Southern Commitment

I spent the better part of twenty years of my life attempting to excise the Southern from my voice. I summarily refused any fruit or vegetable canned at home rather than on a conveyor belt. There was also a dark period when I called dressing stuffing. I know. I want to pop her jaws, too. I remember one particular family gathering in Louisiana where my cousins and I were discussing college. I straightened my pearls (I might have a dalliance with stuffing from time to time, but you can pry my pearls from my cold, dead neck), flipped my hair, and reported I was looking at Bennington College in Vermont. My adorable cousin said, “Oh, that’s rad. Isn’t that where they make the sweaters?” It was the ‘80s. Bennetton was HUGE.

Now I’m over all that. While in Clarksville, TN last weekend, my friend and I made a trip to Guthrie, Kentucky to Country Pantry which is a Mennonite-owned grocery. (You have to love a place where you can buy both Gummi Bears and alum in bulk) I loaded up on local raw honey and chow chow. When I got back to Clarksville with dried apricots for my in-laws, they had bread and butter pickles and pickled beets waiting for me. I have my own recipe for cornbread now. My husband and I checked the progress of his squash plants regularly this summer. I got a cucumber from the grocery yesterday—the first one I’ve actually bought in months– and nearly fainted when I saw how mushy and seedy it was. Then I went on a tear about commercial cucumbers being sent from Satan. I have at least two relish trays and a deviled egg tray or two, even though deviled eggs make me shudder.

My silver pattern is Strasbourg because that’s what my mother’s is, and my mother-in-law’s is Chantilly. This makes me ridiculously happy because it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two (if you were raised by wolves), so should I decide at the last minute for a buffet for seventy-five people, my silver needs are covered. And you never know when you’ll need to entertain seventy-five guests at the drop of a hat. The other day when it was almost eighty degrees two weeks from Thanksgiving, I had a great deal of angst about wearing a linen shirt to make groceries. Then I remembered my grandmother’s edict that one should dress for the weather and not for the season, and just slipped it on. WITHOUT IRONING IT.

Yes, at almost forty, I’m learning being from the South doesn’t make me stupid, it makes me Southern. And I own that, by God. As my friend says, “That which you once mocked, you now embrace.” She usually says that about something like caftans or yard gnomes, but it works here too. I have embraced the Southern Woman inside me and she would like to talk to you about your lack of calling cards. I fully intend to age gracefully into a caftan-wearing, yard gnome-loving, giant beaded necklace-wearing Southern Eccentric Woman…of the Flannery O’Connor persuasion.

I like to classify Southern eccentrics into two groups: Eudora Welty eccentric or Flannery O’Connor eccentric. If you are a Welty eccentric, your sister is called something like Cattie Paw because her name is Katherine and she walks quietly. If you are O’Connor eccentric, your sister is called Trampasaurus Oceanus because she gets around during Fleet Week. Welty eccentrics may leave a family dinner to go sit in the woods and sketch lichen. O’Connor eccentrics leave a family dinner after announcing they’ve ended the affair with the Methodists’ choir director to move to Hilton Head with the Piggly Wiggly produce manager and his spiritual guru.

In case y’all missed it, over in Union City, Tennessee a man assaulted his momma with a ham. Yeah, he shanked her. Now, the alleged ham chucker said he indeed did throw that ham, but was not expecting his momma to be walking down the hall and get smacked by his lofting of the pork. I’m sorry, but you don’t go willy nilly throwing ham around without hitting something unless it’s a spiral sliced ham. Then obviously it’s going to cut to the right and miss momma altogether. I know that assault with smoked meats can happen anywhere, but there’s just something so Southern Gothic about knocking momma out with dinner. And let’s face it, in the South, that’s the only way you’re gonna knock your momma out with dinner because your sweet potato pie will never be as good as hers. I don’t know what kind of eccentric that makes our ham-handed assailant. I’m leaning more towards O’Connor eccentric because the government-owned buildings Miss Eudora’s characters inhabit tend to be more of the post office persuasion than the jail persuasion.

