Friday, November 21, 2008

The Friendliest Little Town in Dixie

Welcome to Marion, North Carolina!

Several months ago, I posted a couple of stories on Marion, North Carolina. I fancy myself something of a travel writer, so I enjoyed the opportunity to describe the cultural attractions, the shopping opportunities and the fine dining that await you in one of the most excellent towns you’ll visit in all of central McDowell County. Should the Marionites ever want to claim the title of “The Friendliest Little Town in Dixie” then I’d be happy to provide documentation supporting their case. You see, in the months since I posted the stories on Marion, North Carolina, I’ve received a number of kind comments from the fine folks of that fair town.

Just this week, “Bonnie” wrote to say that she was impressed with my coverage of what shall forevermore be (in my mind) “The Friendliest Little Town in Dixie.”

Well...very impressive observations you make. May jock itch continue to grow on you and may you never visit Marion, NC again.

One day later, she added this comment:

"I’m not welcome in Marion, North Carolina." You ARE a little brighter than you seem at first glance, aren't you? Since you realize the truth that you're not welcome maybe you will now be bright enough to stay the hell out!

I appreciate the fact that Marionites show such a deep interest in the well-being of visitors to their friendly town. Nothing so bland and generic as “Y’all come back, ya’ he’ah…” In Marion, the greetings are more, shall we say, PERSONAL and HEARTFELT. Take, for instance, this anonymous response to my restaurant review:

Bantam Chef is one of the best places to eat in marion, you ignorant ass. You should really get to know a counties people and food before you decide your too good for it. My mother in law works there and we love to eat there. Maybe you should keep your happy ass in california or keep your rude comments to yourself.

Actually, I have no intention of leaving my heart in San Francisco or my happy ass in California. I figured Bantam Chef was one of the best places to eat in Marion, which is why I chose it, but anyhow…

"Rae" tells me there are plenty of other great places to eat when (or if) I ever go back to Marion:

Maybe if you had a more positive attitude when coming to Marion you wouldn't have such a problem with it. How about next time you come by you eat at a place like Little Sienna restaurant or go to the Crooked Door Coffee House on Main Street or visit the Old Train Station where former President Clinton recently spoke in support of Hilary's campaign or go to Lake James State Park,The Carson House or Linville Caverns and Linville Falls.

Another anonymous reader commented on multiculturalism in Marion:

HAHA, I'm a Marionite (transplanted) and yeah we tend to stare but don't let that fooled you- oops, too late. Being Asian, Marion beats all the places I've been to (N, S, Mid-west) and lived in (MI, GA). I'm still trying to figure out how in the heck a hick town like this can be so much more than first impression. Maybe it was those greasy gyros from the Bantam Chef, I never did much cared for BLT from any restaurant, anyhow. Yeah, the folks here is a bit backwoods nostalgia, but that is how I like it.

Yet another anonymous Marionite indicated that the recent passage of liquor sales in Marion should give people even more reason to smile:

I live in Marion and for the most part, people will be friendly to your face but they dont accept any form of outsiders and they do all seem to have that same look about them. Like they hate life and can't understand why anyone ever smiles. Maybe its the inbreeding, not sure but its a dying town, that's for certain. Now that the liquior law finally got passed now though, hopefully some new blood and businesses can make a place here and give people a place to go, something to do and hopefully something to smile to about instead of the daily condemning people to hell if they are different. Not bitter, just tired. Been here a while, like the weather but most of the people I don't especially care for. I keep to myself, stay home and smile all day! :) dont go to that coffee shop, crooked sux, they have dogs running around up there that bite and get hair in the coffe and cheesecake. :P damn repubilcans.

Helpfully, “libbi greene” weighed in with a resounding endorsement of “The Friendliest Little Town in Dixie.”

I have read your "comments" with interest! Although I have lived in Miami, New Hampshire, Charlotte, And Knoxville, I DO find this place quite nice. I don't have to wear mace or protective equipment to walk to the store. I don't have to worry about the kids playing by the school. I have a very nice home on a medium income that I can afford and I don't have to grab a cab if I want to go somewhere. Although you feel these signs are's to keep small people like you, little guys with no imagination, way back wherever your lonely and insecure soul (if you have one) is hopefully not reproducing. Your poor parents!!! What a shame they have to call you "son" much less sane.

Well, perhaps libbi greene need not wear mace or protective equipment to walk to the store, but should I return to Marion any time soon that’s precisely what I plan on wearing.

Finally, we heard from one reader on the verge of moving to Marion who already had the image of friendly people firmly in mind...well, maybe not so firmly:

I am planning to move to Marion, NC in three weeks. Now I am not sure I want to! I had this image that the people were friendly, and it was a nice place to move...If anyone can tell me something positive please do!!

