by John Raymond Longley, Jr
I was born and raised in Central California, doing the normal things during the 1960s for an aspirational San Joaquin Valley adolescent. The priorities were to complete a college education and fulfill the necessity of draft inspired, military service. As the story goes, I served in Vietnam, was married, completed a graduate degree, and the family grew to father, mother and three kids. All of the kids have grown, married and are now successfully engaged in endeavors that are diverse geographically and occupationally.
Over the past 40 years I have endeavored to understand myself more objectively. It is difficult to break through the barriers of self, but over time traits grounded in long term family culture and values are understood. Though my family has lived in California for more than 100 years, its origin between the 1790s and 1900s was Appalachia.
The Berea College academic Loyal Jones presented a series of essays about Appalachian values (excerpted below) and after some consideration they generally explain my Longley (originally Langley) family culture. Though the truths are compelling, the exceptions are notable. Identifying with the values may explain many personal predilections and passions, but the deviation from the theme may prove as illuminating in outlining our family’s value set.
Nowhere in Loyal Jones’ values of Appalachia can I find education as a priority enterprise. In distinction to this, my grandfather, who was born in a log cabin, explained to me that he and his wife Eliza Jane came to California initially in 1904 and again in 1919 because Meigs County in southeastern Tennessee offered little opportunity for educational growth. The family wanted their kids to have this opportunity and the potential social and economic achievement it empowered.
He told me he was offered the job of sheriff in Meigs County, which he declined. He wanted to be county assessor so he could raise taxes for schools. The reception among the local political bosses was not positive for his idea, so the family moved back to California around 1919. My grandparents sold their Tennessee farm located off No Pone Road near Decatur, including the hams in the smoke house. After arriving in California for the second time my grandfather took a job as a manager for orange farms in the southern San Joaquin Valley and the kids attended adequately supported schools. This was a key decision that has had a profound result in forming his family and their posterity.
He and my Grandma had 5 kids. One graduated from normal school and another from nursing school. One graduated from business college and another graduated from community college. This was an advancement from parents with 8th grade educations. They did well for their time. The next generation continued to grow with one doctorate degree, two masters, and an engineering bachelor’s that allowed the holders to enter employment that advanced the grandparent’s vision.
With succeeding generations, the family has generally advanced through endeavors requiring academic and technical accomplishment, though this definition is changing with our digital age. It is interesting to contemplate where this ambitious interest in educational opportunity came from in John Marion and Eliza Jane Longley’s vision for their family. In any case, thank you Grandpa and Grandma for the opportunities we have.
While education is not mentioned by Loyal Jones as a defining value in Appalachia, the family does demonstrate mountain values. For example, I always wondered why my Dad located the farm house in the middle of the property, not along the street. He said the middle of the property was poor ground and could not be farmed, but it is a characteristic of Appalachia to locate abodes in the middle of properties for privacy and protection. Probably poor dirt and mountain culture both contributed to his decision.
Independence and Self Reliance are specified by Loyal Jones as exemplary of Appalachia. My Father always had his pile of scrap metal, wire and whatever out by the farm shop. Whenever something was needed he would use his decrepit arc welder to fabricate it. He did this with many things, rebuilding trailers, and constructing fences, hinges, hitches, and whatever else was needed. We all learned early to be respectable, we must be prepared for challenges and to not be dependent on family, charity, or government.
Always in the family there was a strong sense of pride in our tradition and forebears. It was not clear why this was since we came from such humble stock. There were legends about Great, Great Uncle John who was a policeman exemplary of the post Civil War era in Tennessee and who operated several business including a reputed “disorderly house”. The pewter pouring container allegedly used to serve his guests with holiday toddies has been passed down. It is a bit battered and worn because both Aunt Mary and my Dad placed it on a wood stove and melted the bottom.
My Father’s tradition was to be neighborly and hospitable. I can remember when a gentlemen arrived in Porterville with a donkey cart. He had driven it across the United States from Oklahoma. Before long, he was staying on property my parent’s owned a couple of miles from the Farm. My Dad built a single wall cabin for him and his kin and they worked around the area, chopping and picking cotton or whatever might be available. One day after running down the Tule River from the cabin to the Farm he confessed to my Father that he had spent time in the Oklahoma Penitentiary for statutory rape. It didn’t seem to make a difference because he continued to live on the property for a time. The property he lived on was remote along the Tule River and I think my Dad wanted someone there to keep it from being a candidate for mayhem and vandalism. This residency did cause some consternation because one day someone parked their car nearby and shot from across the road through the cabin’s metal roof. It scared the dickens out of the Oklahomans, and in my memory they soon moved.
Humility is another mountain value. It is best to not boast about oneself. I certainly saw this in my Grandfather, John Marion Longley. He was a tall, well liked and a handsome man of significant dignity. He served on the Democratic Central Committee in Tulare County and then ran for Tulare County supervisor. He was so private and reluctant to boast about himself, that he did a poor job with the stump speeches. He was very reluctant to get up and tell people why he was the best choice for the job. This duty was left to my Father and he made his best effort to no avail for Grandfather’s success in the election. It did generate a political interest in Dad, however, and years later he ran successfully for the office. I do not remember Dad doing much boasting. Instead he quoted Jefferson in the Farm Tribute paper and used his own Ford tractor to mow road right of way when someone complained to him. It was his high point and he was re-elected to the position twice more before leaving office in 1967.
