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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.

108. Swinging, the Family-Friendly Kind

31 Aug

Porch Swing Reader by Holly Abston available @ETSY

A few weeks back, I was exploring Pier 1 with my sister-in-common-law, Paula, when we happened upon something neither of us had encountered since the 70’s: a swinging chair. I hopped in right away and was immediately transported back to my days as a swinger.

As a kid, I spent approximately 20 percent of my time swinging…in the tire swing at our babysitter’s house, on various Tarzan-style rope contraptions in the woods, or on a makeshift swing tied to a tree out by our old barn/motorcycle parts storage shed. I seem to recall swinging out on a rope and dropping into a river a few times, but maybe I saw that in a movie.

The only swing I regularly left unswung was the one in our backyard. During my dad’s brief stint as an amateur beekeeper, he housed the bees right next to our swing set and they quickly built a summer home inside our plastic rocking horse. Good times!

Before the bee infestation. Also, before pants.

The mother of all swings and the one where I did my greatest proportion of swinging was on our back porch. Which is really less of a porch and more of a tacked-on room enclosed by sliding glass doors. It might have been a porch at some point, but most likely unlike any you’ve ever seen. Unless you’ve seen one with a refrigerator, a seldom-used auxiliary “dining” table, a string art lamp, and a non-working ceiling fan. Of course, if you’re from the South, maybe you have similar porch amenities.

What classified the area as a porch was A. the swing, B. the rocking chairs, and C. the lack of central heat/air conditioning. At Christmastime, we use the porch as an overflow refrigerator, which works out great except for those years when it’s 75 degrees on December 26, and we’re hard pressed to find a place to stash a ginormous turkey.

Southerners have a reputation for moving at a more leisurely pace than other folks. Never is that more true than when one passes time on a porch swing. The gentle back and forth movement easily induces a relaxed state. This is, after all, how one puts babies to sleep. Unless one uses Benadryl, which I hear is also popular.

Swinging sisters on our “porch.”
L to R: Aunt Jean, Mom, Aunt Tommie

On a porch swing, time inches to a crawl and conversations meander. Questions are pondered. Secrets are shared. Occasionally, naps are taken. At the risk of sounding woo-woo, I think swinging can be transformative. As a kid, I’d probably have described the feeling as “exciting” or “fun.” The teenage me would have said (begrudgingly, because that’s how the teenage me rolled) “freedom.” Now I’d probably say “unburdened.” For a few moments (ok, hours) swaying back and forth without the harsh reality of ground beneath one’s feet, there’s a sensation of weightlessness, a suspension of dis-relief, maybe.

Well, unless the porch swing suddenly and without warning loses its grip on the ceiling and comes crashing down. Which can happen, y’all. I know because this scenario played out on our back porch once. Not while I was on the swing, mind you. But the incident did involve certain of my family members. I can’t recall which ones, exactly, and even if I did I wouldn’t name names. This happened more than 20 years ago, but I suspect the bruised egos are still tender.

I cannot end a post on porch swings without mentioning the song “Swinging” (AKA “Swangin”). This little ditty by John Anderson was the “Who Let the Dogs Out?” of its time (early 80’s). For a while, everywhere you went, people were singing (or “sanging”) about the joys of swinging on the front porch with a girl named Charlotte Johnson (who’s as pretty as the angels when they sing). I’m not sure how I made it through that particular summer without strangling one or two people. I thought I’d subject y’all to the original version, but I stumbled upon this version which may just be the best cover of any song by anybody. Ever. Why hasn’t this kid gone viral yet?

Photo credits: Porch Swing Reader by Holly Abston available at Etsy, Swing-out sisters courtesy of the Holloway family archives, Porch Swing Welcome sign by robayre, Flickr Creative Commons.

104. Elaboration (“Oh, and Another Thing…”)

6 Apr

One of the first things you learn in any creative writing class is not to use five words when one will do. (Actually, they would probably put it thusly: be concise.) This is nearly impossible for any Southerner. We tend to err on the side of Faulkner (who even added an extra letter to his own name), not Hemingway.

This may be why you’ll find countless Southern novels, memoirs, and even short(ish) stories, but hardly any Southern poetry. I’m hard-pressed to name one famous Southern poet, even after Googling “famous southern poet.”

