My daughter brought me a wonderful book last weekend when she and her husband came over to share dinner with us. Bringing a gift certainly wasn’t necessary, but I can’t say I don’t enjoy a little hostess gift! And I like to think she learned some Southern manners at my knee. The attractive hardback book was entitled “The Southerner’s Handbook, A Guide to Living the Good Life.” I was not sure that being a Southerner and “living the good life” were necessarily inclusive, but just checking the chapter headings made me a believer. Where else than below the Mason-Dixon Line are fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, grits, okra, and pecan pie the lead essays in Part One: Food? And where else would seersucker, white bucks, and a pocket square line up next to big, bold Derby hats, fascinators, and comfy cowboy boots with ever fashionable pearls fill the Style section? I was a little confused when I got to the part on “How to Make Tabby;” although I have seen my share of the lime, water and shell mixture, I never thought of building even a tiny house and covering it in homemade tabby.
But, that is part of what being Southern is all about. Rising to challenges. And having all the answers. I have learned over the years of living in a community of transient neighbors, many from places as foreign as Ohio, Indiana, New York, and California, that questions concerning being Southern crop up like johnsongrass, and I am expected to know all things concerning etiquette even though my blood is not blue and I did not attend cotillion. I wish I had. I wasn’t even in a sorority, but I did belong to The Junior League when we lived in Augusta and I ushered at many black tie events. This, I assume, gives me the needed credentials to make a Mint Julep, talk Faulkner, raise an heirloom tomato and interpret Southern sayings like, “Happy as a Dead Pig in the Sunshine” or “Drunker than Cooter Brown.” **
I failed one of the most important tests of being a true Southerner (I was born in Elvis’ hometown of Tupelo; it doesn’t get any more southern than that!) I do not worship at the Church of Southern Football though many of my family does, some even live in a house divided; one side Miss State, the other die hard Ole Miss fans. Tailgating sounds like a lot of fun, but I lean more toward a really nice tea party than “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party,” as the Florida-Georgia game is tagged.
There is, however, nothing greater than Southern Literature. Having taught American Lit for years, I happen to know that there is no region in this great country that is better represented in the Literary Hall of Fame. You may have never heard of Eudora Welty, but you know “Deliverance” and two of the South’s best and brightest, Erskine Caldwell and Lewis Grizzard lived right down the road in Moreland. And they tell it like it was and still is for many of us who treasure the memories and tales of the past.
I often dreamed of living the “Good Life,” not bouncing from pillar to post, but fetching up at a gorgeous antebellum house, with barns and stables and breakfast in bed and dinner at the country club. I had a precious aunt, I called her Baba, who was the singular Southern touchstone in my nomad life. After my mother and I were uprooted from our secure home among relatives in Mississippi by my father’s recall into the army due to the Korean War, Aunt Baba’s home became the place we always landed when we visited on furlough from the far-flung places my dad’s career took us over the years. She was a quintessential Southern Lady who always offered tea or coffee with a plate of cookies served on the Blue Willow china pattern that I would imitate in my own home. There was no place as warm, as gracious, and that filled my gypsy’s need for a gracious home as did my aunt’s carefully restored home and highly polished cherry antiques. She had created a haven filled with beauty and good taste, lovely, comfortable, and like its mistress, the old farmhouse she painstakingly restored had turned into a true southern “lady.”
Visiting the Senoia Area Historic Society’s annual tea party in Pat Thompson’s lovely Secret Garden this Saturday, I was reminded that there are still delightful vestiges of my South. It also exists in the kindness of strangers, as Blanche DuBois of “Streetcar” would say. She is right. There is no where on earth where people are more generous, sweeter, and just plain good folk than here in the South!
**Cooter Brown was a draft dodger of sorts. To avoid subscription into either the Union or the Confederate Army, he just stayed “staggeringly drunk” during the entire War of Northern Aggression.