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When Professions Follow a Family Tree

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. Have you noticed how a trade or a profession gets chosen by a family and then is kept for years, generations sometimes? Sometimes it seems tied to the family name. I can't tell you how many carpenters and woodworkers I've known who have names like Sawyer, Woods, Oakley and, well, Carpenter. Come to think of it, that may be the reason for so many Smiths, since the word is also a suffix describing a number of tradesmen, like blacksmith, silversmith, wordsmith, etc. But it does seem like sometimes a trade will attach itself to a family, or vice versa, and not let go.

For instance, in my mother's family a good many of us ended up working for the postal service. My mother was a postmaster, as was her mother, her father and her uncle, all at the same little rural post office at Butterfield, over in Barry County. My mother's sister married a man who was a mail carrier, and their son became a mail carrier as well. For a while it became almost a calling, and it was implied that if I ever straightened up and came home, I could be a postmaster too.

Of course that's not the way it worked out. But here lately, what with the movie, the soundtrack, the radio show, the printed version of the radio pieces, and with a new CD just out and an expanded version of the essays on its way, it seems I may be coming back into the family fold, but in a brand new way.

I'm getting posts on social media sites. I have a blog, and I do Facebook. I haven't yet gone in for MySpace or Twitter, and I probably won't. I mean, who has time for all that chatter? Perhaps when I was younger and had more to say, or believed I had, it would have been more worth diving in and just trying them all. But these days I'm lucky I get to the end of the week without being farther behind than when I started.

By keeping to just those two, I expected to be able to keep up. But the blog thing turned into a monster when people who watched the movie and liked the music learned they could write in and talk about it or read about it. Since its creation in June of last year, just over 71,000 people have elected to do just that. Most of them just stopped by and read a little and didn't comment. But I've had to answer a lot of mail over the last year, enough to make me want to give up the whole endeavor, except for one thing.

Old friends, people I thought I'd never hear from again, have been popping up, one or two at a time. People from high school. From California, where I spent a decade before returning home. And people I've never heard of before, and from all parts of the globe. Yesterday it was a woman in Bangladesh. The day before, Australia. Last week, two from the British Isles, one in Scotland, the other in Wales, the week before, Norway, writing to tell me they have hillbillies too.

And just today, someone wrote me that I was sure I'd never hear from again. Someone with whom I'd had a falling out after a long friendship, and nursed a grudge about for a long time. "I know we parted on bad terms," they said. "But I am happy for your success. It would be astounding and fun to hear from you."

And then they told me about their life from then until now, and it was only then that I realized how long it had been. All that heat and bad feelings were nearly 40 years ago. Surely it was time to set it aside. And so I did, and answered the letter, filled in the blanks caused by separation, and offered thanks for their courage in trying to set things right. I might well have thanked them also for heading my thoughts in this odd direction, from postmasters to web masters. It's all a part of the long history of our trying to maintain, create or repair relationships with those who make our lives fuller. I think back now to those earlier times, when I would write home to the folks and just address the letter to Postmaster, Butterfield Missouri.

Or when I went off to seek my fortune in California and wound up working for a publisher who had me editing manuscripts from the ends of the earth, and I'd snip the stamps off the packaging and send them home to add to my mother's stamp collection.

Everything's changed, and yet, not all that much. Far away has gotten closer, that's all. That, and I have three post office boxes now – one in West Plains, one out by the road across from the farm, and one right here on my computer. Some days they're all full, and I'm like my mother, muttering and fussing my way through all the deliveries until they're sorted out. It's become part of what I do, and it's a good trade, one I can practice without having to go too far too often from these Ozarks Hills.