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Hillbilly Luck: Red Heads and Black Eyed Peas

Most everybody knows by now that black eyed peas are considered good luck food to eat at the New Year.

Hillbillies are taught at a young age to eat at least one or two black eyed peas at the annual New Year's meal, along with a piece of hog's jaw, which is kind of like chewy, thick sliced bacon, and greens of some kind, especially cabbage.

Of course cornbread goes with this meal, but not the sweet kind, mind you. That's not hillbilly.

As a child, I quickly learned that it was also considered good luck in hillbilly culture to touch a red head on the head.

The first country shy bumpkin distant cousin that came to pet me on the head elicited a fiery stare from me, but I was quickly informed by my Mamaw that it was to be expected, for doing so was good luck.

It was harmless enough, I reckon, and soon enough I was pretty accustomed to a stroke in passing, often intended to be so unobtrusive as I couldn’t even feel it.

But either way, whoever did it always went immediately away, not seeking conversation or anything other than the luck a quick stoke of my lock could provide.

Sometimes I’d get a polite nod or slight tip of the hat in exchange for bestowing this mysterious favor.

Mamaw told me that we were descendent from the royalty of Wales, and that if, like 100 or something people died off in the succession, that we would be Queens.

I liked the sound of that, all except for the 100 people dying part, and felt pretty special from that point on.

Maybe that’s what everyone is really looking for in those genetic testing, ancestor hunting, blood testing sites; we all want to be descendant from royalty and reincarnated from Elvis or Joan of Arc.

Whether black eyed peas and red hair brings luck or not, I sure feel fortunate to have grown up in East Tennessee when the Depression Era folks were still alive and kicking.

The cultural riches I inherited from my Mamaw and her brother Uncle Fred are more valuable to me than any worldly treasure.

For riches come and go, but roots go deep and make for bounty of a different kind.

And as for luck, it's nice to have, but it too is fickle.

The real luck is finding what you love to do in life, and then doing it until you're good enough to do it for a living.


Selection comes from a book I'm working on called Growing Up Williams. Be sure to opt in to my email list for updates.

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