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.