Life in Yoe

Yoe is a town wedged between two hills. One hill faces vaguely northwest, the other hill faces vaguely southeast. A creek runs between the two hills, and in the flat plain between them George Street runs from Red Lion to York. A century ago, the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad line ran through there as well; the ruins of the station platform are still visible on Pennsylvania Street.

To call Yoe a town is overselling it. There are two used car dealerships, an auto body shop, an auto parts store. It doesn’t have its own ZIP code, sharing one with Dallastown, which is confusing to people as Dallastown and Yoe have the same street names, but those streets are in completely different places.

A photograph of Yoe turned up a few times in my Facebook and Twitter feeds today. The Boston Globe had an article about racial tensions in York County, a year after the presidential election, and the photograph that headed the article and was the article’s thumbnail on social media was of a Confederate battle flag flying in Yoe.

“I know where that is,” I thought. “It’s the house across from the volunteer fire department, a little down George Street from the Methodist church, down towards Red Lion.” The volunteer fire department is my polling station. There’s a judicial election tomorrow. I’ll see it then. It’s no more than half a mile from my apartment.

It’s impossible to miss. Every time I walk to the grocery store, which I like to do on the weekends, I see it. Stand at the corner of George and Main, look toward Red Lion, and there it flies, next to an American flag. I’ve thought about taking a photograph of it. “This is where I live,” such a photograph would say. I’ve sometimes thought about going to the house, knocking on the door, and asking why. “Why do you fly the flag of traitors? What message are you trying to send? That you’re opposed to the federal government? That you’re a racist?” I’d want the conversation to be non-confrontational and non-judgmental, but I know it would turn confrontational and judgmental quickly indeed.

That flag on George Street is only a few months old. It’s only been flying since June or July. I can still remember the feeling of shock, standing on the corner, waiting for the light to change so I could cross, and seeing it there for the first time.

Confederate flags aren’t at all uncommon here. People have them as bumper stickers, like my neighbor in the building across the parking lot from mine. I see them as decorative license plates, like the one I see in Dallastown of the Stars and Bars. They’re flown openly from flagpoles; a house at the corner of my complex has been known to fly one with the Gadsden snake superimposed on the cross of the battle flag.

I’m north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but in many ways, this feels like the most culturally southern place I’ve ever lived, and I went to school in Richmond and lived in Raleigh. I hadn’t known, until I moved here, that York County was a hotbed of Confederate sympathies during the Civil War, that the city of York surrendered to Confederate forces on the eve of the battle of Gettysburg when the Confederate cavalry attempted to seize the bridge across the Susquehanna at Wrightsville.

This is where I live.

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