Tag Archives: southern people

134. Hats AKA Hair Bows for Grownups

4 Dec

derby hatHere in Seattle, folks mostly use hats as protection from inclement weather. Usually, these “hats” come attached to the collar of one’s jacket, sweater, or sweatshirt. Yep, I’m talking hoodies. Considering how our weather changes more quickly than a teenager’s love interests, it helps to be prepared. Because we wouldn’t want to carry an umbrella. Umbrellas are for tourists.

For Southerners, hats fall into two major categories: A. Functional or B. Fashionable. Although one could argue that even the most fashionable hat serves a function i.e. rectifying a bad hair day situation.

I’m mostly talking about women’s hats because, frankly, Southern men’s hats aren’t all that interesting. For every ruggedly handsome gent in a cowboy hat, you’ll spot twelve dozen dudes sporting baseball caps or fishing hats.

fascinator hatWomen, on the other hand, have options. Watch any Southern movie, “Gone with the Wind” to “Steel Magnolias” and you’ll see what I mean. From floppy garden hats to prim pill boxes. Pastels to basic black. Traditionally feminine to futuristically flamboyant.

You’ll find hats at every occasion, from weddings and graduations to baptisms and funerals. But never will you see a more extravagant display of head coverings than at the Kentucky Derby. Which, truth be told, is less of a horse race and more of a HAT competition. Buying one of these gravity-defying, view obscuring headpieces can set you back a car or mortgage payment. As far as I know, there’s no official contest or wagering system. But I can say with speculative certainty that if you bought your hat off the rack at Belks, you lose.

derby hat 2This summer, my sister snagged an invite to a fancy garden party, which she used as an excuse to purchase a decorative hat. Having become a recent convert to Downton Abbey, she set her sights on something Mary might wear to afternoon tea. Alas, such hats are a wee bit harder to locate without 1. a props department or 2. the Grantham’s recovered wealth.

Her quest began on the Internet, the ideal place to find goods of questionable quality. Unfortunately, all the hats that met with her approval surpassed her budget. Besides which, the date of the party was quickly approaching, so she had to abandon the mail order idea and make do with what she could find nearby. Much like Scarlett with the dress made of curtains, except in Jenna’s case there was no sewing involved.

Turns out she was in luck as our friend Tammy had a gorgeous brown Downton-esque hat with teal accents that would have been perfect had Jenna’s dress contained similar hues. As I may have mentioned before, not matching is never an option for Southerners.

Y’all who know my sister will remember that she begins every story with “After our ancestors stepped off the Mayflower…” and doesn’t finish until every minute detail has been mentioned and expounded upon. I’ll fast forward a bit.

Hello, gorgeous: Tammy T and Jenna

Hello, gorgeous: Tammy T and Jenna

She finally settled for a festive, feathered black number for which she–only out of desperation–paid full retail.

After all this (by which I’m referring to a heap of stuff I edited out), she found out that Mom’s collection of hats was safely tucked away at dad’s house.

“Oh!” I said, “I wore one of mom’s hats to a party once.”

“What did it look like?”

“Sort of a 20’s cloche style with an off-white lace band and a red silk flower on the side.”

“What color?”

“Black.”

“(Expletive!)”

Even if she’d had time to run over to Dad’s, my sister’s under the mistaken notion that all sales are final, so she stuck with what she had. And looked totally adorable. Because that’s how she rolls, y’all.

One of the highlights of working at Red Lobster during college (and there are not as many as one might hope, let me tell you) was seeing the after-church crowd decked out in some of the most extravagant hats I ever did see. Plenty of bright colors: violet, magenta, electric blue, cherry red. With ribbons, lace, flowers, feathers, and occasionally all of the above. Hats that enter the room before the wearer does to announce, “I am HERE, y’all!” Plus men in suits. Suits! Know what they wear to church in Seattle? Fleece.

Mom rocking one of her many hats.

Mom rocking one of her many hats.

Most folks at my dad’s church never really bothered with hats. Perhaps covering one’s head is one of the lesser-known Baptist sins. I suppose wearing a fancy hat might tempt folks into a festive mood and before you know it, somebody will start dancing. The road to Hell is a slippery slope.

Me–carrying on the tradition.

Me–carrying on the tradition.

