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2.23.2006

My Southern Ways

I talked to my mother-in-law today. She's caring for my children while Joal and I go away for a vacation and from what I can tell, they are all happy as clams. My sweet mother-in-law raised and home schooled 3 children and is the consumate grandmother to 7. Not too long ago, she and Poppa relocated to Pennsylvania (from Mississippi). They are both originally from upstate New York and have been looking to return to the northeast for several years to be close to family. This is the first time my boys have been to their new home.

Gram works part time in a daycare and while the boys are visiting, she takes G with her to work. She told me today that he had a great time with the kids in her class and was making friends well. She also said that one of her co-workers commented on G...how he says "yes mam" and "no mam" to all the ladies. Of course, she had to explain that her grandson lives in Tennessee where that's what little boys do, especially according to his Southern moma.

Darn straight we do.

I'm almost 34 years old but you can bet your last nickle that when I talk to my mother, I still say "yes mam" and "no mam". It's that way with any person who's significantly older than me. It's a sign of respect--something that's being neglected far too much these days, in my opinion.

I've been told "it's a southern thing" and I guess perhaps it is--one of the good things about the southern way. To me, it's a respect thing and I was quite proud of my boy for remembering too.

It set me to thinking about other things that make the south special. I'm often irritated at the way Hollywood portrays the South, especially Mississippi. For all it's problems and historical short-comings, Mississippi is *not* anything like it's generally portrayed in the movies. Yes, Mississppians speak English, have indoor plumbing, have air-conditioning, and do drive cars and wear shoes.

Anyway, I'm working on a list of my own of special traits that Southerners are especially known for, but while I was googling the topic of "Southernism" I ran across this piece--"My South" by Robert St John, the owner of The Purple Parrot Cafe, Crescent City Grill and Mahogany Bar in Hattiesburg, MS. Apparently, Mr. St John is also a newspaper food columnist for The Hattiesburg American.

Thought you might enjoy it too.

MY SOUTH
by Robert St. John

Thirty years ago I visited my first cousin in Virginia. While hanging out with his friend, the discussion turned to popular movies of the day. When I offered my two-cents on the authenticity and social relevance of the movie Billy Jack, one of the boys asked, in all seriousness; "Do you guys have movie theaters down there?"

To which I replied, "Yep. We wear shoes too."

Just three years ago, my wife and I were attending a food and wine seminar in Aspen, CO. We were seated with two couples from Las Vegas. One of the Glitter Gulch gals was amused and downright rude when I described our restaurant as a fine-dining restaurant.

"Mississippi doesn't have fine-dining restaurants!" she insisted and nudged her companion.

I fought back the strong desire to mention that she lived in the land that invented the 99-cent breakfast buffet. I wanted badly to defend my state, my region, and my restaurant with a 15-minute soliloquy and public relations rant that would surelychange her mind. It was at that precise moment that I was hit with a blinding jolt of enlightenment, and in a moment of complete and absolute clarity it dawned on me -- my South is the best-kept secret in the country. Why would I try to win this woman over? She might move down here.

I am always amused by Hollywood's interpretation of the South. We are still, on occasion, depicted as a collective group of sweaty, stupid, backwards-minded, racist rednecks. The South of movies and TV, the Hollywood South, is not my South.

This is my South:

My South is full of honest, hardworking people.

My South is the birthplace of blues and jazz, and rock n' roll. It has banjo pickers and fiddle players, but it also has BB King, Muddy Waters, the Allman Brothers, Emmylou Harris and of course, the King of Rock-n-Roll--Elvis Presley.

My South is hot and humid.

My South smells of newly mowed grass.

My South is kick the can, creek swimming, cane-pole fishing and bird hunting.

In my South, football is king and the Southeastern Conference is the kingdom.

My South is home to the most beautiful women on the planet.

In my South, soul food and country cooking are the same thing.

My South is full of fig preserves, cornbread, butter beans, fried chicken, grits and catfish. In my South we eat frog legs, caviar and truffles.

In my South, our transistor radios introduced us to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones at the same time they were introduced to the rest of the country.

In my South, grandmothers cook a big lunch every Sunday, so big that we call it dinner (supper comes later).

In my South, family matters--deeply.

My South is boiled shrimp, blackberry cobbler, peach ice cream, banana pudding and oatmeal cream pies.

In my South people put peanuts in bottles of Coca-Cola and hot sauce on almost everything.

In my South the tea is iced and almost as sweet as the women.

My South has air-conditioning.

My South is camellias, azaleas, wisteria and hydrangeas.

In my South, the only person that has to sit on the back of the bus is the last person that got on the bus.

In my South, people still say "Yes, ma'am," "No ma'am," "Please" and"Thank you."

In my South, we all wear shoes....most of the time.

My South is the best-kept secret in the country. Please continue to keep the secret....it keeps the idiots away.

2 comments:

Shanna said...

Amen and amen. I enjoyed reading Mr. St. John's essay again, more so than the first time I read it. I am always reminded of how good a life we Southerners have, and how much the rest of America is missing out on!

Ditto on the issue of manners - they will never go out of style! My kids were taught to be polite, too. I insisted on it. Still do.

TracieClaiborne said...

Thank you so much for posting that!!!!!! I love it! Way to go on instilling such good manners in your younguns too. heehee Mine refuses to cooperate on the ma'am thing. I should have started it sooner. :)