Slow-Talkin’, Comfort-Food-Eatin’, Family-Oriented, Respectful Southerners
I have often wondered why I am so fortunate—fortunate by birth. I could have been born anywhere from the Jersey Shore to the Rocky Mountain highlands, from the Iraq deserts to the South American rain forest. Instead, I was born a proud son of the South. While I am sure that many from around the globe are content to call their neck of the woods home, happy to live out their life in their general locale, I am positive that it is only because they have never known the simple pleasures of being Southern.
In today’s politically correct world, where it is so easy to step on the toes of so many, only two groups seem still fair game for all: Christians and Southerners. I proudly wear both targets on my back. For this semi-focused Rambling, I will only address the latter, leaving me some ammo for a future prattle disguised as my words of wisdom.
For many, the combination of “Southern” and “dimwitted” has become a standard joke when speaking of us. Nothing grates me so much as to hear our cousins to the north and west talk about my Southern brethren as slow or unintelligent. Many seem to believe that a molasses slow dialect equates to a slow mind. I say na na.
Nothing appeals to me more than a Southern woman proclaiming with a warm smile, “Y’all come back now, you hear?” A little sidebar here: You cannot be a true Southerner until you know the plural of y’all. Of course, you know the plural is all y’all.
Then, there is Southern food. Comfort food and Southern cooking are synonymous. Only Southerners consider gravy a condiment. I guarantee you that you will never hear a Southerner say, “I’ll have the arugula and radicchio salad, please.” Even in today’s health-conscious world, you will have difficulty finding a good Southerner who does not like fried chicken—a taste cultivated early. If you are a Southern preacher’s son like me, it is a staple enjoyed at many church dinners-on-the-ground.
I am reminded of the story of a young southern boy, Beau, whose teacher asked him what his favorite animal was, to which he instinctively and most honestly replied, “fried chicken.” The no-nonsense (probably Northern) teacher replied that his answer wasn’t funny, even though his classmates’ laughs seemed to prove otherwise. His reply earned him a trip to the principal’s office.
He was sent home with a note to his parents. His Southern dad chuckled and commented that the teacher was probably a member of PETA. “What is PETA?” Beau asked. “They love animals very much, Son.” The young boy added, “I do too—especially chicken, pork, and beef.”
The next day, his teacher tried again to qualify her question better by asking him what his favorite live animal was. He replied chicken. She smiled and asked the Southern lad why that was. He replied sincerely, “It is because you can make them into fried chicken.” This earned him more laughter and a second trip to the principal’s office, complete with another note to his parents. His dad told him, “Son, you must drop this thing about fried chicken. Obviously, you are upsetting your teacher, and you must treat all your elders with respect.”
The third day, trying to redirect the day’s lesson safely, his teacher asked Beau what famous person he admired most. He quickly replied, “Colonel Sanders.” Guess where he spent the afternoon?
I have fond memories of my granny’s house where it was all but impossible to go without eating. Her kind hellos had a call to dinner woven right in. Although she has long since gone to heaven, I can still hear her calling from the front porch as she wiped her hands on her apron, “Hey, y’all, welcome home; have you eaten” all compressed in a single loving sentence. Yes, my slow-talking Southern granny could put more common sense in one sentence than many writers can cram into an entire book. She used to say, “Don’t complain, Son; the more you complain, the longer the Lord makes you live.” I miss you, Granny.
I loved that wonderful woman, but you would expect that because Southerners have such strong family ties. Yes, Southerners have a strong sense of family and love at least most of them. We all, of course, have a crazy Uncle Jeff whom we would just as soon keep away from the family reunions if we only could. Again, more ammo for later.
Aretha Franklin sang a powerful song about respect, a word the South put into action. From the time Southern children learn to string a few words into a broken sentence, they learn to say, “Yes, ma’am and sir.” Even as a grown man, I find it difficult to address an elder without a yes sir and no sir. My early lessons on respect have lasted a lifetime. King Solomon said in Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.” I’m unsure, but I think he was from Southern Israel. J
Southerners are self-sufficient. We make things last. With a roll of duct tape, we can repair anything, and it had to be a Southerner who invented that silver miracle tool on a roll. As a kid growing up in the South, I was taught to get the most from a dollar. My mother could send me to the store with a dollar, and I’d get a slab of bologna (pronounced baloney), two pints of milk, six oranges, two loaves of bread, a magazine, and some new blue jeans . . . and still have money left! But sadly, you can’t do that anymore, even in the South. They have those video cameras everywhere you look.
