October 4, 2019

Remember Your Roots!

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Perhaps you are one of those people who run from their roots. Like Reese Witherspoon’s character, Melanie Smoots in the movie, “Sweet Home Alabama”. Melanie had long left her little Alabama town and carved out a life as a fashion designer in the Big Apple. She even changed her last name to hide her past.

Time is drawing close for her wedding, but she has to return to the small town to get her estranged husband to sign their divorce papers. Upon the return comes a hilarious plot as she tries to hide her roots from her big city fiance’ only to be found out. The unfolding is a rediscovery of her heritage and healing with her estranged family. By the end of the movie, she realizes you aren’t defined by your roots, but they are something from which to grow and ultimately cherish with gratitude.

A lot of people have a bad taste from their childhood and formative years. For many, there are painful memories, but none of us can totally shake our roots despite intentional efforts. Our formative years shape us more than we realize. It’s only when we embrace them (the good and the bad) that we realize their impact upon us. No, we don’t have to be the ideas, people, situations, tragedy, or pain we experienced, but they are part of us and always will be.

I hail from men and women of simple means. Appalachia runs deep in my roots. Yes, that’s my maternal grandfather in the picture to the right sitting with his uncle tending their still in East Kentucky back in the late ’20-’30s. Not too long after Papa left hooch tending and entered the coal mines as so many young men did in that era in my native Bluegrass. Both of my grandfathers were coal miners in East and West Kentucky. Neither completed high school, but both were hard-working men and fathers with a strong work ethic and integrity who provided for their families. I wouldn’t trade my roots for anything, but I didn’t always feel that way. Years ago as a young broadcast professional I lived with a fair amount of embarrassment in regard to my roots. My friends were the sons and daughters of highly successful professionals. At the time, I didn’t realize at what cost to their loved ones.

By my 30’s I began to really appreciate the character, grit, and stories surrounding my roots. As time passed, I embraced and celebrated them despite the dysfunctional hiccups. By the way, the late University of Louisville Medical School professor, Dr. Wayne Oates (a native of Greenville SC and born in extreme poverty), used to say, “All families are dysfunctional, it’s just to what degree.” Accepting and embracing my roots was and continue to be liberating for me. I so wish I could return in time and thank both of those grandfathers for the wisdom and commonsense they modeled to me. I can only hope my grands will feel the same one day about my wife and me.

If you are a young professional with baggage from your formative years, accept it, and learn from it. We’ve all got baggage. However, each of us determines what we carry/haul around in our life wagon. You can choose to pull the bad and use it as a crutch, or you can embrace it, learn from it, and grow. Even if it was painful, you can learn something from it. We will never move forward until we make peace with our past and empty our wagons of the baggage. I’m so grateful for two, simple, honest, hard-working men who contributed to my formative years. I hope I’ve made them proud or at least honored their memory.

Monty Carter
Storyteller for WebSpeak Media

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