Loyal Jones defines Love of Place as a mountain virtue. This has nearly escaped the family for we live throughout the United States. One of our children even resides in Africa. I served as a city manager for quite a few years, and moved throughout California. During my career, I always wanted to go home to the Farm in Tulare County. A living was to be made elsewhere, but the farm was a place of family, interest and peace. As a family we have lost this.
My Father had opportunity outside his home of Porterville and my Mother wanted him to pursue it, but they never did. Through their years they lived at the Porterville farms (both Indiana and Westwood Streets) and at the cabin in the Sierra mountains. Before there was a cabin, there were numerous pack trips with riding and pack stock providing transportation to many destinations including Parole Cabin, Rifle Creek, Trout Meadow, Crabtree Meadow, Kern Flats, Funston Meadow, and Clicks Creek by the Haenggi Cow Camp. Mom and Dad demonstrated Loyal Jones value “Sense of place is one of the unifying values of mountain people, and it makes it hard for us to leave the mountains and when we do, we long to return.” (Loyal Jones, Appalachian Values, 1994, p. 99)
A paramount mountain value for the family has been Patriotism. This has primarily been demonstrated through service. Grandpa Longley did not serve in the military though he told me he traveled to Athens, Tennessee (I believe) to sign up for the Spanish American War but either decided against or was not able to accomplish an enlistment. Dad served in the Army-Air Corps during WWII, my Brother and I served respectively in the Army and Air Force during the Vietnam era, and son John served in the Army during Iraq. In addition, Son-in-Law Jake served in the Air Force during Afghanistan and Iran, Niece E.J. and the Coast Guard and Daughter P.J. investigated closely the Air Force before she married. We can all fly the American flag with a special feeling of patriotic identity.
John & Jake’s Iraq Service Flags
The tradition of service has historical roots. Great 4 Grandfather William served during the Revolution and Great 3 Grandfather served as a fifer during the War of 1812. Great 2 and 1 did not serve during the Civil War, though this was a confusing time with great conflict in the Appalachian mountains between Union and Confederate service. My Uncle Herb told me the joke was with our (Great) Grandfather Tennessee Davis, a 4 year Confederate veteran that fought from Kentucky to North Carolina, that the James Longley family hid behind the rocks. I am not sure this is entirely fair to James Longley because he died on April 3, 1963 well before the War was over and was buried in the Cookson Creek Cemetery. He has a substantial tombstone which has my favorite Bible verse inscribed. I am not sure what the verse meant for James because we cannot determine the circumstances of his death.
James son and my Great Grandfather Braziel was born September 27, 1847, being about 18 when the Civil War ended. This was certainly old enough for service, but he did not enlist. Grandpa Longley told me he was too young. I believe this was a sensitivity from the distant past. Apparently he was old enough to be questioned by Union forces. The family folklore is that he was nearly shot by Union forces as a spy, but somehow he was able to convince them of his disinterest and/or neutrality and remained alive.
Great Grandpa Tennessee Davis’ observation is also interesting because Great 2 Uncle John Lattimore Longley (the younger brother of Braziel) served in the Confederacy in riverboat service when he was literally a child soldier. The record is that he deserted before Chickamauga to the Union Army of the Cumberland. I cannot find much more about him except for a few stories and the pewter container Aunt Ora gave me which is now above our cabinets and shown below. He died relatively young on November 29, 1908.
John Lattimore’s Pewter Container
Many folks engage in genealogy to understand their history. Beyond a listing of lineages , genealogy can become an effort to understand the culture and values of our ancestors. In my opinion, this is more illuminating and tells us culturally about ourselves. It is very difficult to be successful with this, because we normally understand that only directly before us. We are creatures of the moment and the context given to us and often do not understand or care what compels other folks outside our personal experience. This cultural context makes us who we are and trying to understand it is a true form of self discovery.
Loyal Jones book Appalachian Values about “mountain people” is revealing of our cultural DNA. Below is a summary of the values and characteristics he defines.
10 Common Characteristics of Appalachia
1. Individualism, Self-Reliance, Pride – most obvious characteristics; necessary on the early frontier; look after oneself; solitude; freedom; do things for oneself; not wanting to be beholding to others; make do
2. Religion – values and meaning to life spring from religious sources; fatalistic (outside factors control one’s life, fate, believe things happen for a reason and will work out for the best); sustains people in hard times
3. Neighborliness and Hospitality – help each other out, but suspicious of strangers; spontaneous to invite people for a meal, to spend the night, etc.
4. Family Solidarity or Familism – family centered; loyalty runs deep; responsibility may extend beyond immediate family; “blood is thicker than water”
5. Personalism – relates well to others; go to great lengths to keep from offending others; getting along is more important than letting one’s feelings be known; think in terms of persons rather than degrees or professional reputations
6. Love of Place – never forget “back home” and go there as often as possible; revitalizing, especially if a migrant; sometimes stay in places where there is no hope of maintaining decent lives
7. Modesty and Being Oneself – believe one should not put on airs; be oneself, not a phony; don’t pretend to be something you’re not or be boastful; don’t get above your raising
8. Sense of Beauty – displayed through folksongs, poems, arts, crafts, etc., colorful language metaphors, e.g. “I’m as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.”
9. Sense of Humor – seem dour, but laugh at ourselves; do not appreciate being laughed at; humor sustains people in hard times
10. Patriotism – goes back to Civil War times; flag, land, relationships are important; shows up in community celebration and festivals
(from: Appalachian Values by Loyal Jones. The Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1994.)