If this is true, someone forgot to CC my mother on the memo. For her, no outfit was so stylish that it couldn’t be made MORE attractive with the addition of a coordinating hat. One of her daughters inherited this philosophy. I’ll give y’all a hint: it’s not my sister. Not that she’s opposed to decorating her head as evidenced by the aforementioned wild hat chase. I’m just saying that if I’d been the one looking for a garden party hat, I’d have been able to locate half a dozen suitable contenders without leaving my armoire. Yes, y’all, I have an armoire. I am my mother’s daughter.

Do you wear hats? When, where, and why? Or why not? Please do tell.

Photo Credits: Pink Derby Hat available from LadySalisbury at Etsy, Blue Fascinator available from RealHousewifeHats at Etsy, White Derby Hat available from theoriginaltree at Etsy. All other pictures from Holloway Family Archives.

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.

125. Graceland, Where the King Died on His Throne

7 Mar

gracelandOf all the Mississippi natives who’ve reached the first-name-only level of fame, I daresay that Elvis tops the charts for Most Interesting Residence. I reckon Oprah’s place is none-too-shabby, but I wouldn’t know, seeing as I’ve yet to snag an invite. (Sorry, Mr. Grisham, I know your admirers are legion, but the media’s not about to start referring to you as “John.” I mean, even Mr. Lennon never made it to single-first-name status and his band was more popular than Jesus. Except in the South. Where there’s two things you don’t mess with: Texas and Jesus.)

You know you want one...

You know you want one…

During my sojourns in Memphis, I’d passed Graceland a time or two before stopping in for a visit. I always thought they’d open up the gates and let me drive right on in. They. Do. Not. Instead, you park across the street and go into the souvenir shop to purchase tickets. After you’ve had sufficient time to examine all the trinkets at least twice, you’re transported to mansion in the manner of a herd of cattle, if they would fit on a shuttle bus.

But once you arrive at the mansion and pass the threshold, WOW, it all looks so…normal. Yes, that white couch probably seats about 17 folks (20 if you scooch in), but it’s not bejeweled in any way. Plus, I was kinda hoping for a disco ball or two.

billiard roomNow the billiard room is impressive in that it’s the only place I’ve ever seen where the fabric on the couch matches the fabric on the walls and the ceiling. They had the pool table roped off with a sign saying Please Do Not Touch. However, if you do, it’s not like you’ll be shocked, tasered, or anything. Probably. I’m just speculating.

Next up: the infamous Jungle Room. I always thought the furniture was custom made for The King. Turns out he bought the whole kit and caboodle from a furniture store’s showroom. Everything from the primitively carved, fur-covered furniture to the green shag carpeting (on floor and ceiling) was already constructed and just waiting for some rich guy with crazy-ass taste to come in and buy it. Voila! Elvis! For an extra special treat, check out this 360° view of the jungle room from the official Elvis site. jungle room closeup

I loved how his bar/lounge featured a wall of TVs like you’d find at Best Buy. The arrangement on the wall, I mean, not the TVs. They’re the sort you might find at Goodwill, seeing as they were made in the 70’s. If Elvis IS alive, I’m sure he has a top-notch media room. With a ginormous couch. Apparently, he had a thing for huge couches. Also, the color yellow.

Not pictured: Eternal flame.

Not pictured: Eternal flame.

I think these days they might let you go upstairs, but that whole part was roped off, so I don’t have much more to report. There were other rooms, but none that left an impression. They let you go outside and look at his grave, where there’s an eternal flame burning to keep his spirit alive. Not sure how it fares in the rain, but I reckon it’s the thought that counts.

There’s also a museum where you can see some of his outfits and other ephemera. It costs extra to check out his cars and airplanes, so I didn’t.

Finally, the shuttle bus takes you back to the souvenir shop parking lot so you can retrieve your car and drive off into the sunset. Unless, perhaps, you’ll like to take a final stroll through all the Elvis paraphenalia…No? Ok then.

Have you been to Graceland? What’d you think of it? Please do tell.

And now, I’ll let Paul Simon sing us out:

Photo Credits: Graceland Mansion and Billiard Room by Danube66, Flickr Creative Commons; Jungle Room by NoirDame, Flickr Creative Commons; Elvis’ grave by Su_Anna, Flickr Creative Commons.

