The Prodigal Blogger Returns

13 Nov

Dad and me after eating pecan pancakes at Cracker Barrel

Dad and me after eating pecan pancakes at Cracker Barrel

When I embarked on my tour of the South this past Spring, I was full of hopeful anticipation. I thought I’d soak up my surroundings, explore new places, and snap copious photos. I’d fall in love with the South all over again. Then I’d return to Seattle eager to tell y’all all about my adventures.

That didn’t happen. Not exactly.

I did venture to cities I’d never seen, reconnect with old friends, snap a few pictures, and eat roughly half my weight in biscuits (not in one sitting). I soaked up Southern culture in the manner of a Bounty paper towel. I did not, however, fall in love all over again. In fact, I kind of wanted to break up.

When I write about the South from my home here in Seattle, my posts are filtered through a lens of nostalgia. I write from selective memory, mainly about the aspects of Southern culture I miss the most (chicken and dumplings, this means you).

When I’m actually IN the South, it’s a whole other story. One I’ve been reluctant to tell. Still am, but here goes…

Being immersed in Southern culture makes it impossible to ignore the things I dislike about my homeland. Substandard education. Widespread poverty. Morbid obesity. And racism that cuts both ways.

I’m among the first to saddle up my high horse and ride when folks start badmouthing Southerners as a whole. As if we all don pointy white hoods, inject Wesson Oil straight into our veins, and can’t be bothered with no fancy book learnin’. Which is absolutely not true. Or at least mostly false.

I like to pretend that the South is all caramel cake, chivalry, and cute expressions. But when I spend time back home, my rose-colored glasses become clear as a jar of moonshine. I see dirty kids in tattered clothes being threatened with a “whoopin.” I hear that the once-upscale shopping area has been “taken over by the blacks.” I witness a black customer who feels slighted accuse a sales clerk of racism. I see a list of fourth grade spelling words that includes “people” and “often.”

What bothers me more than any of this is finding myself in line behind someone who’s arguing with the checker that she ought to be able to buy a jumbo jar of cheese puffs with food stamps and thinking “Get a job!” and also “Stop feeding your children garbage!” Like I am one to judge, as I charge a tub of Blue Bell Ice Cream on my Capital One card.

I cringe when I hear a Baptist preacher lump the words “Hitler,” “homosexual,” and “Osama bin Laden” in the same sentence. But I’m in line at Chick Fil A bright and early on Monday morning. (By “bright and early” I mean around 10 a.m.)

To sum up: I am conflicted.

I’ve spent more time in the South this year than I have since I moved away nearly two decades ago. I attended three conferences, visited eight cities, drove my dad’s Lincoln Town Car nearly 2000 miles, feeling like an airport limo driver the whole way.

I visited with relatives I haven’t seen in ages, saw my brother buried, and drank margaritas to ease the pain.

Celebrating the life of my brother at Hal & Mal's

Celebrating the life of my brother at Hal & Mal’s

I packed in less than an hour to catch a hastily booked flight and prayed that my father would still be alive when I landed. And I thanked God when he was. I spent hours with my dad each day, listening to his stories, walking his dog Happy, and sitting together reading silently. I extended my trip another week, and my sister mocked me when I wore my White Lily Save the Biscuit t-shirt again. And again. And again.

I made buttermilk biscuits and cheddar grits, while Jenna made sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, and sausage gravy. We sat in front of the TV with her husband and two boys enjoying breakfast for dinner, each bite better than the next.

I whipped up another batch of biscuits for my dad, stashing extras in the freezer for later. Even though I botched the amount of baking powder and failed to achieve the proper flakiness, both Jenna and my dad pronounced them the best biscuits ever. And I beamed because these are people who KNOW their biscuits.

Three of my all-time favorite people: Jenna, Jackson, and Eli

Three of my all-time favorite people: Jenna, Jackson, and Eli

I laughed approximately 18 million times. Dreamed up half a dozen new business ventures to start with my sister. And began missing my littlest nephews before even embarking on my return flight.

I hate that I can’t be there with my family. But not quite as much as I love Seattle. I just this minute admitted that to myself, even though it’s been true for a long time as evidenced by my choices.

