Monday, November 15, 2004

Southern by the Grace of God

What’s it like to be Southern?

Not to just live in the South, but to actually be Southern. There’s been many stories and songs written about it but I truly think it’s an exclusive club. No matter how long you live here, no matter how much you learn, there’s no substitute for being “born and raised.”

And maybe the current crop won’t get the real experience. It’s hard for me to imagine moms today letting their children run the neighborhood clad only in a pair of shorts. Brown as a nut, the sun was never too bright or too hot. The feel of soft tar on the road between your toes had a burn that immediately brought you dancing back to the lawn, but laughing at the pleasure of the experience.

Going to the neighborhood store for your mother, and carrying a gallon of milk back in a glass jug. Bacon and eggs and biscuits for breakfast, or corn fritters. Grits - not wimpy with sugar, but slathered in butter with ground black pepper and lots of salt. Fried okra and squash and green tomatoes sliced thin and fried with a cornmeal coating. Hot tamale pie.

There were always woods. Some deep, rutted with old car trails and trash piles and others just a few acres left standing. All were inviting, cool, fresh smelling places where you could find box turtles and lizards. And every neighborhood had its own fort. Ticks and chiggers were mild nuisances that were dealt with by tweezers, fingernail polish remover and calamine lotion. And the mosquito was the state bird.

The girls are so much prettier in the south. We all grew up crazy about them and why not? If you haven’t had the experience, don’t even try to imagine.

I learned to drive on a Ford tractor, and I had friends who got their first car at fifteen. We grew up with guns and fishing tackle and preferred sleeping under the stars to a tent any day of the week. Of course that doesn’t count the tents that you built between chairs in your living room to camp in.

I grew up in a neighborhood that was integrated before the 1960’s and we didn’t know any different. I never found out that I was supposed to be prejudiced until I read about it in northern magazines. Even then, I didn’t let those Yankees tell me who I could be friends with. And I still don’t.

There’s no end to the delightful memories of growing up and living in the south. I guess that’s why there’s so many songs and books about it. I can’t remember hearing any songs about being northern…

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