Gary told me, Read Hillbilly Elegy – it’ll make you see things you’ve been staring at for years in a different light.
The story – a memoir – starts when a pregnant thirteen-year-old girl marries a sixteen-year-old boy and moves from Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains to Middleton, Ohio in the late 1940’s.
He went to work in a steel mill and, as she had three more children, he drank until one night she told him, Come home drunk one more time and I’ll kill you.
A week later after he staggered home, as he lay sleeping on the couch, she poured gasoline on him and struck a match. Their oldest daughter put out the flames. They separated, reconciled, but lived apart until he died.
Their youngest daughter set out to become a nurse but, out on her own, crippled by addictions to prescription drugs she crashed through five marriages.
Her son, guarded by his older sister, meandered through high school, joined the Marines, served in Iraq, returned to Ohio, went to college, met a girl, fell in love, married, and wrote a memoir about the land he’d left behind.
Our neighbor Pattie, he wrote, called her landlord to report a leaky roof. The landlord arrived and found Pattie topless and unconscious on her living room couch. Upstairs the bathtub was overflowing – hence, the leaking roof. Pattie had apparently drawn herself a bath, taken a few prescription painkillers, and passed out. The top floor of her home and many of her family’s possessions were ruined. This is the reality of our community. It’s about a naked druggie destroying what little of value exists in her life. It’s about children who lose their toys and clothes to a mother’s addiction.
He told another story about a man who, after a career teaching, explained: They want us to be shepherds to those kids. But no one talks about the fact many of them are raised by wolves.
Hillbilly Elegy is about a land where hillbillies get run over by freight trains when factories shutter; where husbands beat wives, mothers take drugs, and children grow into adults without faith or hope.
Enter Donald Trump.
Who sung the lost hillbillies a simple song: They’d been screwed. By Washington Elites, Wall Street Elites, bad trade deals and illegal immigrants.
Then he promised them vengeance.
The hillbillies weren’t naive – they doubted his promises. And they saw at times he lied. But they didn’t care. They had a score to settle. And he had the guts to settle it.
Last fall – in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania – their votes catapulted Donald Trump into the White House and, now, there’re millions of dispossessed hillbillies…waiting…and if he lets them down they will grow even angrier.