This saying has been said a lot in the beautiful ancient hills and hollows around the Appalachian Region. There are several streams of reality that feed into the mindset that produces such a saying. I’m sure it isn’t unique to the mountains, but it is a saying that reminds one that humility is to be preferred over haughtiness, especially when haughtiness can lead to a love of luxury. Remember the Bible says “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In fact that verse comes straight out of the book of Job. Job is the man who had plenty, his life was blessed with material possessions, good health, lots of happy kids. All of a sudden the ole Devil took it all away. Job was able to say to his wife those words. They were words that came from a heart of faith. “Que sera.” Lesson for us all: Be like Job. You might be on a lucky streak now, but it will probably not last forever.
As Richard Lischer has suggested in Open Secrets, his book about his first Lutheran parish in Missouri, people will talk about the things that happen to their neighbors, decisions they make, their lifestyles, their successes and failures, as a way of working out their own sense of ethics. So, in fact, we gossip about folks in order to figure out right and wrong. When somebody builds a new house, and it seems a little opulent to us, since their parents live next door in a little hovel without an attached rest room, we might say: “They’re gettin’ above their raising.” It is not only a commentary on that person’s decision, it is a warning to the rest of us lest we should aspire to some improvement in life which we cannot afford.
Appalachian values define success differently than the rest of the culture. You can be successful if you want to be, but your first goal in life is to take care of your “blood-kin.” Family is more important than the lure of things and the “finery” of “fancies.” It is a reality in these hills that parents will try to keep one child at home to take care of them in their old age. They keep them from experiencing the wider world in order to keep them from wanting to leave. A young lady in a rural community where I served a church was one such person. She was thirty years old before she had ever seen one of the Tennessee Valley lakes or the big town of Kingsport, TN, which was only about 45 minutes from home. They didn’t want her “gettin’ above her raisin.'”
This is possibly why when I was serving in another county, in the late 1980s, I was told that there were still homes along the Kentucky line in Southwest Virginia where folks lived that the houses didn’t have anything but dirt floors. It “floored” me when I first heard that. The person telling me told me that they had nice cars in the driveway, seemed outwardly to be as well off as anyone, and there was usually a big satellite dish in the yard somewhere, but the house had a dirt floor. Folks were practicing the saying.
Well, admittedly, that’s an extreme example, but the people of the mountains know, in a deep and entrenched way, that material good times are often followed by materially poor times. The Lord does give and take away. As Grandmother Ketron used to say, “Everything, whether good or bad, comes to an end.” It takes strength of resolve to weather hard times, and good times often soften us in ways that will hurt us when the next downturn comes. The coal industry is one example of that.
If you live humbly, stay within your means, learn to do as my Uncle Conrad told me (“put something in the ground” by which he meant, “grow your own food”), keep yourself humble, and take care of the people around you first, you will come out a lot better than those folks putting all their faith in their swollen bank accounts. Beware the person who “eats too high on the hog” or builds too many rooms on the house, or wears too fine a pair of shoes, or drives too fancy a car. They’re getting above their raising.
You just be sure you don’t do that, young’un.