Dewey grew up in Appalachia, in the southwestern area of Virginia. His father was an itinerant farmer and he worked on farms near the towns of Fries (pronounced “freeze”) and Galax before moving the family to Lynchburg. Dewey quit school in the 8th grade to join the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps. That was a program that President Franklin Roosevelt started to give work to young men while sending half their wages back to their families. It was the Great Depression and families were starving. Dewey worked building some of the park facilities we now enjoy along the Blue Ridge Parkway before heading to a munitions job in Virginia Beach.
And then he decided to enlist, even though he was underaged and had a finger that never had grown fully. He was trained as military police and served World War II in a detainment center for US GIs who had broken laws and also gone AWOL. When the war was over, he decided to stay in Tennessee and took a position with the Air National Guard in charge of the motor pool. As such, he was called up to serve in Korea. He never talked much about his experience except to say the “mamasans did a great job with the laundry for next to no money”.
He finally got his high school diploma and so, continued on his way. He never dreamed, just worked hard each morning before he headed to his job. He had 10 acres for a while and grew large amounts of food. He served as a helper for a local auction house on the weekends. He stayed very busy all the time. He didn’t play much, but he nurtured a flock of white doves and encouraged his boys to play the guitar and sing. He went on assignments with the Air National Guard. They ended up in Paris one year on July 14th and he said he headed right back to the airport because there was too much fuss going on. It was Bastile Day and he did not understand the cultural celebration.
Dewey was my father-in-law and when I got to know him, he already was in his 60s. I was the interloper, a Yankee married into his Southern family. I was pretty sure he did not like me but I knew he fiercely loved me because his son has chosen me. Dewey and I often did not see eye-to-eye but his actions were always easy to understand.
First point: Things were good because they had been done a certain way before and they should always be done that way. The fact that something or someone did not work well did not matter. Something was rated “good” because it had been done before. So, no need to drive on the new interstate highways when the old highway, you know the one with all the traffic lights, is right there. Also no need to go to college because there are jobs that don’t require that.
Second point: Those people who are bothered by things that don’t work well don’t really matter. They may be nonwhite, or nonmale. Probably also nonChristian. The acceptable people, the people who matter, are white Christian men…and maybe their womenfolk…maybe.
So, Dewey had some beliefs throughout his life that were based on lessons he had in the impoverished rural Appalachian culture of his youth and held strong his lack of opportunity or desire to learn other lessons from other places and times. And so, he was stuck in a rut that often caused family discord.
We all know people like that. They are so set in their way, so sure about their information, that no one can sway them off their mark. They can get downright ugly in their stubborn way.
The big difference between my pigheaded uneducated father-in-law and the people who remind me of his curmudgeon side is that Dewey was honest. Always. He also did nice things for other people. Always. And he never ever tooted his own horn. Never. And he was always polite with his words. Always. He also was a classic white southern male who grabbed a handful of female butt as he tried to french kiss what had been an attempted kiss on the cheek. Yup..that kind of good old boy.
Despite all the stubbornness, that fact that Dewey was honest, that I always knew his “WORD” was good, made me proud to be his daughter-in-law. I learned things from this unhappy man. And yes, one was to avoid his hands.