I have friends and family scattered all over the place, but we still reach for pieces of home. When my dearest friend in the world visited Memphis from the Bay Area, I think she ate fried okra at every meal because they don’t “get” fried okra in Palo Alto. My brother-in-law in The Hague is arranging a shipment of Moon Pies to his office. I am in the process of trying to get some Lazy Magnolia Pecan Nut Brown Ale to a friend in Chicago. My husband and I have a hard time finding smoked sausage in Memphis that we like, so I buy out the Sunflower’s supply of Bryant’s sausage when I’m in Laurel.

The other day I was, ah, having a moment. In the midst of my conniption fit, I threw down a “y’all all”. As in, “Y’all all better leave me the hell alone in this kitchen or I swear to God, I will dot your eyes!” Later, after a finger or two of bourbon and an hour looking at online engraved stationery porn, I gave myself a little pat on the back.

Flannery O’Connor eccentric. Definitely.

Photo Credit: Cmacauley / Wikimedia Commons
Susan Wilson

Susan Wilson

Susan Wilson decided to be a writer in 6th grade upon winning a creative writing contest with an entry defying both logic and basic rules of grammar. Leaving behind a career in retail and training, she launched Yeah, And Another Thing after coming to the astounding conclusion that real writers need to write. A native of Laurel, Mississippi, she now lives in Memphis, Tennessee with her husband and stepchildren. When she is procrastinating mightily, she can be found on The Twitters and The Facebook.

  1. Alice Murray

    Thank you for the wonderful southern memories and for starting my morning on such a bright note. You capture beautifully — and with humor — the balance between embracing our southern culture and assimilating into the American melting pot.
    After growing up in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama, I spent years trying to talk like Walter Cronkite.
    This morning, it’s going to take quite a bit more coffee for me to decide whether to embrace Flannery or Eudora. Or maybe I’ll choose both.
    I think I’ll polish the silver while I reflect on the issue.

  2. Jack Wilkinson

    Wonderful, Susan. Hilarious, sweet and dead-on. This, from a Northern transplant who moved to Atlanta from Manhattan in ’83. My oldest daughter, four months old then, is now 28. Her younger sister is 25. They’ll both be receiving copies of this…
    And they’ll smile and nod, laugh and roar, too.
    Many thanks.
    Write on,
    Jack Wilkinson

  3. As I sit reading this at Lake Sinclair, just minutes from Andalusia and having bought a wonderfully gaudy peacock bracelet in Milledgeville Thursday, I swear on my pearls and deviled egg plate that I am a Flannery O’Connor made more complex and interesting by the Eudora Welty DNA in me. I love the dichotomy of the South.

  4. Standing! Clapping! A very charming and enjoyable read this morning. I’m passing it on to my daughter and friends!

  5. This was good enough to make me want to go smack my momma. I mean, you know, I’d mash on the gas to book it on over there, and I might have to carry some clothes back to Dillards on the way and all. But, hell’s bells, woman, you made me snort.
    Spot on.

    Love it.

  6. This is the first thing I’ve found on The Dew in a long time I was willing to read. Congratulations! You had my attention from the first paragraph and through the entire piece. I too am old enough to embrace my Southern heritage rather than trying to be someone else. Southern born, southern bred and damn proud of it. Thanks for the smiles and the memories.

  7. This should win the “most-in-the-LTD-spirit” award. Although, some might argue that if you are from South Louisiana, you may not qualify strictly as “south.” Still, the “dressing”/”stuffing” issue really hits home. “Dressing” is laboriously concocted by people who have their own corn bread recipes, while “stuffing” comes in a box and has too much sage. My childhood memories are filled with my father’s comment about every dressing he ever made: “I don’t know what this is going to taste like … .” He didn’t, because he put something else in it every time (sort of like he did with potato salad). He was consistent, though, with dressing, potato salad, chicken stew and most everything else. They may have been different each time, but they were always good. While I never tried to shun my good old Louisiana heritage, I have now for a very long time tried to duplicate dressing, potato salad, and chicken stew. For decades, I failed, often “coming close.” Then, I finally realized, hell, I have my own recipes for dressing, potato salad, and chicken stew. A very fine piece that brings me back home.

