Ryan Blosser: A toast to the seductive righteousness of Augusta County
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” I awoke early this morning with a Hunter Thompson mantra rattling around in my head. I fed the pigs, took a deep breath, and looked out over the sleeping garden beds. It’s a breathtaking frosty December morning in the central Shenandoah Valley, and two things warm me. The rising sun and my grin at the end of a thought that starts with Augusta County taking a long swallow from a gigantic cup of crazy.
My grandma Anna Mae, a secretary for thirty years for the local middle school and a woman who loved her family, her community, and very cold amber lager in the garden on hot July days, used to say that only crazy people share their opinions in the news. This here is my toast to the crazy.
Augusta County, I love you. I love you because you invited me into in your living rooms to help with your marriages. I’ve sat at your kitchen table and helped you through grief, depression, and addictions. I love you because you let me teach your kids how to grow organic vegetables, and in my younger days, you watched me on the basketball court. I’ve had the honor of hacking into your brains and hearts, have heard your most intimate thoughts, and broken up your fights. Like the majority of this community, I’ve been here the majority of my life.
This has not been a one-sided relationship. You’ve given me connection and purpose, you’ve given me identity and meaning, and you’ve given me your trust. You exposed my class privilege and my racial privilege, and provided the space for me to reflect on this. You’ve taught me that education doesn’t always mean you’re smart and that being smart doesn’t always mean you’re educated. Now, here I sit in the kitchen continuing my meditation around the excitement of having our community invited onto the national stage.
That shit was exciting, but more importantly it made me proud.
It’s not the initial dust up from an angry parent that made me proud, or that our education system was brought to its knees by a national chorus of wild-eyed, passionate, and by all reports scary communications. Rather, it’s the support for our educators and our administrators coming from the most unexpected places that really fans my feathers.
I confess, as a young man, I needed to get out of here and so spent five years in Hawaii with my wife. When we started our small family, this was the last place we wanted to be. But it was cheap so we came home. Since returning to the Valley 10 years ago, what we remembered and incorrectly stereotyped as a backwoods monoculture of ignorance, has evolved into an ideologically diverse community of people unafraid of nuance. Indeed, we are a collection of high-powered weirdos, innovators and hustlers; helpers, thinkers, and teachers. Many of you seem to be embarrassed by the fact that a small number of individuals representing a fraction of the number of belief systems that make up this community were the ones who drew the spotlight our way. And, that, is why, I love you.
So it seems through these eyes that the story is not in the story. Nah, the story is in the conversations we are having with each other on social media, in grocery stores or our kids’ basketball practice. The story is in the support of Augusta County’s educators and administrators, many supporters identifying themselves as Christian and conservative. The story can be found in the voices of those who respond to the national news scolding our xenophobia by stating: “I have a different opinion than my peer who happens to be getting all of the airtime. “ And that, as Gregory Bateson likes to say; is the difference that makes a difference.
It’s getting late. As I write this last paragraph there is a venison chili slow cooking on the stove in cast iron older than the log cabin my family calls home. I’m getting hungry. Before circling the family up for our Sunday night meal, allow me to leave you with these last thoughts. The nation will forget about this before Christmas, but my grin ain’t going nowhere. I’ve been reminded of why I love this complex and complicated community.
To paraphrase the good Dr. Thompson once again: Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County, you’ll never get too weird for me.
– Column by Ryan Blosser/Augusta County