the water. At that I got a collective "Uncle!" from my gaggle of friends and they never again teased me about the veracity of the barefoot taboo.

Even in Appalachia things have changed so much over the years that the rules by which we once lived might as well be remembered as mere fables. Flip flops and sandals are everywhere, though to this day I wouldn't be caught dead exposing my feet like that. The old taboos die hard.

I can look back on that barefoot adventure now and chuckle, though it bespeaks a sad truth about class. Even when folks know -- or perhaps because they do -- that they're part of negative cultural stereotype, an "ignorant hillbilly", they will determine ways to separate themselves as a higher class of the commonly ridiculed and despised. In most of our society folks display their means by living in McMansions or driving expensive cars. In my little corner of Appalachia and in my time, it required only one thing. A pair of shoes.

Now this is certainly not the dissertation on or analysis of the cultural stereotypes you might be looking for, just a personal anecdote. Take it as you will. There are just some things that are hard to explain unless you've lived it.

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