It’s a huge misconception that I hate the South just because I hate the rampant redneck/white trash (synonymous) population that screams their religious agendas into the political realm while living off welfare checks and, thus, misrepresent the majority of us who have brains and don’t act like idiots in public. The truth is that I adore being Southern. I’ve been Southern my whole life and, while I’m extremely well-traveled in the US and know scores of people from across the country, I’d have to say that I’m very proud to have originated from North Carolina (to be specific, although VA would’ve been acceptable, too.)
And there are a number of things about the South that I do hate. Like grits and Civil War reenactments and chicken bog and high schools having pageants in addition to Homecoming Court and May Court and Sweetheart Court (I’d never actually heard of that until I moved to SC) and chicken bog and hearing Skynyrd every time I go to a bar and John Deere couture and chicken bog and dishonesty disguised as manners… But there are at least a dozen things I like for each one that I hate.
I’d like to take you on a magical journey through the things I love the most about being Southern. If I can dispel a few stereotypes along the way, that’d be great but really I just want to make sure these things are celebrated in a public forum at least once. I’m going to need to make a number of installments of these as my list is quite extensive. This is the first of many.
In no particular order. Except the first one.
1) The Great Unifying Rule: There is one subtle undercurrent of inherent knowledge that lives in the hearts of every Southerner, young and old, Republican and Demmer and allows all of us to live in harmony together with the hope of a common ground and peace and understanding. And that is the unspoken but omnipresent Hatred of Yankees. Now, this has nothing to do with old Confederately-biased principles at all. In fact, the majority of us really don’t give a crap about that and do not believe the South will rise again, nor do we feel the need to make that happen. Many of us (if not most of us) have Yankee friends that we’ll talk about much like racists say “I have black friends!” or homophobes say “I have gay friends!” in order to justify their generalized hatred of a type of person and so it’s not really a hatred of Yankees as specific people so much as it is a hatred of them as a collective unit. The ones who choose to retire in our beautiful neighborhoods and then proceed to bitch about how we don’t have lacrosse/decent pizza/hockey etc. They’re the ones who constantly talk about how our food is nothing compared to that in [insert city of origin here] and how our schools just don’t compete and how our politics are all backward and how it’s too damned hot all the time and the humidity is unbearable. They’re the ones who pitch fits in restaurants/retail stores/airports/etc. because one of the staff looked at them the wrong way and they’re the ones who sue people left and right without any regard as to how these things effect the idea of community that Southerners pride ourselves on. They’re exhausting and, more times than I can count, I’ve found myself looking at a complete Southern stranger in the midst of a public Yankee tirade and exchanging the nonverbal “Why don’t they just go back where they came from if they hate it here so much?” mantra we’ve heard since birth.
FUN FACT: Expressing one’s hatred of Yankees is the ONLY TIME it is socially acceptable for a Gentile woman to curse in public.
But there’s a certain sense of pride in loathing Yankees together. It’s the one thing we can all agree on. It’s the one thing that breaks down barriers between generations and races, creeds and heritages. It’s the one tradition that is seamlessly passed on from generation to generation with a laughing understanding of the idea that tolerating these rude, arrogant people can allow us to feel a bit better about ourselves. And, knowing how incredibly petty that is of us, we’re proud to share that common bond as a means to identify ourselves as Southerners.
The Rest of the List:
Please note that, while many of these things have a lot to do with small-town Americana across the nation, I feel strongly that these are the definitive traits of this region.
Food On Sundays
I feel like I could write an entire book on this subject alone but let me at least break it down to the Need-To-Know Facts.
On Sunday, Southern people get up and go to church. (Not all of us but the older generations certainly did. In throngs.) Sure, they heard a sermon and there was that adorable performance of the children’s choir belting out “This Little Light of Mine” but what every single person is thinking of is food during the entire 11:00 service. This tradition usually starts with the early-morning run to a locally-owned doughnut shop. If one’s town doesn’t have one of these always-kitschy-and-outdated gems (or a Krispy Kreme) then everyone will congregate at the town’s Bojangles. This will be justified as every patron intends to bring enough biscuits or doughnuts for everyone in his/her Sunday school class unless he or she has a child at home sick, in which case this person will bring home breakfast for the rest of the family after scarfing an extra serving in the car.
