The Varmits: Living with Appalachian Outlaws
The Varmits: Living with Appalachian Outlaws
Perfect Bound Softcover
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Smack dab in the middle of the 70s and Appalachia, Ted rented a 30 acre farm and inherited a menagerie of animals. Strange given the fact that he grew up in suburban Oklahoma City in the days of “Father Knows Best”, never visited his Uncle’s farm without having his allergies kick up, and didn’t know jack about doing anything demanded of farm life. Another thing, the farm was surrounded by “Varmits.” These ne’er-do-wells lived in the hills and hollers of Meigs County, Ohio and became infamous in their own minds for softball playing, cock fighting, dope growing, Grateful Dead listening, free loving, and beer drinking. Ted became “Scoop” to the Varmits through his skills as a first baseman, all the while pursuing a Ph.D. in interpersonal communication at Ohio University back in Athens. This introspective book is Ted’s lively account of the adventures of his dual life, attending a cock fight high on mushrooms and giving a graduation address to thousands, skinny-dipping at Varmit State Park and completing doctoral comprehensives, running with outlaws while preparing to become successful in his chosen profession, growing a garden and trying to grow up himself. It was a wild ride, and what he learned about himself being a Varmit has lasted a lifetime.
The Varmits: Living with Appalachian Outlaws Prologue Varmint, n. 1. Chiefly Southern, and South Midland U.S. a. vermin b. an objectionable or undesirable animal, usually predatory, as a coyote or bobcat. 2. A despicable, obnoxious, or annoying person. Also var’ment (1530-40, var. of vermin.) Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition. Random House, New York, 1998. Varmit, n. 1. Chiefly Southeast Ohio U.S. Name of non-conforming self-chosen outcasts living in Meigs County, Ohio who grew marijuana, raised fighting cocks, screwed women, listened to the Grateful Dead, drank beer, and played softball (1970’s). 2. See number 2 above. Smack dab in the middle of Appalachia and the seventies, I lived on a thirty acre farm about 16 miles from Athens, Ohio, complete with a dog, two cats, some geese, turkeys, chickens, a pond, and a root cellar. This plot of land would be my teacher, my home and my love, and it was surrounded by “Varmits.” Whether the misspelling was deliberate or inadvertent is not clear, but it didn’t matter, that’s for sure. These young men and their ladies had left the outside world behind, one they did not really trust. To the extent that the outside world knew them at all, they were perceived as misguided and misbegotten miscreants, and perhaps they were. But I soon found out they were so much more. The Varmits’ informal community evolved over a few years in the early seventies, living in the hills and hollers of the rolling terrain of Meigs County, for free or low rent in neglected farm houses, decrepit barns, ancient log cabins, and rickety trailers. Although clichéd, this is a story about drugs, sex, and rock-‘n’-roll. It is a story about a softball team, a cock fight, pornography, a barn full of marijuana, skinny-dipping, and friendship. But it is also a story about scholarship, research, famous people, taking Ph.D. comprehensives, creating organizations, leading one, and preparing for life in the corporate world. It is a story about learning the law of the country, taking care of animals, growing a garden, killing chickens, roasting a pig, remodeling a house, skimming cream, making butter, fixing a water pump, canning fresh produce, growing magic mushrooms, and talking to a giant tree who became my friend. This is a story about contrasting worlds: one in a quaint university town, one in the country; one in academia, one in Appalachia; one with scholars, one with derelicts; one with traditional Christian friends, one with porn-watching school pals; one involved advising a University President, one constituted advising the Varmits how to run a softball tournament; one required giving a speech to thousands, one meant sitting alone peacefully in the country watching fire flies flicker in the night. Ultimately, this is a story about a young man in his twenties shedding much of the yoke of his heritage and transitioning from a middle-class southern gentleman upbringing, albeit sexist, in the 1950s and 1960s, into a man who could relate to women more equally as powerful and varied human beings. The Varmits took care of their own. They shared food and money, bailed their comrades out of jail, built barns together, fixed each others’ trucks, harvested fields cooperatively, and generally created a wild and loose, but loving community amidst the hills of Southeast Ohio. They even ex-communicated one of their own who lied and cheated in a drug deal. He was banished from association with the group and barred from ever calling himself a Varmit again. But after years of either forgiveness or forgetfulness, they reinstated him for the Reunion in 2004. As Bob the Varmit told me one time when I asked him about some of the group’s more nefarious activities, “Scoop, we weren’t crooks, just outlaws.” This is my story of how I became a Varmit – or at least a good bit of one – and how I became damn proud of it.
Ted’s first paid job was shoveling chicken shit in Oklahoma. He worked his way up to be on the board of directors of an airline, with stints in between as a busboy, waiter, preacher, camp counselor, token white on a black drama team, college professor, state employee, wine company owner, and management consultant. He helped start the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market, and now serves on two non-profit boards and has become a master chocolatier. He has published several academic articles, film reviews, magazine and newspaper features, and penned lots of corporate communication. This is his first memoir. Ted lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife, Meg, and their yellow lab, Koufax.

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