When foreigners (people from the northeast or west coast, that is) ask me about the South, I try to dispel some of the myths and give them a better picture of the Deep South – which is where I have spent the majority of my life. Now, sometimes these conversations are difficult to start because these friends, acquaintances, or complete strangers may require a translator. That is, my beautiful Southern drawl occasionally takes a while to grow accustomed to, and even after knowing me for years, once in a while a friend will ask me to repeat a word… or I may actually have to spell it out loud for them to finally understand. I don’t mind. I tell ‘em it’s good practice – I’m a firm believer that God speaks Southern, so they may wanna perfect it now.
What do I tell these folks about the South? Well, I generally start with some of our wonderful traditions such as never letting a Lady change her own flat tire. I have never been broken down on the side of the road without a kind stranger stopping to help me with whatever was wrong – flat tire, car trouble, or traffic crash.
There’s another great tradition that happens after tragedy… Let me tell you, if somebody dies in your house, you will have casseroles, hams and cakes to last you a year – and I am NOT exaggerating. My Daddy died when I was young, and I distinctly remember my siblings and I cheering when Mama told us that that night’s supper was the last of the ham and casseroles from the freezer.
Additionally, we say “yes ma’am” and “no sir” – not to insult anyone’s age – but as a sign of respect. In the Deep South the men will still insist on opening doors for the Ladies, and it does NOT threaten my independence or strength or honor one single bit.
Particularly in the smaller towns, if one child gets sick, the entire town is praying for the whole family and raising money at schools, businesses and churches to help them with any of their needs. Southerners do NOT sit in a hospital room alone for any reason – nor is the waiting room devoid of folks offering love, support and, of course, food.
Generally, dogs don’t have leashes, and they ride in the open truck bed rather than inside the vehicle – unless there is no truck bed. Southern dogs also tend to shun their dog food as they are more accustomed to scraps after the people have eaten.
Seasons are measured by what the farmers are planting – wheat and oats before Thanksgiving; corn in late winter/early spring; soybeans and peanuts later in the spring or even early summer; then cotton as sometime between Easter and summer… and harvesting – wheat/oats at the tail end of spring; corn in the hottest part of summer (late July and August); peanuts in September; soybeans in October; cotton ‘round Halloween.
Southerners eat food grown in the ground within 17 miles of their own houses and usually from their back yard. The meals of the day are breakfast, dinner and supper…try and meet one of us for dinner and we’ll show up at noon.
The most common thing you’ll hear if a friend is driving you through the South is, “there’s a church; there’s another church; there’s a church with a mini graveyard…” Mind you, most of the churches are tiny li’l things with congregations of less than 50 people – although you will find the larger First Baptist Church, United Methodist Church and maybe a First Presbyterian Church. In those small towns, you will rarely see a Catholic Church or Synagogue or anything other than “the big three.” (Ok, you may find some Episcopalian Churches…but that’s it.)
If you are way deep in the South, you will learn that you should NOT drive with hands at 10 and 2. No, Sir, you drive with one hand placed at noon (12 on the steering wheel). You do this so that you can lift a coupla fingers in a casual wave at every other vehicle that passes you by – whether you know them or not.
Also, the use of blinkers is optional.
In the Deep South, you grow up living within a county or two of your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – most of the time, every single one of them. The beauty of this is you always have a couch and a hand made quilt at some relative’s home to comfort you when you have the flu and your own parents are at work. We really do still quilt, knit and crochet.
To this day, I have not found anything that we can’t figure out how to fry. And yes, I’m putting that in the “good” column.
Hard work is still honored in the South and everyone knows who works hard and who doesn’t.
And I’ll stop here with: the Southland has the most beautiful spring in all the world, and a sweet Southern drawl is the most soothing sound in all the world.
Now, there are some not-so-nice parts to the South…
We do have a touch of the humidity that northerners sometimes find uncomfortable. Our li’l pesky bug – the gnat – can turn out in swarms from time to time, as can the mosquitoes. We don’t like them either.
While it’s really nice that you’ll get help when your car breaks down and people will feed you when you’re sick or someone dies…it also means that everybody knows everything about everybody.
There are a few secrets in the Deep South. Be careful, though, we don’t talk about the bad stuff out loud – well, not around the folks in question. When you see someone you have a disagreement with, you smile, say hello, ask about their family and move on as if it were the most pleasant thing in the world. Then you talk about them behind their back as soon as they are out of earshot. We could probably do without that tradition.
“Bless your heart” can be translated as everything from “oh, that’s so sad” to “uhm-hmm…you brought this on yourself” to “this one’s ‘special’” followed by a pat-pat-pat on the shoulder.
We also still have troubles with racism, some remnant segregation and intolerance to the LGBTQ community – but that is improving, thankfully.
Also, some people would count it against the Deep South small towns that perhaps we aren’t so exciting with few restaurants, bars and what some would consider “cultural” institutions, but I personally find the slower pace, hometown cafes and reduced amount of strip malls and discount stores to be refreshing….and we are a cultural institution all unto itself!
When I want to be brief, though, I stick to the big three… What matters in the Deep South is:
God. Football. And Coca~Cola — in that order .