If there’s anything Southerners adore more than fried chicken and sweet tea, it’s the sound of our own voices. We just love to tell a good story. The problem is you can’t tell a good Southern story without going into a whole lot of exposition. I mean, how will the listener ever understand the sordid tale you heard from your hairdresser about your cousin’s trashy ex-wife unless you explain how she came to be his ex-wife in the first place?

This makes for a lot of non-linear storytelling, which can be somewhat confusing to non-Southerners who rarely feel compelled to stop mid-sentence and say something like “Oh, but how he lost his tooth was…” or “Wait! Before that, we stopped at the Bass Pro Shop…”

While I was home at Christmas, my 7-year-old nephew, Jackson, spent the entire 20-minute ride from my sister’s house to my dad’s recounting the plot of Bambi 2. At least four or five times, he paused abruptly and said, “But before that happened…” Yep, folks, he’s a Southerner. As if his name didn’t give it away.

Following this paragraph is a quiz, but first I have to tell y’all how it came about. I was thinking of a popular movie and it occurred to me that the name would be altogether different had a Southerner had been the one to come up with it. So then I thought it would be fun to create alternate Dixie titles for other films and see if y’all could guess what they are. All of the movies (except the aforementioned one) were nominated for Best Picture Oscars, so I’ve provided the year, in case that helps. You’ll find the actual titles at the bottom of this post. Alright, here we go:

What’s the Original Movie Title?
1. 1938: You’ve Got to Leave All That There Right Here
2. 1939: Gone with the Wind
3. 1950: What All Eve’s Ever Done, Not That I’m One to Gossip
4. 1953: From Where We’re at Right Now to Where We’ll be Forever and Ever Amen
5. 1960: The Single-Wide
6. 1975: He Done Went Crazy and Landed Hisself Up in Whitfield (Note: your asylum name may vary)
7. 1980: Regular Folks
8. 1992: Still Holding a Grudge Because of What Happened Way Back When
9. 2002: Atlanta
10. 2010: What All the King Said After He Quit The Stuttering and Learned to Talk Right

Bonus–the one that started it all–2011: The Girl What Done Gone and Got Herself a Dragon Tattoo, Bless Her Mama’s Heart

Ok, now y’all try it. Post your own alternate movie titles in the comments and I’ll announce the Best Dixie-fied Title winner in a not-too-distant-future post. Note: what he/she actually wins is the title “Best Dixie-fied Title Winner.” I haven’t got the budget for a prize, trophy, or tiara.

Answers:
1. You Can’t Take It With You; 2. Gone with the Wind (Yes, it’s a trick question, but if y’all don’t know by now that a Southerner wrote that one, there’s really no hope of figuring out the other titles); 3. All About Eve; 4. From Here to Eternity; 5. The Apartment (Sorry, that might be a tough one for non-Southerners since I haven’t tackled the subject of trailers a.k.a. mobile homes yet); 6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; 7. Ordinary People; 8. Unforgiven; 9. Chicago; 10. The King’s Speech; Bonus–The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Photo Credit: Sit Long Sign from The Craft Cabin’s Etsy store.

I’m Baaaaaaaack, Sort Of.

10 Aug

When I read Julia Child’s memoir “My Life in France,” one of the passages really struck a chord with me. Julia’s referring to cooking, but I think it’s more of general life lesson that might give Oprah an “aha moment.” Although, to be fair, it’s not too difficult to elicit an “aha moment” from Oprah. Probably a gerbil could do it. Or a hampster for sure. But not a Guinea pig. All they do is sit there and stare at you. In a creepy manner.

Anyhoo, here’s the passage wherein Julia discusses serving someone a terribly unappetizing meal:

“We ate the lunch with painful politeness and avoided discussing its taste. I made sure not to apologize for it. This was a rule of mine.

I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one’s hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as, “Oh, I don’t know how to cook…” or “Poor little me…” or “This may taste awful…” it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attentions to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, ‘Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal!”

Oh, no, Mabel, your sweet potatoes
look very...well done.

And that’s why I won’t be apologizing for my extended absence from the blogiverse. Also, I just hate it when you start reading a new blog and the writer keeps apologizes profusely for their absence(s). Like I care. I just met you. So what if you missed the last Weight Watchers meeting/church service/whatever? I wasn’t there either!!