119. Thwarting Trespassers and Other Ne’er-Do-Wells

16 Jan 3873449800_850c9492f4_m

il_570xN.407404899_olfiDriving around Seattle the other day, a wave of nostalgia washed over me when I spotted someone’s front door decorated with a black sign featuring large red letters that said: POSTED. NO TRESPASSING. Shame on me. After a decade of living in a land where the sternest warning to strangers usually runs along the lines of “No Soliciting,” I’d forgotten these existed. But it all comes rushing back.

When I was a kid, I’d see “No Trespassing” signs all over the place. Mostly on chain-link fences or nailed to trees near the entrance to a roped-off dirt road. Places I wouldn’t even be tempted to visit had I not been shunned in all caps with bold type. I believe the signs are mostly used to keep hunters and fishers from poaching on one’s land, but if they scare off evangelicals intent on passing out bible tracts, all the better.3873449800_850c9492f4_m

I understand the desire to keep one’s private property private (teen journals, anyone?), but why must the signs be so redundant? I mean, if you’re reading the sign, it’s because someone posted it. So do we really need the word “POSTED”? That would be like me starting each blog post shouting “WRITTEN!”

Then after the no trespassing bit, they’ll tack on “KEEP OUT.” Just in case one isn’t familiar with words featuring more than four or five letters. Come on, people, if you can’t trust your audience, save everybody some time and skip right to the dumbed-down version.

My favorite trespassing sign comes from a Winnie the Pooh story involving Piglet:

“Next to his house was a piece of broken board which had: “TRESPASSERS W” on it. When Christopher Robin asked the Piglet what it meant, he said it was his grandfather’s name, and had been in the family for a long time. Christopher Robin said you couldn’t be called Trespassers W, and Piglet said yes, you could, because his grandfather was, and it was short for Trespassers Will, which was short for Trespassers William. And his grandfather had had two names in case he lost one—Trespassers after an uncle, and William after Trespassers.”

I suspect Piglet may have had roots in the South.

il_570xN.365445469_djrkThe types of trespass-discouraging tactics are as varied as the array of guns that are prepared to enforce them. From hi-tech security cameras and motion-detecting sprinklers to padlocked gates and strategically placed barbed wire. Also, dogs. Big, mean dogs. Think Cujo, not Lassie.

Word of advice: if you’re driving around an unfamiliar area, pay close attention to any and all warning signs unless you want to find yourself at the business end of a shotgun. I’m not hyperbolizing, y’all. I speak from experience.no trespassing sign

One night, my sister and I made a wrong turn on the way to a Christmas party and were greeted by two shotgun-toting rednecks who wanted to know where we were headed. (It probably didn’t help matters that we’d accidentally driven through their yard, but still. It was dark and the landscaper had gone with sort of a mud motif…)

Redneck #1: “Where y’all think you’re goin?”

Us: “We’re looking for Scott’s house.”

Redneck #2: “Scott who?”

Us: Uh…(I should mention that our friend Karen had only recently taken up with Scott and we couldn’t recall his last name.)

Redneck #1: “Scott W______?”

Us: “Yes!”

Redneck #2: “You’re gonna turn around and make a left and then take a right at the house with the ‘deaf kid’ sign.”

Us: “Thank you!” (For asking questions first and determining that shooting was not necessary. And also for the directions.)

Rednecks: “STAY OFF THE YARD!”

There may have been more advice, but we didn’t stick around to hear it.

Have you ever posted a “No Trespassing” sign or disregarded one (accidentally or otherwise)? Please do tell!

Photo Credits: “Keep Out” poster by Urban Design Ink available here; “Posted” sign by Nate Weigle, Flickr Creative Commons; “Bait” by Signs from the South available here; Toddler trespassing poster available at ismoyo’s Etsy store.

117. Matching (AKA Not Looking Tacky)

9 Jan

matchy-matchyPicture this: I’m about to walk out the door wearing turquoise mary janes, denim capris, white cotton blouse topped with turquoise and light purple striped sweater and turquoise-accented eyeglasses. I’m carrying a glittery turquoise handbag featuring purple flowers. Oh, and a purple water bottle.

Before I leave, I turn to Geoff and say, “I’m worried that I don’t quite match enough…” This renders him temporarily speechless till I add, “I’m kidding!”

Yes, I can go a little overboard with the matching (full disclosure: I was also wearing lavender eye shadow with glittery turquoise eyeliner), but I’m Southern and it’s just part of my DNA.

Don't be like this, y'all...

