I AM a Southerner.
Growing up I didn’t truly understand what that meant. I just knew I lived where people were friendly, tea was sweet, you better never sass your mama, and it was ok to sing about the old rugged cross.
I knew that in the Spring there was nothing better then tasting fresh honeysuckle, eating fresh strawberries, and hearing the first sounds of Spring Peepers, for you non Appalachia folks those would be frogs.
In the summer shoes were optional, and the humidity was brutal. You caught June bugs and tied strings to their legs and let them lead you around during the day, and at night you sat out to catch lightin’ bugs to put in mason jars to have by your bed when you slept.
The Fall brought football, less humidity, and the most glorious shades of yellows, oranges and reds, that no human artist could ever imitate.
For me, the South has it all, Beauty, culture, great music, and some of the best food you will ever be blessed to taste. The slow pace, the history, the mountains, and these people, all help to make up who I am.
If there is one thing I HATE, it is total ignorance of the South. Those who call us backwoods, rednecks, or hillbillies solely because of where we live geographically, are almost as ignorant as they believe us to be. Say your from the South and folks instantly think they have to start talking in a Southern twang and putting “Y’all” at the end of every sentence. Why is that? When I talk to my friends up North, I don’t mock their speech or the accent they use.
Those who live outside of the South tend to think of us in one of two ways:
Gone With The Wind, or Beverly Hillbillies.
Nothing is further from the truth. Gone are the days of the large plantations, slaves working the cotton, and all day parties. And we do have indoor plumbing, social knowledge, and the majority of us don’t eat possum.
I take great pride in being from the South, especially from Appalachia. The history rooted in these mountains and hills is deep, rich, and inspiring. Sometimes you can learn more about life just sitting on your front porch talking with your neighbor then you can out of any book or school lecture.
Here’s a little of what I have learned so far:
We talk to everyone here, so talking to strangers is not uncommon or unheard of. Don’t be alarmed. We don’t have hidden agendas and we are not crazy people trying to stalk you. We’re just friendly, and when we pass you in the store or on the street we are going say, “Hi”, “How are you?”, or give you a smile. And when you drive by us in your car, chances are we are going to throw our hands up in acknowledgement. Don’t be scared, we are not throwing you a hillbilly gang sign, we are just simply saying, “Hello”. It’s just who we are…It’s called manners and we pride ourselves on having good ones.
Jesus First, then SEC Football
Faith is just as important as breathing here in the South. Being brought up in the Bible Belt, I learned early on that Sundays and Wednesdays were church days, and you had to be near death to get out of going.
The church is where you made your first friends, got into the most trouble, and learned all about Jesus and the Cross.
Singing old hymns, church dinners with 25 different versions of fried chicken, and a revival that gets you homesick for heaven, simply can’t be found anywhere else.
Some find the walls of the church too stuffy, confining, and prudish.
I find that sometimes your church family can be just as important as your actual family, and if you want mountains to move, then having the ladies league prayer chain do their thing is the best place to start.
Here in the South the first song young children are taught is Jesus Loves Me. It will grace the halls of every Sunday School, prayer meeting, and Revival. However, the second song taught is equally important. And that would be the college fight song for their favorite SEC football team. I happen to live in the great state of Tennessee, so by the age of about 2 or 3 I knew every verse to Rocky Top and knew the exact spots in the song it was appropriate to throw in the occasional, “WHEW!”. If you have not taught your child the appropriate college fight song by the time they enter kindergarten, well you have failed the South, your child, and the SEC.
Of course we don’t acknowledge teams outside of the SEC, so if you come down here wearing your USC, Boston College, Ohio State, or any other school, NOT in the coveted SEC, you won’t be taken as a true fan of the game.
Nothing Beats Homecooking
I have eaten in some amazing, fancy, high dollar restaurants in my life, but I can tell you right now the best meal I have EVER had is still my mama’s fried chicken, mixed greens, mashed potatoes, boiled eggs, and cornbread. (My mouth started watering the moment I wrote that sentence.)
