A few years ago this question was raised for some fool reason.
“How Southern are you?”
At first, it was hard to know what to make of such a thing. The question itself was a little off-putting to say the least. After all, you’re either Southern or you ain’t. Pretty simple really. To even raise the question is downright ill-mannered. Our mamas taught us better than that.
But because some kind of definition seemed to demanded, I decided to take a look at it myself. Fact is, there’s a lot more to being Southern than just knowing what they sell at a Piggly Wiggly, the difference between a hushpuppy you eat and a hushpuppy you wear, slurping down sweet tea, and how many times someone says “y’all” in a day.
So I got to studying on all the wondrous things that make us Southern in one way or another. And damned if it ain’t a bunch of stuff. So settle back on your porch glider or if you’re ridin’ down I-95 take a quick stop at Pedro’s South of the Border or the first near-abandoned Stuckey’s you see and read over this little ol’ list.
It’s magnolia trees, and sweeping leaves.
It’s kudzu and honeysuckle; wisteria and camellias; crape myrtles, wax myrtles and palmettos.
It’s fried green tomatoes, fried okra, fried oysters, fried cornbread and fried apple pies.
As Southerners we must always remember to lay in an extra stock of lard.
By the way, buttermilk with day-old fried cornbread crumbled up in it sure is good. At least my daddy thought so.
Remember those hand fans stored in church pews back before air-conditioning? There was an image of Jesus knocking on a door to your heart on the front. And a funeral home advertisement on the back.
Being Southern is recognizing what “nabs” are when somebody says it and knowing the right ingredients for snow cream. Every so often, it involves scooping pimiento cheese out of a small tub with a Ritz cracker.
But don’t tell mama.
It’s William Faulkner and reading books by William Faulkner, even when no one really wants to, then going back to read them all again.
And it’s Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and Tennessee Williams.
And every so often, Margaret Mitchell.
It’s Junior Johnson, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
And don’t forget the Alabama gang.
It’s Bear Bryant, Wallace Wade and good ol’ ’Merican football.
It’s a baseball team in every town and names like the Luckies, Bees and the Hi-Toms.
It’s knowing the difference between R.C. Cola, Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
And realizing that all can be referred to in general as co-colars or cold drinks.
Extra credit for remembering that Pepsi was invented in New Bern.
It’s pot likker and corn likker and knowing the difference between those, too.
And it’s always spelled “l-i-k-k-e-r.”
It’s about Stonewall Jackson, Sherman’s March to the Sea, Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and the gentle voice of historian Shelby Foote pointing out with poetic clarity how and why it all went wrong.
And don’t forget fatalism and loss.
You might be Southern if the word toboggan means a winter hat.
You are most definitely a Northerner if you think it’s a sled.
Being Southern is buttermilk biscuits, biscuits and freshly churned butter, biscuits and any butter, biscuits and gravy, biscuits and apple butter and biscuits and molasses.
It’s country ham in a biscuit, of course.
But it’s also country ham and red-eye gravy.
And I even heard of people eating fried chicken with red-eye gravy.
That red-eye gravy sure does get around.
Not good on watermelon, though.
It’s Hank Williams Sr., Elvis and Robert Johnson.
It’s going down to the crossroads.
And it’s baptisms in a river.
It’s a passing familiarity with the expression, “The devil is beating his wife” and what it actually means.
It’s wearing straw hats in the summer, one to work in, another to go out to supper in.
Did I mention Elvis?
It’s the Radley House. And it’s Atticus Finch, courtroom balconies and justice served … finally.
It’s Big Daddy, Brick and Maggie the Cat.
It’s red clay and pottery.
It’s a whirligig in the front yard made to resemble a bird that doesn’t really exist and never existed.
Usually made by some fella down the road a piece.
Porch gliders or swings, for high-falutin’ Southerners.
Porch sofas for everybody else.
It’s tobacco, sour mash, liver mush, collards, dirt roads and tar.
It’s knowing about a place to get a plate of okra, pole beans, tomatoes and side meat that also doubles as a Laundromat.
It’s grits (with or without cheese). Brunswick stew (with or without squirrel). It’s barbecue from wherever your region happens to be.
Can’t we all agree that any barbecue is usually — but not always — tolerable-to-pretty doggone good?
And for dessert, banana pudding, of course.
With all of this eatin’ is it any wonder some of us are a little on the portly side?
Maybe we should get that cholesterol checked every so often, too.
It’s settling in to watch “The Andy Griffith Show,” even though you’ve seen every black-and-white episode 10,001 times.
It’s about saying “ma’am” and “sir” even when it clearly isn’t necessary.
Because it’s always necessary. Mama always said so anyway.
Last but not least, being Southern is a state of mind and a sense of place. It can’t be defined. You’re either Southern, or you’re not. And if you are, you just are. You can’t stop it any more than you can cross body block a hurricane. Once you’re Southern, well, you’re Southern forever.
And usually proud of it. Because your mama and daddy were and their mamas and daddies were and their mamas and daddies were, too.