Don’t be like this, y’all…

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a deep and abiding fear of looking tacky. Occasionally, I’ll challenge myself by pairing a paisley shirt with an argyle sweater, but it makes my pulse race. And that’s with coordinating colors like burgundy and brown. Were I to wear the clashing patterns in, say, green and orange, I would most likely faint in the manner of a tent revival attendee.

As y’all might imagine, folks in Seattle don’t put a whole lot of effort into matching. It is, after all, the city that brought you grunge. Seattleites match neither the elements of an outfit with each other nor the entire ensemble to the occasion. Some don’t even bother to dress for the weather more than 1/2 way. How else do you explain all the guys running around wearing shorts and Birkenstocks with parkas or the girls sporting tank tops and miniskirts with Ugg boots?

lunch bagEarly this year, I went out on a limb and bought an insulated lunch bag that not only doesn’t match my water bottle, but also doesn’t match 9/10ths of the clothes I own. I think it’s adorable, but have never once carried it to my onsite gig without feeling uncomfortable, if not vaguely nauseated. (Pardon me while I go off topic, but I wanted to mention that these bags are great at keeping hot things hot, but it turns out you need some sort of cold pack to keep cold things cold. Besides which, there was never any room for it in the office refrigerator. Not my most practical purchase, but certainly not my least. That honor may go to the Cutest Shoes Ever, which featured ankle straps and 4” stiletto heels. My mom always called such footwear “sitting shoes.”)

Speaking of my mom, I should say that my propensity for matching comes from her side of the family. Which y’all would know if you’ve ever had the opportunity to see my dad sporting his patchwork Christmas Pants (though he occasionally breaks them out as early as Thanksgiving). The patches feature every conceivable design all stitched up together in no discernible pattern in the manner of a calico cat. Except that the patches are made of wool, corduroy and such, not fur. To be fair, I’ll note that all the patches feature coordinating shades of brown, which is more than I can say for the madras patchwork sport coat that Land’s End originally sold for $250 but has now marked down to $159.99.

My sister with Mom at her 50th anniversary dinner.         Not pictured: Matching nail polish.

My sister with Mom at her 50th anniversary dinner. Not pictured: Matching nail polish.

Anyhoo, my mom was a world-championship matcher. She even won a ribbon once at the state fair. Ok, I just made that up, but were prizes awarded in such categories, she would’ve easily outmatched any so-called competition. I’m not saying that some of her outfits weren’t questionable, but even so, they always matched.

Do you like to get all matchy-matchy? What’s your favorite outfit?

Photo credits: “Matchy Matchy” illustration by Natalie Dee, all other photos from Holloway family archives.

Pick me, Paula! Pick me!

29 Oct

Paula Deen’s Caramel Cake in Progress:
A still life by Kim Holloway

My very first post on SSPL featured the Queen of Southern Cuisine, Paula Deen. Now 100-odd (and some even) posts later I’ve come full circle. Imagine my delight when I learned that Paula’s cultivating a new crop of bloggers for her website, and I was among the select few invited to throw my seedling into the soil. (By “select few” I mean everybody on Earth who has a blog and even folks who don’t but think they could.)

Consider this post my contest entry form and bear with me as I expound upon why I think I ought to be part of the Deen Team…

After living as a Southern expat for 18 years, I’ve lost count of the number of times folks have asked me “What’s the South really like?” A couple of years back, I started Stuff Southern People Like as a way to introduce outsiders to some of Dixie’s finest delicacies and doo-dads–from recliners to R.C. Cola. I figured folks back home would enjoy reading it, too (or at least say they did and proceed to gossip about me behind my back saying, “Bless her heart, she thinks she can write…). Along the way, I’ve heard from transplanted Yankees who appreciate the insight into their quirky new friends and neighbors. While I adore all my readers, I must confess that I especially love comments from fellow Southern expats who enjoy the “taste of home” my posts offer.

Could the Deen Team use a cultural ambassador? Someone who delights in helping people discover the convenience of dust ruffles, drive-thru beer barns, and cream-of-something soup? Someone who prepares folks for the perils of pantyhose, Walmart, and unexpected guests? Someone who offers advice on what to bring to a dinner on the ground, how much makeup is too little, or understanding the subtle differences between fried chicken, chicken fried steak or chicken fried chicken? If so, Paula, I’m your girl (out of Dixie).

