We would pick corn, green beans, butter beans and potatoes in her garden.I would sit with my cousins snapping green beans and peeling butter beans, and we’d spend hours upon hours shucking corn.
I worked to drop, or at least soften, my thick Southern accent.
Each assignment became a competition, and not just about the grade.
It’s not the renowned writer himself that’s the problem, writes a pastor who grew up in and serves rural communities.
But his writing projects an idealized vision of rural life that ignores current realities. He is quoted in conference presentations and referenced in sermons. An album of his poems arranged for a choral group can be downloaded on Spotify (which seems ironic, given his disdain for technology).
I grew up in a rural town, the kind you would read about in one of Berry’s novels.
During the summer, I would wake up early and ride with my mom, a schoolteacher, to my great-aunt’s house.Between the lines, though, you can hear the real message: “I’m glad it’s you and not me.” Too often, people use Berry in a way that commodifies rurality.Rural places become picturesque landscapes where life is simple, communal and agrarian.In the fall and winter, I would walk with my older sister to the elementary school a few blocks away.Afterward, I would congregate with the rest of the neighborhood kids or wander in and out of the local shops on the main street.People are friendly, but often only after a long initiation (my parents bought our house in 1989, but my father is still not considered a local).And in an age where fear is the dominant political language, suspicion of the stranger can twist strong community ties into an impenetrable knot.But he doesn’t linger in the grittiness of it before moving back to the ideal.The account of a deadly winter in the novel “Jayber Crow” showcases the beauty of community and family, for example, but leaves unexplored the emotional and psychological impact of the devastation and loss.When Walmart came to town, our small grocery store was forced to close. No one expected my dreams to expand beyond the 2 square miles it occupied.Whenever I talked about living in other places, someone would remark, “Oh, you’ll grow out of that.