Woke to Hoopie Culture

Hoopies must be the least woke minority in the country. I don’t know of any hoopies who either know or care that their culture is being appropriated by non-hoopies.

The fact that I don’t have any evidence that hoopie culture is being appropriated doesn’t matter. I have a feeling that it is, and feelings are more important than facts now.

The word “appropriation,” as everyone knows, comes the late Latin (14th century – someone was still speaking Latin then?) “Appropriationem” means to take something (usually money or property) and make it one’s own, probably under cover of law or custom or they would simply call it stealing.

Later the word took on the meaning of setting aside funds for a particular purpose, as when the county commission (or “commeeshun” in hoopie dialect) finally appropriates tax dollars to chip and seal the potholed disgrace of a county road that runs by your house. (One way to know that you’re a hoopie, by the way, is when directions to your house include the phrase, “turn off the paved road.”)

Today’s woke crowd has thankfully alerted us to the concept that less concrete property such as culture can be appropriated, too.

When a Cleveland baseball club, formerly known as the Spiders and once even as the Infants, adopted the name “Indians” in 1915, only one of them was an Indian: Louis Sockalexis, a member of the Penobscot Nation.

It took more than 100 years for that blatant cultural appropriation to be erased with a clever, meaningful new team name: The Guardians. (Blah.) Never mind that calling indigenous residents of the New World “Indians” was a mistake by Christopher Columbus, who thought he had reached India. That only made it worse. Cleveland stole a name that Native Americans didn’t want in the first place.

HOOPIE, geographically speaking, is the Ohio River Valley, both sides, from south of Wheeling to Kentucky, with a particularly strong tributary running up Mud River in Lincoln County to Hamlin, W.Va., my mother’s hometown.

As a hoopie descendant, I therefore have standing to be offended if I want to be.

In the early days of the packet riverboats, poor people living along the Ohio River would cut saplings and sell bundles of them for a nickel or a dime to the boat captains, who brought them upriver to the many potteries of East Liverpool. The saplings were split and notched and soaked in brine, and bent around barrels for hoops. Ware was packed with straw in these barrels and sent to markets up and down the river.

When these “poor dumb hoop-polers” came north to work in the potteries, they were called hoopies, a mild slur similar to the “Okie” name for Oklahomans who immigrated to California during the Dust Bowl era.

Hoopies brought with them the traits of friendliness, hard work, love of family, and independence.

They wanted jobs and could care less about unions. The late Robert J. Zielinski Jr., who had been a president of USW Local 1212 in Midland, Pa., told me that was why Crucible Steel hired so many of them in the 1950s and ’60s. That’s also why the closing of Crucible in 1982 hit East Liverpool, Ohio, and Chester, W.Va., so hard. Hoopies didn’t have to live in Pennsylvania to work there.

Hoopies brought their rich storehouse of idiomatic Appalachian English, sayings including “mad as an old wet hen,” “independent as a hog on ice,” “taking your half of the middle,” and “poor as Job’s turkey.” (How poor was Job’s turkey? “So poor he had to lean against the fence to gobble.”)

My mother, Ol’ Food, used those and many more sayings from Lincoln County. She said some people there “lived so far up a holler they had to pipe the sunlight in.”

Hoopies often bring back more from the dump than they take. They have a deep yen for persimmons, black walnuts and paw-paws, and will use a shotgun to trim an out-of-reach tree limb.

If you’ve ever used such sayings or have those habits, and are not a hoopie, you’re guilty of cultural appropriation.

Not that any of us hoopies care. In fact, we like it. Cultural appropriation is as American as apple pie.

Appropriate away.

(Fred Miller will be signing copies of his second book, “Falling Under Honey’s Spell,” at the Oak Glen Art and Music Festival in Chester on Oct. 24. He currently is available to speak to community organizations.)


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