Thanks, y’all. Soon we’ll be back to regular blog programming, already in progress. Plus that super-secret project I mentioned in my last post (note: this wasn’t it).

Stuff I, Myself, Like

26 Oct

Available at Pink Tulip of Daphne’s Etsy store

I’m working on a super-secret new project for Stuff Southern People Like, which I hope to launch next week. Meanwhile, I wanted to share some fun stuff I’ve discovered on my recent travels along the information superhighway.

One of my most popular posts has been Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit (and other Colorful Expressions), so I figure y’all will just eat this up. When I ran across the clip on YouTube, I was happier than a pig in slop (but also madder than a wet hen that I didn’t think of it first).

I’ve neglected, thus far, to post about one of my all-time favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, but this prompts me to get around to it sooner than later. It’s an audio clip from a lecture she did at UL Lafayette she did in ’62 that was found in a filing cabinet last year. I’ve transcribed it for my Yankee readers, seeing as her accent is thick as Tupelo honey.

“A few young Southern writers feel about the South the way Joyce felt about Ireland, that it will devour them. They would like to set their stories in a region whose way of life seems nearer the spirit of what they think they have to say. Better, they would like to eliminate the region altogether. But you cannot proceed at all if you cut yourself off from the sights and sounds that have built up a life of their own in your senses and which carry a culture in them. The image of the South is so strong in us that it is a force which has to be encountered and engaged. It is when this is a true engagement that its meaning will lead outward to universal human interest.” Flannery O’Connor

Faulkner as “The Sound and the Fury”
by John Sokol

I’m a writer, so I’m biased, but I just LOVE the intersection of literary and visual arts. Artist John Sokol does amazing portraits of writers using their own words. His rendition of Faulkner is my favorite, but y’all should check out the entire collection, which also includes Miss Welty.

On my recent trip to MS, I noticed that the Pacific Northwest trend of putting birds on everything has migrated down South. This clip from Portlandia offers a hilarious take on it. Note to Etsy types, if you want me to buy something, put a WORD on it. (Also, I must confess that I am also partial to stuff adorned with images of birds.)

Earlier this week, I saw a presentation at Book Larder (a cookbook book store, y’all! Southern entrepreneurs, take note!) by two delightful young ladies who started up a candy business called Liddabit Sweets in Brooklyn. They just published a candy cookbook, which I cannot recommend highly enough for anybody who’s ever suffered from fudge failures and caramelization catastrophes. They demystify candymaking and include helpful troubleshooting photos. I’m still devouring the book and haven’t attempted a recipe yet, but I tasted their homemade marshmallows and was sold.

Caveat: Seeing as they’re east coasters, there are a few items missing from their candy repertoire–pralines, divinity, coconut balls, etc.–but don’t hold that against them. Also, they use way more walnuts than any Southerner would find socially acceptable, but it’s easy to substitute edible nuts.

Discussion question: When you buy Halloween candy, do you load up on the good stuff and hope for few trick-or-treaters or is that just me? What are your favorites? I usually go for Snickers, Almond Joy, and the occasional Kit Kat.

114. Skiing (On Water, Not Land)

19 Oct

Here in the Pacific Northwest, when folks talk about skiing, they’re referring to a winter sport that requires equal parts money (for gear and lift tickets), physical fitness (strong thighs are a must), and an abundance of snow (natural or man-made). While it’s possible—but statistically not likely—for a Southerner to possess one or both of the first two components, having all three at once is about as rare as encountering al dente pasta below the Mason-Dixon.

For Southerners skiing is a summer pastime with relatively few requirements, namely skis and a rope. Of course, you will also need a boat. Oh, and a fair-sized body of water. But any Southerner within driving distance of water will surely know at least one person with a boat.

I don’t want to give y’all the impression that skiing is effortless and/or intuitive. Quite the contrary. Learning to transition from the awkward squatting-in-water position to the graceful exhilaration of skiing takes quite a bit of time, effort, practice, and most importantly humiliating failure (and the requisite mockery by friends that goes along with it). On the plus side, unlike snow skiing, there’s hardly ever any bruising, broken bones, or serious injuries but also, alas, no sympathy.

I’d go into more detail here about what all skiing entails, but it’s been so long, I can’t remember. Basically, you hold on to the rope for dear life and then try to stand up once the boat starts moving. If for any reason a tree comes between you and the boat, drop the rope immediately. I’m not sure why I thought to add that, but perhaps I have a repressed memory involving a skiing catastrophe.