Nothing beats cooking from Mama’s kitchen.
Any proper Southern Lady knows that biscuits are made fresh, not from a can, and she is going to have about 25 different casseroles in her recipe book that she can whip up on short notice. Soup beans are made in a pressure cooker, macaroni and cheese is an acceptable vegetable, and green beans NEVER come from a can….unless you are the one who canned them back in the summer.
You Have to Know How To Make Cornbread and Sweet Tea Right
Now I don’t want to offend anyone, but I have been up North and I have eaten your cornbread. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but what you are eating is NOT cornbread. Cornbread is made in a cast iron skillet, ideally using left over bacon grease to season the pan with. At no time is it acceptable to put sugar or any other sweetener into your bread. If you do so, it is no longer corn bread. You are now eating cake. Cornbread can be served with any meal, and is best served fresh slathered in butter.
Sweet tea is a staple in any good Southerners refrigerator. It is considered poor manners to have someone visit your home and not offer them tea. It is made fresh daily and is more parts sugar then liquid. Crazily enough we have restaurants who are famous just for the tea they serve. Now this is the one area I am in danger of losing my Southern Membership card…. I am not a fan of sweet tea, but I know how to fix it, and always serve it when I have company. How much do Southerners like tea? I was in a McDonalds a couple weeks ago and the tea machine was broke. One lady cried out, “What in the world am I supposed to drink???!?!?!?!!!” The cashier patted her hand in a sympathetic knowing manner, and replied, “I feel ya sister, I haven’t had any since I left home at 6am.” It’s that serious.
Always Be Polite
Spend anytime down here and you’re going to at some point, hear the phrase, “Bless Your Heart”.
To the Non Southerner, you might find these words endearing, comforting, or sweet. However, this is actually a Southerners way of politely questioning someone’s intelligence. We are taught early on, that it is not polite to be crass or mouthy. You don’t have to use crude language, or strong words to let someone know how you feel about them. By simply and sweetly “Blessing ’em” you soften blow with a little extra zing.
Take Time To Listen
It is true that life is slower down here. We tend not to rush and get sucked into the hustle and bustle of things. A good reason for that is because we like to talk.
Spend anytime in conversation with a Southerner and you are going to hear a story. We have a story for EVERY situation.
We LOVE to tell stories. Storytelling is an art, and somehow, here in the South, we have it perfected. Some of the stories we tell are true, some are exaggerated, and some are just big ole tales, but they all serve a purpose. They could be to teach a life lesson, entertain, or help us reflect on the past. You should note that we like to repeat stories and will tell them again and again to the point that you can tell the story yourself.
My fondest memories of my childhood are of sitting underneath our big maple tree out back on summer evenings drinking lemonade and listening to my Grandmother tell the same stories over and over again. We knew each one by heart, but listened each time like it was the first time. Each story like unwrapping a special gift.
Stories can happen anywhere…
So, if you get stopped by a storyteller, don’t rush. Whatever you are running to will still be there.
Sit. Relax. And take in the words. Enjoy the warmth of friendly conversation, and you may realize you have your own story to tell.
No amount of words can describe the South. You can read about it all day, but like the other wonders of the world, it is best experienced first hand.
The South is an easy target for Society to poke fun of and turn it’s nose up to. Folks don’t understand our laid back ways or strong convictions. Yes, we like big trucks, big hair, say grace before meals, call our parents Mama and Daddy, say Sir and Ma’am, stop our cars when we pass a funeral procession, and yes… freak out when it snows.
But we also pride ourselves on jobs well done, getting to know our neighbors, respecting our elders, and you won’t find the red, white, and blue loved any harder then down here.
Yes, the humidity and the mosquitos will try and break you in the summer….
And you may not understand why we think macaroni and cheese is a vegetable…
And maybe we do talk funny….
But no where else will you find sweeter conversation, or a more kinder, fiercely loyal people, then in the South.
So come on down for a visit. We will feed you fried chicken and biscuits, tell you some great tales, and probably Bless your Heart.