A post from about 2 years ago, edited, re-written and revised.
I’m back. Did you miss me?
The past week or so offline, I’ve been, as they say, “gathering material” with which to entertain you and my gathering has taken me to the American Deep South. So, grab an iced tea, a mint julep, hey, I’ve even got beer (domestic) if you’re a redneck, kick off your shoes, scooch up on the porch swing, settle back and enjoy…
Now, ya’ll might find this a bit strange, but I have come to the disconcerting realisation that I am, deep in my heart, a dixie chick. But for the mere happenstance of being born above the Mason-Dixon Line, I could have been a daughter of the south. Let me present the evidence and see what you think.
Item 1: As soon as they hit the Orlando airport, my teenage sons pick up the “ya’ll”and odder still, sprinkle their speech, particularly to strangers with liberal “yes’ms” and “yessirs”. This phenomenon remains constant until we arrive in Europe where they promptly revert to Euro teenspeak.
Item 2: Weird things happen to me in the south; I get friendlier. I can do small-talk. I can do small-talk like nobody’s business when I am in the south. Who’d a thunk? In Chattanooga, just last week, I found myself on the CARTA free shuttle sitting across from a charming matron from Augusta, Georgia and her five year-old grandson. Somehow we got to talking and the talk turned to families and before I knew it, I’d missed my stop for talking. The CARTA rides in a loop, so it wasn’t a big deal and I eventually got off at the right stop with a cheery “Byah now!” to the driver and all the other passengers.
Item 3: At the Riverfront Restaurant in New Orleans, Charlie Brown tells the waiter he has a question and the waiter says, “Ya’ll wanna know whatchem boudin is, right?”
And my son informs the waiter he’s had boudin, likes gumbo and can tell him exactly how to fry up an egg with “trinity”*. What he really wants to know is this: Those alligator poppers on the appetizer list? They really got ‘gator meat in ’em?” They did. He ordered the poppers and ate all of them himself, no sharing. That child has no manners when it comes to food. I blame his mama.
Item 4: I noticed that I no longer say “Civil War” when speaking in reference to that conflict from 1861-65. A few years ago I began, as they do here, calling it “The War Between The States”. I cannot bring myself to calling it “The War of Yankee Agression” because I’d have been an abolitionist, but “Civil War” sounds well, a bit unrefined.
Item 5: For the most part, Dixie turns on manners. One of the things I enjoy most about the south is the way people I’ve met have been unwaveringly polite. They might be telling you they hate your guts and God don’t like ugly, but a southerner will do it with such grace, you’d think they were giving you a compliment. This is something I strive to achieve but have yet to accomplish. Where I come from it is gloves off and no holds barred for insults. My favorite is: You ugly and yo’ mama dress you funny.
Other things I love about the south are grits, pecan pie, the warm weather, the pace of life, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, jambalaya, country music, Harry Connick, Jr., people who call me “dahlin’” or in the case of one extremely dishy public transport employee “baby girl”, the general pace of life…really I could go on for days.
Still, driving down from Tennessee through Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, I saw the names of cities and places that sent chills down my spine: The Lorraine Motel in Tennessee, Philadelphia, Mississippi, New Orleans’s 9th Ward, Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. We marvelled at the enormous magnolia trees along the Natchez Trace and unbidden, Billie Holliday’s haunting “Strange Fruit” snaked its way out of my memory.
I may love a lot about the south: her charm, her music, her literature, her cuisine, but I am not prepared to accept the bad history along with all the good and glorious. I am forever a daughter of the liberal northeast, who saw the city of Trenton burn that April of 1968. I was almost 4 years old and had no way of comprehending what was going on, but deep, very deep inside, I knew that something was very, very wrong.
At the half-century mark, on another continent, I read the news uncomprehending. Charleston? My Charelston? The place I’ve been trying to convince my lovely husband would be a good spot for us to retire. This morning I read about the lives of those 9 good people; 9 Americans gunned down on American soil in their own church in prayer and fellowship by some misguided, home-grown racist child. It is not my nature to despair and I know what that “very wrong” something is: Visceral and institutionalised racism. Take a sledgehammer to those statues of Jeff Davis, burn the “stars and bars” out of existence and in doing so remember, understand and accept that our country was born and is borne on the notion that “..all men are created equal…”