This post is dedicated, with thanks, to Pat Gozemba who introduced me to Joe Bageant—one of her heroes.
It’s a tiny tavern at the corner of Kent and Fairfax in historic Winchester, Virginia. Despite its name, there is nothing royal about the Royal Lunch. Except its patrons. Especially its perhaps most famous patron, Joe Bageant, who treated all of his hurting, blue-collar rural people as if they were indeed royal. He devoted countless hours to listening to their stories. And then he became their scribe, laying out with savage, biting humor why his people—and others like them— vote against their own interests.
His books explain with a clarity that should make every liberal wince, why poor people so often would rather identify with the rich, who don’t give a rat’s ass for them, than with educated progressive do-gooders who condescend to them. Bageant was a red-neck progressive who was not afraid to say that “America’s much-ballyhooed liberty is largely fictional.” He particularly lamented the prisons of our own making, when we yield to the notion that we are “free” to pick who we want to be from a menu of “lifestyles.” When we are not even aware that we are prisoners of the fictions—and the price—of “the good life” as prescribed by politicians and corporate interests. When we, as “prisoners” forget that real freedom comes from creating our own unique identities “from scratch.”
So, like pilgrims, we found ourselves pressing our noses to the glass on a Wednesday afternoon, a day when the bar closed early, trying to see if we could make out the ghost of Joe Bageant. As converts to Bageant’s Deer-hunting with Jesus, a book that moves the reader to tears and to laughter, peering into the Royal Lunch felt like a visit to the shrine of a man who knew how to listen. And was willing to let fly with the truth.
“Fairness and Justice”–that’s what the American Dream should be, according to Joe Bageant. “The health of Wall Street is not our health.”
Greetings from Bangalore! I arrived safely here after a very long trip. Weather is fairly nice, not too warm. I have a couple of days to recoup my energy before starting the retreat with the Brothers on Monday. Say a few prayers next week for that intention. I trust you and John are enjoying your stateside trip. Loved your piece on the tavern in Winchester. You make it so real, I felt like I was there.
Be safe and well in your travels. I look forward to catching up when I return.
Blessings of joy and peace!
Glad to know you are safely arrived in Bangalore, Fr. George. We must join you on a future trip. Yes, will keep you in our prayers for a good retreat. Look forward to your return–hope they know they only have you on loan!!! To dinner and much conversation about Bangalore and Joe Bageant and how he identified with and spoke so fiercely for the poor. Blessings gratefully received. aloha, Dawn
Dawn, I’m sure Joe Bageant would be thrilled to the gills upon reading your homage. Also thanks so much for introducing him via “Deer-Hunting with Jesus” to me and Richard. Since reading it, we’ve recommended it to many friends and acquaintances.
Are you back home, yet?
Nice of you to think that, Gwen–but Joe B has been recognized by those who really matter in the US and internationally. The bookshop folks said he commanded a bigger following in Australia –and generally outside the US. Another “prophet in his own land”….I guess. Thanks for reading.love, Dawn
I’m a short hop up the road from Winchester in PA although my roots are in SC, Charleston and the lowcountry. I spent a short amount of time, wonderfukl, warm, happy short moments of memory, the kind that you can revisit and enjoy anytime. Joe took me to the RL, allowed me to board at his home and I tried to repay the favor by fixin up some Beaufort stew ( If you’ve read Pat Conroy you might know about the dinner -nothing fancy mind you unless you don’t remember when shrimp could be gotten off the boat cheap- sometimes referred to as “Frogmore Stew).
When Joe spoke in Philly I drove up to listen to him speak to some students there,. He was kind enough to invite me, amongst all the crowd there, to go have a few beers with him and some of those students,. Joe and I went out in the street to get a smoke, And somebody walked by and Joe discovered they were in need of help and he gave them some money to make the night easier for that poor soul. Good hearted, kind soul – that was Joe. Those kind of folk often seem too rare, but Joe was definitely in that group.
Before Joe knew about his cancer, I sent him a song, link below. Joe said it made him cry. And coming from a small southern country town myself, I understood what he meant.
Although it seems that’s something we all feel from time to time. But this song, I understood his feelings for. A sense of place and belonging is something we all have need for. And like so many others, I shared with Joe that sense of loss that has come upon us faster than many of us could ever have expected, the love for and that sense of place that is part of being a human being. And the part of knowing that you’re going to have to leave it behind, or it leaving you behind.
Thank you for reading and for your heartfelt comment. I am so glad it moved you to write and to share the song. Sad, yes, but not entirely true: some good things-like Joe Bageant and his heart and ideas–do live on. Look at us, making a pilgrimage of sorts to his town and here we are, two strangers talking about him and what he meant. His good does live on–and I am sure will continue to help people cope. Thanks again for reading–and writing. aloha, Dawn
p.s. and I am looking up Beaufort Stew! If you have a recipe, would love to have it.
[…] Winchester for Front Royal, we stopped to pay homage once again to a local hero: Joe Bageant at a local watering hole he used to frequent regularly when […]
Reblogged this on Dawn Morais and commented:
In the aftermath of Nov 8, 2016, Joe Bageant has seemed more prophetic than ever, as once again the working class, goaded on by amoral and immoral corporate and political manipulators of the uneducated and uninformed, voted against their own interests with delusional ferocity. And the custodians of the Gospel message in too many of our churches, and most conspicuously the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, chose not to bear witness to Christian values. Time to re-read “Deerhunting with Jesus.”