The sights, sounds, and places of the South are known worldwide. And I am as much a part of them as they are of me. The below poem sums it up nicely.
I’m the South
I’m the Little Rock of Arkansas,
The Great Smoky Mountains and a crosscut saw,
Louisiana cooking and a watermelon vine.
I’m a tall Georgia pine
And Georgia’s on my mind.
I’m the Tennessee Waltz and all-night sings,
The Florida sun and Silver Springs.
I’m Huck and Tom and the old folks at home.
I’m Clingman’s Dome.
Why, I’m the stars that fell on Alabama.
I’m coffee in the morning
And an old smoked ham.
I’m a Carolina moon, a dusty delta dawn.
I’m magnolias in bloom.
I’m a thoroughbred grazing on Kentucky bluegrass.
I’m coonhounds, bird dogs, and tea of sassafras.
I’m the Mississippi River as it rounds the bend.
I’m Gone with the Wind.
Y’all come back again.
I’m hanging moss on a live oak tree,
Southern fried chicken and a cypress tree.
Why, I’m the birth of the blues in New Orleans, that land of dreams.
I’m a trout a-jumpin’ in a cool clear stream.
I’m an antebellum home on the Natchez Trace,
A rusty plow on the old home place,
Azaleas a-blooming in beautiful Mobile.
I’m the Virginia reel and Derby Day in Louisville.
I’m Dan’el Boone and Robert E. Lee,
The Seminole, Choctaw, and the Cherokee.
Well, I’m everything good you’ve ever dreamed about
So hush my mouth, I am the South.
In every Southern town, village, and hamlet, you find a sense of community seldom found elsewhere. There, neighbors look out for and help one another. There are few secrets in a small Southern town. We seem content to live our Southern lives in plain view for all to see.
I travel a lot. Much of my travel is done by RV. I prefer the slower less-traveled roads winding through these small communities. Most older Southern homes come with a front porch, and on that porch, you often find an old wooden swing. This is true of the large beautiful antebellum homes and small Southern cracker boxes alike. Much living happens on those front porches and more particularly in those swings.
One day while traveling to a speaking event, I was moved to pen all I saw on those porches as they slowly passed my coach window. I hope you enjoy it.
On My Front Porch Swing
One thing you learn early if you’re from the South—
The importance of the front porch to the family house.
It’s a place to relax, to sit, and to just talk,
To slow a fast-paced world to a slow Southern walk.
There was a swing at one end hung by two chains.
A few minutes in that could change ’bout anything.
My granny would swing with my head in her lap
As her bare-footed boy tried to fight off his nap.
It’s where I stole my first kiss at the age of 10;
After that, I’d never be the same again.
That porch was great for catching a breeze
Or a lightning bug on a full-moon’s eve.
It’s where I proposed while on one knee
And prayed for a yes from my wife-to-be.
Our porch was the first stop for my daughter and son,
As we showed both off after bringing ’em home.
On that porch is where she received her first kiss.
That’s one moment her daddy would rather have missed.
It’s hard to believe, but the kids are all grown;
Playing on our porch are kids of their own.
Now, grandparents smile as the grandkids play
With such fond memories covering so many days.
Sitting with my friends, my family, or alone,
The porch is the heart of our ol’ Southern home.
Richard Parker—A Son of the South
So, you see we are fortunate to have been raised in the South. Even some of you who were birthed outside ol’ Dixie were blessed to have spent some time in the South when life was simpler and the pace slower. So even if your birth certificate proclaims your hometown to be in New York or California, be thankful that you were Southernized, at least a bit.
So in closing, remember, even in the South, two wrongs don’t make a right, but three lefts do.
Richard Parker, a Proud Son of the South