  8. Sounds like you’ve made great strides in your life. I love your breakdown of Southern eccentrics into Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor groupings, and “y’all all” sounds spot on to me. But I do have a question that I’ll throw out to the panel of experts out there: Are most Southern mothers “mamas” or “mommas?” I’ll check back for the answer later. Right now, I have to watch that big Bennetton College football game. Give me a B. Give me an E. …

  9. This is magnificent, Miss Susan.

    I was trying to think when the last time was that I said “y’all all.” I tend to say “all y’all,” as in “All y ‘all need to get out of my office right NOW before I wear somebody out.” There does seem to be a commonality of frustration, etc., that elicits the extra modifier.

    Also clutched my pearls and shrieked aloud in horror while reading a Stephen King book recently. The man is a master of dialogue and never hits a wrong note with all those Up East and a lot of other dialects, but he had a boy from South Carolina in this one who USED Y’ALL AS A SINGULAR NOUN. As in “What y’all doing over there?” to one individual. Said it *repeatedly*, too. I actually threw the book in the floor. I wanted to call him on the phone and shout at him. Or maybe strike him about the head and ears with a ham.

    Am now going to prowl around this site and see what-all’s here. Anticipating much joy from it, too.

    (still saving up for my tattoo from Miss Flannery: “She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”)

  10. – Every so often when “visiting” with someone I will hear a phrase so juicy and wonderful – I feel compelled to say “Oh, Can I borrow that PLEASE ! ”
    I felt that way reading this entire piece – It is absolutely brilliant –

    Online engraved stationery porn – pretty much says everything you need to know about Southern women

  11. I had some deep angst about the momma vs. mama debate. I figured, let’s face it, we SAY momma even when we spell it mama.
    As for South Louisiana, I consider it BOTH The South and a completely different universe. I’ve got people south of New Orleans and can’t understand a damn thing they say, but in terms of gothic-ness? They haz it.

    My father has been collecting little nuggets of family language over the years. I used to think it was pretty dorky, but now as I hear the regional dialect (not just here, all over the country) less and less, I’ve started my own list. It’s not that I use a phrase like ugly as a turkey turd on a pump handle a lot…well, yes, I do.

  12. Mark Dohle

    LOL, I love southern women, they have charm that cannot be found anywhere else. Been in the south 40 years now and love all things southern.


  13. Here I sit, a Misissippi native who has found herself in New Jersey by way of Manhattan…..A friend sent me this link and I’m loving it so much have now read it 3 x’s!!!!! I love being Southern and altho’ my daughter was born in NYC, I know she embraces the roots of her Mississippi genes when each June for the past 30+ years we have hauled our fried chicken, deviled eggs, pimento cheese sandwiches, potato salad, banana pudding and red-velvet cake to Central Park for the Way Up North In Mississippi Picnic…..She is in charge of designing our site with baskets, cloths, plates, etc. all with a watermelon theme. (I think she would do quite well hosting a site in The Grove during an Ole Miss Game)…….When I head to Mississippi what do I bring back? Last time it was several varieties of Vienna Sausages…Had no idea you could get regular, smoked, and barbequed!!! And a few bags of White Lily Flour….During our early days here in the Nawth, we did order catfish fillets and had to head out to LaGuardia late at night to pick up the styrofoam container and many Mississippi tomatoes traveled here by air wrapped in clothing secured in a suitcase. Those days are over as we can get farm-raised catfish here and New Jersey tomatoes are really special!!…..Susan, thank you for sharing your wonderful gift of writing…..Now I have to get to polishing the Chantily for Thanksgiving Day…..

  14. You probably CAN get fried okra in Palo Alto. Don’t they have Indian restaurants there?

  15. I did find Fried Okra at a Cajun restaurant. The only okra I found in an Indian Restaurant was in a mixed vegetable dish. I like my okra breaded and fried!

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