If one prefers to hop right over the skiing learning curve (or perhaps I should say “wake”), I have two words for you: inner tube. All the fun of gliding across the water at top speed without the bothersome chore of standing up. I have also heard of an on-land version of this involving a makeshift sled tied to the trailer hitch of a pickup truck, but I wouldn’t recommend trying it at home. Again, anyway. This means you, Scott.

Me & Louie, back in the day…

When I was 5 or 6 years old, one of my favorite activities—besides riding a motorcycle with my brother Mike—was skiing with my brother Louie (but y’all should call him “Lewis”). I’d stand with my feet planted on his skiis as we flew on water across Hoover Lake. The best part was when he’d let go of the rope, and we’d slowly glide to a stop.

Whether I was behind a boat or on the back of a bike, I relished the thrill of the wind on my face and the rush of a speed I could not control. I was fearless then. Maybe because I didn’t understand the possible consequences or perhaps I trusted that my older brothers would always keep me safe. As the decades roll by, I’m often surprised to find myself clinging to caution with white knuckles. I like to think, though, that if given the opportunity, I’d let my 5-year-old self do it all over again. But only if she wore a life jacket/helmet.

Addendum: The other day, my dad told me that Mom was out on the lake skiing when she was six months pregnant with my little sister, Jenna. Dad said she’d asked her doctor who told her it would be “good exercise.” Know what else is good to exercise? Caution!

Do you also consider yourself lucky to have made it out of childhood in (mostly) one piece? Would you ever let your own kids live as dangerously as you did?

Photo credits: Water Skiing by Travis Wetzel, Flickr Creative Commons; Me & Louie, Holloway family archives.

112. Waving at Strangers in a Hospitable Manner

19 Sep

On my first date with Geoff, after dining at a former brothel and before my favorite jug band hit the stage at Sunset Tavern, we had time for a stroll along Ballard Ave. As we passed the window of a restaurant, we noticed a group of about 8 to 10 people waving at us most enthusiastically. I didn’t recognize anyone, nor did he, and eight years later we still haven’t a clue what that was about.

Of course, had said incident occurred in the South, I most likely wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Ok, perhaps a second, possibly a third, but definitely not a 37th (Who WERE those people? Oops! Make that 38th). Unlike eating tofu, waving is just one of those things Southerners do. It’s like we breeze through the “Wave bye-bye to mommy” stage and master “Wave hello to that guy mowing his lawn” before we can even walk.

I haven’t studied any data on the subject, but I believe the frequency of waving depends on the size of the town. The smaller the population, the greater one’s likelihood of becoming a wave-ee.

I’m not even counting:

• Waves of recognition from folks you know (because they usually skip right on past waving or handshakes and go straight for the hug).

• Waves from automobiles to indicate A. “Thanks for letting me in your lane, kind driver” or B. “Oops! Sorry, I’m a dumbass, not an asshole.” (Like when you almost plow into a pedestrian–theoretically, of course).

• Beauty Queen-style waves from parade floats. (There’s a mnemonic device for this, which starts with “Screw in a lightbulb, touch the pearls…” Sadly, I’ve forgotten the rest. Can anybody help me out?)

• Waves from anyone dressed as food, wearing a sandwich board, or holding a sign. Either they’re being paid or hoping to, preferred currency being cash or occasionally attention.

I’m talking about random acts of waving. Like when a lady planting an azalea in her yard or an elderly gent taking his daily stroll to the mailbox takes a moment to look up, smile, and offer a friendly wave. As if they’re saying, “Hello, fellow human, nice to share the planet with you.” Or else possibly they’re being swarmed by gnats or mosquitos. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

One night when I was in college, my friend Sandy and I were driving around aimlessly when we took up the notion to start waving at folks we passed in a vigorous, insistent way, not necessarily in a “Your left rear tire has burst into flames!” manner, but more along the lines of, “Elvis!! You’re alive!!” or “Hey, Ed McMahon, come on over to my doorstep!” Probably, those folks were just as perplexed as Geoff and I were following our walk-by waving incident. Come to think of it, perhaps all my former random wave recipients decided to hold a reunion in Seattle and turn the tables.

Anyhoo, if you happen to be in the South and find yourself on the receiving end of a seemingly random wave, the proper response is to smile and wave back. Just remember to use all your fingers.