For the original postings on "The Friendliest Little Town in Dixie" go to:

I'll conclude with a few lines from a Woody Guthrie song, inspired by an infamous 1929 incident in "The Friendliest Little Town in Dixie." At the very least, Marion is a friendlier place today than it was in 1929 when deputies gunned down striking mill workers. But if you do go to Marion for a friendly visit, I suggest you NOT bring up that unpleasant chapter from the past. (Although I intend to, after hearing the 1930 recording of "Marion Massacre" and reading Sinclair Lewis's eyewitness account of the strike. The town has a significant history. Apparently they also have a HUGE RUG under which they've tried to sweep that history. No wonder Marionites are so damned touchy and thin-skinned. The Marion Massacre is quite a story, but it's a story for another day.)

By the way, "Bonnie" and "anonymous" and the rest of you friendly folks, I AM coming back to Marion, North Carolina one of these days, and when I do, I INTEND TO PARK ON YOUR SIDEWALKS! BE AFRAID. BE VERY AFRAID.

'Twas in Marion, North Carolina,
In a little mountain town;
Six workers of the textile
In cold blood were shot down.
--From "The Marion Massacre" by Woody Guthrie


Western North Carolina Writer's Underground said...

Oh Lord. Now you done stirred 'em up. There gonna be comin' for you with a rope!

k said...

You know, I live in a little town. And yeah, we stare at strangers. We however don't have signs up telling people not to park on the sidewalks. We would be nice enough to explain that politely to their faces. And our BLT's are pretty good.
People can't remember their history in a small town. They have to deal with those people every day. To some extent, you have to let bygones be.
A pity...

GULAHIYI said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GULAHIYI said...

Thanks, k, for the comments. I didn't begin my assualt on Marion with any particular ill will. I just saw a few signs that struck my funny bone. However, after receiving a couple of responses that seemed inordinately passionate and defensive, I'll admit that I was ready to start taunting the Marionites.

But there's more to it than that.

The labor uprising that happened in Marion (along with Gastonia, Elizabethton, etc.) was an important historic event. And I think it's a shame that it's been forgotten, not just in Marion, but throughout North Carolina, the South and the whole US. It deserves a place, not just in local history, but United States history.

Now I understand that it's easy for me to be objective and academic about see it in that detached kind of way. But as I explained, I also have a personal connection with it, through my own experience of growing up in a cotton mill town. So, my response to the injustices and indignities suffered by mil;l workers is not just intellectual. It is visceral, I assure you.

I was curious to hear Lawing explain how the strike had been swept under the rug in Marion. In a way, I can understand why. As you say, you have to move forward, deal with the same people every day and let bygones be.

But what happened in Marion did not happen in every small town, and that's one reason I am curious about the repercussions that extend even to the present day. I'd venture to say, that in the decades after the strike, Marion was suffering from PTSD. My curiosity prompts me ask "How does a community deal with PTSD? How do you go about healing, instead of just letting a sore fester?" I don't pretend to have the answer, but I think it's a question worth raising.

In 1980, labor union leaders resolved to raise funds to build a monument "to the memory of our brothers and sisters who shed their blood for the good of this Union." I don't know if it ever got built. I suspect it might stir controversy even in 2008. What is the chance that it would get vandalized, even if it were erected in Marion? Or maybe not.

Sinclair Lewis may have been prone to some exaggeration here and there. But there was something in what he wrote about Marion that rang true for me. The way that he wrote of the cold prejudice and exploitation he witnessed was something I could relate to from what I saw growing up. I'll admit that I thoroughly enjoy the bitter sarcasm with which he lampoons arrogance. And anybody who thought that Gulahiyi was being harsh with Marion...hasn't read Sinclair Lewis.

I'll probably post a few of his gems pretty soon.

Thanks again, k.

Anonymous said...

Charlie Cannon had a different solution.

Observing that he owned the business outright and that people had jobs because he had work to do, he said (paraphrase but pretty accurate) go ahead and have your union election, I will padlock the plant the day after the union wins. A number of my folks worked at Cannon at the time, and one grinned and said, "He'd bulldoze it, too".

I had to admit a sneaking admiration for him; he was the industrialist version of Charlie Bundrum and a bunch of my wilder relations. "No damn body is gonna tell me what to do".

Class of '74

GULAHIYI said...

Hello, '74. Interesting. I recall hearing nothing good about unions when I was growing up. There are lots of reasons behind that, for sure.

SC Public TV aired a documentary on that state's textile mill towns a couple of years ago. I thought it did a great job of depicting the positive side of living in a paternalistic, close-knit community such as some of the mill towns of the 1930s and 40s. And it also got into the darker side of things. It is worth a viewing, especially for the full range it conveys about the good and the bad of mill life.

I can't recall the title of that one, but it was not "Uprising of '34" which is a documentary that I have NOT seen, but focuses on the deadly strikes of 1934. I understand some PBS stations in the south refused to air that one.