|My mother's childhood tribe in front of the McCoy homeplace, Peter Creek, Kentucky (Mom stands second from left)|
TRIBE: A group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest
Coming from Scotch-Irish stock, I’m familiar with tribes and the belonging they bring. As a child, my Kentucky kinfolk were my ‘people’, and each one had their own ‘turn.’ Aunt Eloise was moody. Aunt Dean was playful, and Aunt Alma Leigh was stylish.
When my family moved to Detroit, a few Italian and Polish women called my sisters and me ‘dirty hillbillies.’ I did love playing in dirt. My mother didn’t retaliate. Hers was a forbearing turn.
In eighth grade, my teacher read from an article in a magazine that said Appalachians were poor and clannish. I didn’t know my people were poor. And was clannish a good, or bad thing? In retrospect, the Italians and Polish were clannish too. They gathered on their porches like my family did ours, yet they never waved and said ‘hello.’
Obviously, my teacher and neighbors didn’t know we came from several remarkable clans, one more infamous than all. Mom was a McCoy, and seldom mentioned the McCoy-Hatfield feud. Her folk wanted to leave that history behind. Rather, Mom told stories about Grandpa Lark that made her eyes sparkle. An O’Brien from West Virginia's Thacker Hollow, Dad lost his accent as a Marine during WWII, erased his homeplace from our family knowledge.
But Mom took us back home to the McCoy Bottom every summer for vacation. Oh the hours my sisters and I wiled away swinging and singing on the front porch with our cousins, running the bottom and turning cartwheels. Praise the blissful, indivisible tribes of childhood!
After my family walked through our door in Warren, I wrote poems about missing my mountains and mailed them to my cousins. Sure wish I’d saved some of that sappy poetry.
Years later, after my husband and I lost our firstborn, we attended an evening poetry workshop sponsored by the Orion Township Library. What evolved was miraculous. The workshop leader and class members took my broken hearted poems seriously, gave gentle and helpful critique. When the session concluded, Karen Renaud offered another workshop in the morning for the women in the group.
We begged for another session, then another. At last Karen resigned. She recommended a poetry workbook and said, “You girls are writing good poetry. You don’t need me anymore.”
One particular morning when we poets gathered around the table eager to share our human condition in beautiful images and metaphors, someone read a poem that shot clear through us. We drummed on the table and hollered, an official poetry tribe in progress.
We met for several years every Tuesday morning, changing venue when needed. The day came when someone suggested we meet every other Tuesday. My spirit sank. I knew it was the beginning of the end.
Our poetry tribe disbanded four years ago. One member lost her husband, one’s a snowbird, and another is occupied with grandchildren.
My dear Reader, call it a clan or whatever your people choose. In this entire world, there’s nothing like belonging to a tribe, and knowing it.