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Not Forgotten '? Country Boy Can Survive" Confessions of an Ex-Shitkicker BY PATRICK HUBER Every year I make at least two trips home to visit my parents in Ste. Genevieve (pop. 4,411), a predominandy Catholic, mining and farming town in southeastern Missouri. Until it recently closed, my favorite place to hang out while I was home was down at the O.K. Corral, a local watering hole where proprietor Wally Bauman served up cold draft beer in chilled mugs and where fifty cents got you three plays on the jukebox. There, I'd gulp down icy Stag drafts, shoot a few games ofeight-ball, and occasionally eat a pickled egg or two with old high school friends. Once in a while Flick Samples, looking for a litde cheap entertainment, would bet Piss Schweiss a couple of bucks that he wouldn't drink a glass of dill pickle juice from the three-gallon jar on the bar. If Piss was in a good mood, he'd get Wally to set him up with a tall one. Usually, though, nothing much ever happened at the O.K. Corral. We'd just hunker down at the end ofthe bar, watch a hockey game on t.v., and catch up on one another's lives. After three or four beers, our conversation usually turned to reminiscing about the glory days of our fading youth—high school football games, favorite coaches and teachers, old girlfriends, locker room pranks, cruising town on school nights, weekend beer parties. Carl Roth would drop a couple of quarters in the jukebox and invariably he'd select #1 5 5 —Hank Williams, Jr.'s, "A Country Boy Can Survive"—and then, in celebration of our local anthem, Stupe Papin would order another round. No single song, it seems, reminds us of our high school days like that one does. Granted, HankJr. has released some godawful stuff in recent years, "If It Will It Will" and "Born to Boogie," come to mind, but his earlier songs still hold a special place in our memories. Looking back from the vantage point of more than a decade of reflection, I can now more fully comprehend the central role that Hank "Bocephus" Williams , Jr., and country music generally, played in my life as a high-school kid growing up in Ste. Genevieve. As teenage boys wrestling with issues ofmasculinity and peer conformity, my four closest friends and I drew on country music to shape our emerging identities and to help us negotiate that sometimes awkward transition to adulthood. In our limited social world we saw ourselves as different from the rest of our classmates at Valle, our small Catholic high school of less than three hundred students. We weren't like the more popular and upwardly mobile middle-class kids ("preppies" and "pretty boys" we called them) who served 105 on student council, belonged to the National Honor Society, organized Red Cross blood drives, performed in school productions of Oklahoma!, and aspired to go on to snobby Washington University. At the time we despised them, on principle, as brown-nosing overachievers. We poked fun at the way diey mingled uncomfortably at beer parties, nursing warming cans of relatively pricey Budweiser beer (almost $6 a twelve-pack in 1 98 5 ), and tryinginconspicuously to ditch their partially full cans of beer when no one was looking. They were always so fashionable in their trendy deck loafers and pastel-colored Polo shirts with the collars turned up, and seemed to us to be combing their hair incessandy. We weren't what we called "gearheads," either—the group of mechanically minded, working-class kids whose idea of fun was to pop the hood of somebody 's Chevy pickup truck and work on the engine in the bowling alley parking lot on Highway 61. Nor were we "potheads," a gang of boys from the nearby town ofBloomsdale, who, although they hunted and fished like us, also smoked dope, a hobby that my uninitiated group strongly condemned at die time. Rather, my friends and I were, in a word, "shitkickers"—sports-minded country boys who proudly embraced a rural identity and small-town lifestyle. None of us were...


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pp. 105-109
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