That is Phase One.
Phase Two is the most important meal of the whole entire week. Write that down. There are varying levels of Phase Two, starting with those families/old people who cop out and go to places like Ruby Tuesday’s after the service. Those people are cheaters, unless they’re going to the “country club”, in which case they’re in the clear and probably the envy of 60% of the women over 50 at their church. The other two categories are the most important culinary institutions in our entire Southern history -the first being The Sunday Dinner and the second being Dinner On The Grounds.
Now, both of these events require hours of planning and husbands being shoved out of kitchens so the womenfolk can focus on their craft but the difference is primarily location.
The Sunday Dinner will always take place in the home of the family’s matriarch, preferably the Grandmother if she is still capable/alive and then the oldest married daughter if that doesn’t pan out. This woman will go to “early church” and come home to begin making The Biggest Meal You’ve Ever Seen in Your Life that will include no less than 4 entrees, 9 side dishes and 4 pies/cakes all made from scratch. This meal is served at precisely 1 p.m. (which is why ministers make it a point to ramble no longer than 12:15 at the very latest, especially if he/she has a tee-time or it is NASCAR season) and nobody is excused from the table until a sufficient dent has made in every dish and every person is incapacitated from overindulgence. The men will be released to the den to watch football/NASCAR/golf/etc. and the women will begrudgingly help with the piles of dishes and leftovers. These leftovers will be consumed from this point until the following Friday.
Dinner On the Grounds, however, is an event that serves as the highlight of many churchgoers’ entire seasons and is never to be taken lightly. Much like Easter or Christmas, these events are often one of few church services that some people attend at all.
FUN FACT: Depending on the region, these are also known as “Covered Dishes” (short for “covered dish dinners) and, when I was younger, I was told by many of my Protestant elders that one could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven without a fresh covered dish in hand.
Anyway. Once (soooometimes twice, if there’s a church holiday) every spring, summer and early-autumn, everyone brings gargantuan portions of their finest dish to the church where they are placed upon football-field-length tables outside for everyone to share. As a rule there will always be no less than two massive bowls of ambrosia salad (always green), 8 boxes of take-out fried chicken (usually from those shunned Easter-and-Christmas-only patrons), 3 red velvet cakes and 27 bowls of potato salad. The rest of the fare is mostly traditional, including green beans simmered with a ham hock, homemade mac and cheese casserole and corn on the cob but there will always be one or two rogue eccentrics that everyone will lean over, squint at and take a teaspoon-sized “No Thank You” serving of. (It’s good manners.)
The Pièce de Résistance of the meal, however, is the highly-anticipated arrival of the Bucket of Homemade Ice Cream. While this legendary highlight of the event could make an appearance at any DotG occasion, it is usually reserved for mid-summer Dinners when the maker has access to fresh fruit – usually peach, sometimes strawberry. The presence of this dish, however, is the turmoil it creates in picnic attendees. Because the bucket of ice cream is always placed at the very end of the buffet with the other desserts, it’s unexpected introduction incites panic in the hearts of diners, as well as an immediate regret of everything he or she spent the last fifteen minutes methodically choosing and placing on his or her two overloaded plates. The next five minutes are spent hurling all these carefully-prepared meal items into one’s maw as quickly as possible, so as to beat everyone to the Hallowed Bucket, in which there will never be any more than 10 servings of half-melted sugar milk.
Phase Three involves complaining about the self-induced discomfort from the day’s gluttonous activity and then wondering what’s left over for a light dinner at 7:30.
The Black Eagle Over The Doorway After extensive research and years of asking around, I still don’t know where this tradition started or what it means other than as a form of patriotism. In older houses (usually rural) these are hung over doorways and garages with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. I think it probably has something to do with the Illuminati.
This concludes the end of the First Installment. Join me next time when I will discuss:
How We Deal with “Cold” Weather
Bluegrass Jam Sessions