Now that I’ve settled back into life in my adopted homeland, I’ve had time and distance enough to fill up pages with posts about everything from hats and hair bows to sweet potato casserole and Coke. I’m looking forward to telling y’all all about Stuff Southern People Like and hearing what you think.

Friends, I have missed you. And I’m glad to be back.

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18 Responses to “The Prodigal Blogger Returns”

  1. Karen Anderson November 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    We are so glad to have you back.

    Having grown up in Virginia, and now with my mom urging me to move to live near her in a beautiful part of Southwest Florida colonized by wealthy bigots from Indiana, I hear you. Seattle might as well be on another planet.

    • Kim Holloway November 14, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

      Thanks Karen! Your comment about your mom living in an area of SW Florida “colonized by wealthy bigots from Indiana” is a nice reminder that bigotry isn’t just a Southern thing.

  2. Tori Nelson November 13, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Seattle? Is that American? Haha. Kidding. But I hear it’s cold there.

    • Kim Holloway November 14, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

      Tori, sure, it’s cold, but it’s a wet cold… :-)

  3. Hippie Cahier November 13, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

    Ohhhhhh, how I have missed your writing. I’m glad you’re back, and I am so sorry for your loss.

    • Kim Holloway November 14, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

      Thanks so much, Hippie! Don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I’m SO happy you decided to continue blogging!!

      • Hippie Cahier November 15, 2013 at 6:36 am #

        I don’t know if you were around, but I was FP’ed a couple of months back. It just wasn’t the same without you there.

        • Kim Holloway November 20, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

          Congrats on being FP’ed again! That’s awesome!! Sorry I wasn’t there to keep you company.

  4. Tammy November 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    So…why exactly wasn’t I invited when you and Jenna cooked?

    • Kim Holloway November 14, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

      Hey Tammy, um, stupidity? I’ll be home for Christmas and will have an opportunity to rectify the oversight. I’d LOVE to make biscuits for you after all the delicious food you’ve cooked for me over the years.

  5. Hope @ Fairhope Supply Co. November 13, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

    So very happy you’ve returned!

    As for your assessment of North vs. South, I think it’s more of a gap between economic classes instead of a geographic divide.

    There are plenty of areas in the Northern region (and west and east) of the U.S. with very poor people, and unfortunately things like lower quality education and higher obesity rates often accompany this problem. I’ve also met extremely racist people who have grown up in the North and very openminded people in the South.

    Unfortunately, impoverished areas are more prevalent in the South, so therefore, we get labeled with the stereotypes. That’s why everyone is shocked when they visit my town in Alabama, because we have a higher economic level, there are very few of the problems you mention. It’s a backhanded compliment when tourists say, “I can’t believe this is Alabama!”

    I’ve lived in some very affluent areas, middle class areas and also taught in inner-city schools in the South, so it a topic I love (and hate) to think about.

    And you’re sure there isn’t one goofy overweight and undereducated person in the entire city of Seattle?

    Just saying . . . (with a smile on my face and batting my eyes like a Southern Belle, so you can’t possibly get mad . . . darlin’.)

    • Kim Holloway November 14, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

      Thanks Hope! You raise a lot of good points. I agree that lower-quality education and higher obesity tend to accompany poverty in all parts of the country. Perhaps I just see more of it when I’m in MS, the poorest state in the nation. As for the one goofy overweight and undereducated person here in Seattle, picture me raising my hand. :-) (Ok, I’m not technically undereducated, but I sure do feel like it sometimes…)

  6. vintageyall November 14, 2013 at 7:26 am #

    Hi Kim,

    We’ve miss you. And I would like to extend my condolences for your loss. So sorry to hear this.

    I read your story about viewing the south through a new pair of glasses. And I do hear what you are saying, as I too have had moments thinking similar thoughts as well. While the rural areas have their problems, I believe all cultures do. But more than the “STUFF” of the south, I recognize without a doubt, that it is the “PEOPLE” of the south that I am truly in love with.

