I was planning to write something fairly comprehensive—by my muddy standards—about the Iowa caucuses. Instead, a national story right in my reasonably obscure back yard has led my return from holiday hiatus to a different news perspective.
I have complained for years about the movie “Deliverance”. The novel Deliverance
was written by James Dickey, the former poet laureate of North Carolina, and a man who was not without understanding of mountain folks. I won’t ascribe malice to his portrayal of mountain people in his first novel, but the image he put over was unflattering, to say the least.
Shortly after the novel was published in the late 1960s, the movie rights were snapped up by Hollyweird. Noted director John Boorman brought home a cinematic masterpiece starring Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox.
I love this movie, and I hate it. I love it because it was filmed where I live, and I revel in the scenery and Boorman’s acknowledgement that nature in this area is unforgiving if you get crossways with it. I hate it, because it set the reputation of mountain people in general back by about 30 years.
I won’t give spoilers, because if you are too young or culturally deprived to have never seen this movie, you need to go rent the DVD, and not wait for the next rotation on Turner Movie Classics, where it earns four stars. However, instrumental to the rest of this article, I must say that the core of the movie is an exceedingly brutal attack on what we call “flatlanders” by some particularly ugly, unsavory hillbillies.
I give James Dickey a pass because I’ll assume he was going for some poetic symbolism or commentary on the human spirit and will to triumph, and nasty hillbillies just happened to be his tool of antithesis… or whatever. I’ll even give Boorman a pass, although he presented Dickey’s novel with an unrelenting realism that presaged the less-than-romantic movies of the ‘70s. Less than total, gritty realism would have made the whole movie ludicrous, and thus not a masterpiece, but a hack job.
As recently as 1998, I invited someone to come visit me in north Georgia. The reply was astonishing: “I’m not coming up there! They attack people off in those woods!”
I am not making this up.
I know some genuine “hillbillies”. They are people from the school of hard knocks, and unlike myself, they are not educated beyond their intelligence. (A favorite observation of hillbillies about pretentious flatlanders who move here and deign to tell us how to live.) I have known some inbred hillbillies, and I know plenty of hillbillies who can play the banjo. When CBS floated their nasty idea of a “New Beverly Hillbillies” “reality” show exploiting some mountain family, I led the troops storming the gates to stop that manure. (They cancelled the idea and left off interviews in the area.) We live quietly, we ask nothing, and some of us have been to college, and even graduated.
I have traveled the world, and so haven’t lived my entire life in the mountains, but this is my home, inhabited by my people. I have never, in my 5+ decades on this earth, known of a hillbilly who actually attacked a flatlander for any reason. Perhaps Mr. Dickey—who played the sheriff in the movie version of his novel—had some personal or apocryphal example of a murderous hillbilly in his poetic/novelistic vision, but the reality falls far short. As far as I know, there is not a single incidence of a hillbilly attacking a flatlander as far back as I can research the subject.
All of this comes into play because of the disappearance of a young woman named Meredith Emerson. On or about New Year’s Day, she and her dog drove up here from Buford, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. A native of Colorado, she was seeking what passes for mountains in this region, and set off along a trail in Vogel State Park, over by Blood Mountain.
Meredith Emerson is now missing. If I was ambulatory, instead of bound to this damned wheelchair, I’d be on a horse freezing my ass off looking for her.
It would not be the first time I looked for MIAs in deep woods, although those days are past for me. There is a “person of interest” in this case, which makes my cynical self wince. I am forbidden by lawyers from naming my father’s murderers online; likewise, I’ll let the mainstream media crucify the last person seen talking to Meredith Emerson. I’ll give him a pass to one degree: turn in and talk about it. She’s an attractive woman; I’d hit on her and talk to her…if that’s all it is, talk to our local cops about it. If you don’t, then some of us victim’s rights people are going to take a dim view of you.
I need to defend “hillbillies” here. The “person of interest” is from DeKalb County. That is adjacent to Fulton County, and an integral part of Atlanta. In short, he ain’t from around here.
One other thing the media isn’t reporting; a footnote:
Blood Mountain is so named because a nasty battle was fought there between Native Americans and settlers eager to get at the Dahlonega gold fields (which preceded the 1849 California strike). It set the stage for the Trail of Tears, another proud chapter in our history. (Sarcasm intended…I am an honorary Cherokee by virtue of doing some legal work for them in the 1970s; I blush, but the “Ward Churchill” membership card makes me as much of an Injun as he will ever be.)
We need to pray for this girl, Meredith Emerson. I’d be out looking for her if there was any way I could. We have competent search teams who know this wilderness.
If the worst case scenario turns out to be true, this is not a hillbilly thing. Someone came up here to do this. We are scary when we pop out of the woods with our green teeth and smelly bodies, but we don’t hurt people. We don’t attack flatlanders; as I write this, there are dozens of “hillbillies” combing the worst wilderness on the East Coast looking for a woman we’re hoping is nothing more than lost and injured.
It sounds cruel, but I am hoping that this is what the coroners used to call “misadventure”. She fell off a trail—and those in Vogel are steep—and broke something. My dogs would stick by me in such a circumstance, but they would respond to searchers. The weather has been brutal by Georgia standards, but there is always a chance. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.
Meredith Emerson is a flatlander; she came up here from Buford, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. The “person of interest” is from Dekalb County, also a suburb of Atlanta.
Hundreds of “Deliverance” hillbillies are out searching every stream and backwater to find this woman. I hope this explains my love/hate relationship with this movie.
Back in the real world, please join me in praying that there is a positive outcome to this family’s nightmare.