How do you feel about exchanging hand gestures with strangers?

Photo credits: Adorable waving elf by GoodlookinVintage available here, Food Dude by yasa_, Flickr Creative Commons.

110. Dropping By Unannounced (Preferably Around Suppertime)

7 Sep

But how about some advanced warning next time…

Considering the millions of people who live in Seattle, I’m surprised how often I run into folks I know when I’m out and about. It always gives me the feeling that this metropolitan city is merely a small town with an overactive growth hormone. I know that it’s not a small Southern town, though, because these chance meetings usually occur at bookstores or restaurants and hardly ever at my very own doorstep. People here call first or, preferably, text.

Not so in the South. One must be prepared to welcome unexpected visitors at any time (or, in the alternative, hide under the bed till the knocking at the door subsides).

The other day, my dad mentioned that a friend from church intended to mail him a card but she couldn’t remember the address so she sent her husband over to hand-deliver it. Later that same afternoon, someone else dropped by to share an overabundance of home-grown tomatoes. (And may well have received a pile of figs in return.) That’s just how Southern people roll, y’all.

When I was growing up, our house was a popular location for the folks who happened to find themselves in the neighborhood. I should mention that “neighborhood” in the South could mean within a 100-mile radius. With no actual houses in between. It’s all relative.

Speaking of which, immediate family members tend to be the most frequent droppers by (and the most famished). I may have mentioned certain of my mom’s kinfolks who always stopped to spend the night en route from Texas to north Mississippi. Rarely was there advanced warning and they usually traveled in a pack of six to ten people. Fortunately, my mom—the self-appointed Sleeping Arrangements Organizer—always managed to designate a nocturnal resting place for everyone. (When Mom died and my siblings and I returned home, my sister said, “How are we supposed to know where everyone should sleep?”)

One of my family’s Frequently Told Stories involves my then-teenage brothers hosting a wild shindig while my parents were out of town. A couple of my mom’s sisters unwittingly crashed said party and the liquor had to be stashed right quicklike.

In the South, you just never know when someone will show up out of the blue, so it’s important to keep a clean house, stocked pantry, and company-friendly beverages. Also, you might want to put on something decent. Maybe not full makeup, but at the very least, pants. And if you have a pool, resist the urge to skinny dip (or as Southerners sometimes call it, “fat dip”) until after dark. Remember, your friends and relations are happy to keep you on the straight and narrow.

When I was a kid, I occasionally tagged along when my dad went “visiting.” This was before I acquired analytical skills and consequently did not understand how the sudden, unexpected presence of one’s preacher might put a damper on one’s Saturday afternoon. We always received a warm welcome, but surely more than once someone must’ve dashed to the kitchen to stash a few cold ones.

Despite what the U.S. Constitution says, Southerners have no expectation of privacy (reasonable or otherwise). You could string caution tape across the front yard to dissuade unannounced guests, but that would most likely just attract more look-y loos.

One of my favorite scenes from Friday Night Lights was when the coach and Tami arrive home and discover Buddy Garrity waiting in their driveway. Tami fumes, “WTF is smarmy-ass Buddy Garrity doing in our driveway?!” (I’m paraphrasing.) Then without missing a beat, she gets out of the car and says (sweet as iced tea), “Oh HEY, Buddy! Come on in!”

And, no, I’m not signing your petition…

Here in Seattle, we have a politely worded sign to dissuade solicitors from knocking and/or littering our door with propaganda. It doesn’t say that folks we KNOW ought not summon us unexpectedly, but that’s implied. I can’t recall ever encountering such a sign in the South or a Southerner who wouldn’t think the request A. sort of rude (despite the “please” and “thank you”) and/or B. not applicable to them.

A little more than a decade ago, I took up the notion to “get back to my roots” (which lasted all of four months). I formulated and executed my moving plans quite hastily and hadn’t informed many folks. During the last dozen or so miles of my journey from Seattle to Florence, MS, I decided to pop in and visit one of my oldest and dearest friends. When Sandy opened the door, I said, “Hey! I’m living here again now!” She gave me a huge hug and invited me right in. That’s how I knew I was home.

What do you think about random acts of visitation? Please do tell.

Photo Credits: Y’all Come Back sign by Frolic ‘n Friends available here, I’m Already Disturbed sign by Off the Wall Painting available here.

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