    I recall the random acts of kindness from strangers that could only be found in a small, southern town. Overweight on under-educated, they know how to be kind. And that counts. Years ago, when my mom was dying, a few of us broke away from the hospital for a quick lunch. Sitting in an Arby’s, the conversation with my brother turned to tears…knowing we had hard choices to make in the days ahead. The manager of that Arby’s noticed. And he quietly walked by my table and slipped me a few napkins for my tears. Although in a sea of grief, I saw that quick flash of compassion in his eyes. Later that day, a stranger on the elevator in the hospital could read MY face…and perhaps overheard us talking, but she offered a genuine hug and a quick prayer for my mom. These acts from strangers have stayed with me, even though 13 years have passed. It’s kind of like love….compassion, is only compassion, when given away. Southern folks “get this”. As I sit in this secular-progressive country to the north, that same offering is simply not there. Everyone minds their own business and sheepishly look the other way.

    So, with all of it’s faults, compassion scores high on my list of southern likes….and eeks to the top of the list of ‘southern love’….just above biscuits. So, please, don’t break up with the south. They are your warm blanket ready to wrap around you on your next cold night. Yes, there may be ignorance…prejudice, ‘scare you to Heaven’ ministers, and too much food on the plate. But in general, there are authentic people that still care about strangers. And perhaps us “big city folks” have forgotten what is really important at times.
    Making that casserole for a neighbor who lost a loved one as you so perfectly wrote about. Or caring for a stranger, because their upbringing has taught them things often only told in the south.

    My condolences for your loss, KIm. And a southern sister hug to you, sweet girl. : )
    Kathie

    • Kim Holloway November 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

      Thanks, Kathie! I could never really break up with the South, there is far too much to love. Your story about the compassion of strangers really touched me. One of the best and worst things about Southerners is that the phrase “none of your business” isn’t part of the vocabulary. (With the exception of my three-year-old nephew who will put you right back in your place.) Seattle has a reputation for being nice, but it’s more a matter of friendliness, not compassion. If a stranger here offered me a consoling hug or prayer, I’d die of shock.

  7. Debbie November 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    Kim, I’m so sorry for your loss. We’ve missed seeing you here but understand now why you were away.
    I totally “get” this post and commend you on your honesty in writing it. I was raised in “Yankeeland” of Mississippi-born-and-bred parents. All my life, I’ve felt the push-pull of North vs. South. I left home at 17, went to college in the south, and lived mostly in the south until just after my son was born and we moved back.
    The differences between these two regions are the stuff of legends — not just the food, not just the attitudes. There’s more of a “live and let live” here, which is fine *until* you need consoling. Then, as ^Kathie^ said so eloquently, you need “home folks,” folks who get you, folks who are quick with a visit and a casserole and something sweet and homemade. And you only get that in the South.
    Keep those rosy glasses on, honey — we’re enjoyin’ the nostalgic views!

    • Kim Holloway November 20, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

      Thanks, Debbie! It seems like you can really relate, having spent so much time in both regions. I’m glad to be writing again. Thanks so much for the encouragement!

  8. gimme some sugar February 16, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    My sincere condolences about your brother, first of all.
    I just discovered your blog looking for petit fours in Seattle. I am from Louisiana, and I find the people in Seattle just so GRIM! The other day, I was leaving Archie McPhee’s after shopping and laughing like crazy for an hour. A young lady followed me out, dressed real cute in cozy sweater, matching knit cap, plaid short skirt, tights and boots, (see, I notice this stuff) her dog was bounding around thrilled to see her and she just looked like she was headed to a funeral. Excuse me, here it would be a Celebration of Life, not a funeral. Anyway, maybe she was. That’s only one example of too many. I have only been here a few years and it’s so beautiful, mountains, water, trees. Why are people so serious??? BTW, I know what you mean about going home, I planned to move back and I can’t do it.

  9. deneen March 14, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    Wow, I was really enjoying your blog until I read this comment “Being immersed in Southern culture makes it impossible to ignore the things I dislike about my homeland. Substandard education. Widespread poverty. Morbid obesity. And racism that cuts both ways.” So sad, that you feel that way and you are better off in your new environment that obviously superior to me. :(

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