by Robert Mason Jr.
Southern by birth, Virginian by the grace of God, and still a come-here.
A good while ago I spotted a bumper sticker that read “Elijah Reed was a come-here.”
I don’t know who came up with that witticism, but it’s worth repeating.
We’re all reminded daily of the contributions made by come-heres in our community. They’ve played key roles in a lot of institutions we take for granted, too numerous to list.
The diversity they’ve brought to town, in most cases, has improved the quality of our life.
Unless you have American Indian in your DNA, we’re pretty much all come-heres.
I asked a learned colleague once, whose family had roots in the Middle Peninsula stretching back some 300 years, how long a family has to live here before they aren’t considered come-heres?
I was expecting 25 or 30 years a reasonable answer. He said three generations. Given a life expectancy of 78.8 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control, three generations could stretch a long time. You do the math.
I guess his point was I’d always be a come-here, which is fine by me. I grew up just across the Rappahannock and many mistake me for a born-here, which also is fine by me. I was born over the mountain in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, so I guess it’s really all relative to how you define here.
I’m proud to be a come-here. I’ve got a lot of friends who are come-heres. If I offend them, they deserve it and vice versa. No sleep lost. I’ve got a lot of friends who are born-heres and we all get along neighborly.
But lately, I’ve become irritated. I see more and more come-heres saying or doing things that give them and the rest of us a bad name.
For example, I cringe when in a public discussion I hear somebody preface a critically candid comment delivered in a superfluous superior tone with “Where I come from we did it this way.”
Pardon me, but if you had it so good where you came from, what are you doing here? Might you go back there and leave us to our own wits and what not? We survived here without you or your kind for a few generations.
And more often than not it’s the recent come-heres of the first generation from north of the line who step in it. Many of them have traveled the world, spent lots of money, time and effort learning languages and cultures, but they end up on our shores full of know it all and don’t bother to learn our language, culture or heritage.
You hear them mispronounce common names and places like it’s vogue. In fact, it’s down right disrespectful.
They assume that because this is America, we’re all the same. We ain’t. We’re Virginian. Learn the creed: “To be a Virginian either by birth, marriage, adoption, or even on one’s mother’s side, is an introduction to any state in the union, a passport to any foreign country and a benediction from above.”
They put up fences and no-trespassing signs and security cameras as if that better-than-the-rest-of-us aura ain’t barrier enough to keep us at bay. They make fun of our accents and our dialect when it’s they that sound foreign.
They buy waterfront for the view and think they’re entitled to the whole river. They complain when the riverneck across the creek cranks up the workboat before sunup to support his family with an honest days’ dredging, or when they get behind the redneck up the road when he is moving his combine from field to field at harvest time.
Quit the whining. We don’t want to be you, like you or be near you anymore than you want to be here.
They want to fix what don’t need mending. We may be small town. We may be rural. We’re not in a hurry. Get over it, or move on.
You might complement us, but you can’t change us.
If you need ask what line, heed the words of the late Winter H. “Shorty” McCrobie: “We didn’t have any damn yankees, skunks or rats on the Northern Neck until they built that bridge.”
Elijah Reed was a ship captain from Brooklin, Maine, who came to Northumberland County in 1874, introduced a method for extracting large quantities of oil from menhaden and opened the first processing plant in the area. The town of Reedville is named for him.
In case you’re wondering who was first, the watermen or Reed, it was the watermen. Reed was a come-here and a carpetbagger, but certainly not a damn yankee.
As a point of clarification, a yankee is anybody from north of the Mason-Dixon line. A “damn yankee” is a yankee with an undesirable attitude, a regular pain-in-the-butt, characterized by constant put-downs of our southern culture and futile attempts to mold us into boring, rude and obnoxious snobs. We’ve got nothing against carpetbaggers when everybody benefits.
And if you have to ask who Shorty was, “That bridge that brought you here, goes both ways.”