Long ago when I was attending 35E school at Ft. Gordon, GA, I was bestowed the moniker “Jed” for my most excellent Southern accent. The Yankee colleague who addressed me with this Appalachian appellation did so in joking condescension, yet I decided to embody his insult in pride. I went out and bought a pair of cowboy boots and started listening to Country music.
I’m twenty years removed from those days at Ft. Gordon, and while I’ve tried not to be a caricature of Southernness, I’ve never denied my heritage. While I work in arguably one of the most advanced cities in the World (yes, here in Alabama), I’ve chosen to live in the country, in a County that attempted to secede from the Great State of Alabama during the War of the Northern Aggression, no less. We are in fact the only County in the State that still doesn’t have a single four-lane road.
Recently, my wife and I binged the first two seasons of Beverly Hillbillies. I’d watched the show as a kid, but never in sequence and never these early episodes. I have decided that The Beverly Hillbillies is one of the greatest TV shows of all time and is just as relevant today as it was in 1962. I am amazed that it’s not been banned because of the positive light it portrayed on the Confederacy. Granny is an ardent sympathizer, and at one point, “whomps” Jethro on the head for not showing proper respect for the President, Jefferson Davis.
I think one thing I never realized as a kid is that the Clampetts weren’t from Appalachia (although Granny grew up there), they were from the Ozarks. It was never made clear on the show if they lived in Arkansas or Missouri, but that minor detail is irrelevant.
While Jed was not a rich man in the beginning, he was an honorable man, a noble hillbilly, if you will. There is an innocence to the entire Clampett clan. The only one with any worldly inclinations was Cousin Pearl, Jethro’s mother. It was upon her insistence that Jed uprooted the family to move to “Californi”. Even her worldview was limited to the world as she saw it through the old movies screened at the theater where Pearl played “Pie-annie” to provide soundtrack to the silent pictures.
The Clampetts weren’t ignorant rubes. Theirs was a world of isolation from the rest of the country, much as I would envision the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Modern folk out in Beverly Hills were just urbane and worldly, they weren’t more intelligent. One of my greatest amusements from the series is how the Clampetts and Mr. Drysdale and others would talk past each other. They all spoke English, but they were speaking different languages.
One of the greatest traits expressed by Jed Clampett was the sincere pitty he felt for others. He didn’t try to convert them to his worldview (as they did him), but offered hospitality and genuine concern; both hallmarks of a true Southern Gentleman. He never comprehended the vastness of his newfound wealth, and he did not let Mammon change the man he was.
We’d all be better men to emulate the wonderful traits of Jed. He feared God and loved his family.
Modern TV has not reproduced this character, to its discredit. They portray Hillbillies as bumbling fools. I’d contend the closest they’ve came to the honorable Jed Clampett is Jacob Snell, from the show Ozark. Like Jed, Jacob’s family has been in the hills for generations. Jacob has a code of honor, but he’s a local crime lord, growing poppies and controlling the local heroin supply. People who get sideways of him end out dead.
But back to his code of honor, he holds himself to a higher standard than your regular, run of the mill white trash. This is made clear in one episode where he is dealing with a colleague’s failure. In speaking with the lesser individual, he shares a parable about a redneck and a hillbilly:
A redneck and a hillbilly are strolling along a country lane, talking about the Garden of Eden.
The redneck, drinking whiskey as he walks believes that Adam and Eve had every right to take that apple for, if God were kind why would he forbid them from partaking in that delicious fruit? The hillbilly listens and nods.
Then the redneck finishes the bottle and throws it onto the path. When the hillbilly frowns the redneck says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” When the hillbilly frowns again, redneck says, “You judge doubly, you sin twice.” Whereupon God smites the redneck dead.
Hillbilly forever silent and diligent digs the redneck’s grave fashions a humble tombstone from the empty bottle, and walks on.
That eve he witnesses the most beautiful sunset ever ‘fore made.
The parable is quite apt. The hillbilly in it is reserved, reverent. He shows respect for the redneck, unworthy of it as he was. In the show, Jacob Snell tried to be that honorable hillbilly but fell short. Maybe that’s just a more human portrayal in Snell; he’s jaded, leery. Clampett, in contrast, sees the best in all men. He gives the benefit of the doubt. When I hear that parable, I don’t envision Snell, who told it, but Clampett who embodied it.
I try not to seek those who I’d emulate from the imaginations of Hollywood, but if I were to pick a hero from those I see in the movies or on TV, I’d want to be Jed.