So welcome, new subscribers! Please allow me to offer a very brief explanation to my long-time readers. Here goes: Pinched nerve root in neck. Pain radiating down right arm and hand. Typing = Torture. Hence, no entries. On the mend now, but paying work takes up nearly all my limited typing time. Therefore, here are a few funny and/or tasty and/or tasteless distractions for y’all till I’m back for reals.

The HI-larious and insightful scribes over at Real Southern Men are offering “Twanglish Lessons,” my favorite of which, thus far, is “Cussemisms.” That is also my new favorite word, although “twanglish” was definitely a contender.

I am all about the inadvertently amusing advertising one occasionally runs across (or frequently when one lives in the South), so I just lurved Todd Pack’s recent entry “‘Used cows’ and other signs of the times.” I’m still kicking myself that I never bothered to stop and take a picture of my favorite sign right outside Jackson, MS. It was a giant banner that read “Cemetery Now Open!” Yes, folks, an exclamation point! So hurry on in, y’all!!

Ok, I may be getting too far into my English major roots, by mocking the mistakes of most likely good-hearted people, but one of my favorite sites is CakeWrecks. And my favorite types of wrecks are the appallingly misspelled or, most especially, the ones whose instructions are horribly misconstrued. Check out the cake that inspired the blog, but be prepared to spend hours on the site.

Not that I am one or either...

I realize that a Shakespeare link might permanently label me as a nerd, but this is amusing whether or not you’re a fan of the bard. And besides, if I was truly a nerd, I wouldn’t get all the amazing impressions Jim Meskimen does–from Jimmy Stewart to Harvey Keitel, George Clooney to Droopy Dog. What’s most impressive to me is how his Jimpressions so accurately correspond to the words in Clarence’s speech from Richard III. My favorite is his line by Simon Cowell referring to “such howling in my ears.” But now that I’m on the subject of impressions, I must mention my favorite improv impressionist, Kevin Spacey, as seen on Inside the Actors Studio. Even better than his impressions was his answer to one of James Lipton’s recurring series of final questions: “What is your favorite curse word?” Spacey: “Rat bastard.” Let’s all try to incorporate it into our repertoire, shall we? Ok, Baptists, you are excluded. Feel free to use the above-mentioned “cussemisms.”

And to end on a sweet note, I must direct y’all towards my delightful bloggy pal Christina’s Southern Sweet Tea Granita recipe at Dessert for Two. What’s better than sweet tea on a hot summer day? Right, iced sweet tea. But what’s better than that? Sweet tea slushie! Hooray!

Hope these amuse y’all. Stay tuned for more frequent entries in the hopefully not-too-distant future. Next up: Cream-of-Something-Soup, since it was the first runner up on the SSPL Facebook page survey. Thanks for the vote “Kim’s Sister,” or Jenna, as I call her.

What are some of your favorite web finds? (And by all means, feel free to vote for yourself!)

P.S. I am partial to funny cat videos.

Photo Credits: “Hey Y’all” sign available from SlippinSouthern at etsy; Well Done Yams by Walker Cleavelands, Flickr Creative Commons; “Heavens to Betsy” t-shirt available from SweeTee; “Math & Stuff” shot by me (rather poorly with phone); Sweet Tea Granita by Christina at Dessert for Two.

Stuff I, Myself, Like

16 Jun

Two of my favorite people:
My nephew Jackson and his baby brother Eli.

Tomorrow’s the day y’all have been anticipating in the manner of my 13-year-old self waiting for the release of Duran Duran’s “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” album. That’s right: my 100th post. Whee!

Now that all 8 of the votes on the SSPL Facebook page have been tallied, we have a winner…Words Gone Wild: Mispronunciation. So check back in tomorrow to read all about it.

In the meantime, I figured that now that I’m reaching a ripe old age (in blog years), I might better start mixing it up a bit. Don’t worry, I’m not even close to running out of topics, but I thought I’d rest a spell and let other folks do the work.

Pour yourself a tall glass of sweet tea and head over to Saturday Evening Porch to hear about one blogger’s mother who hated all things tacky as much as my mom did.

If you’re feeling a bit peckish, check out Hippie Cahier’s unbelievably cute and yummy-sounding dirt cake. I’m thinking it must have been invented by a Southerner, seeing as it’s neither dirt, nor cake. P.S. Hippie Cahier is not really a hippie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

If you’ve ever A. been kept awake by monsters or B. been irritated by a sibling, you’ll appreciate Hyperbole and a Half’s scariest story post.

Stephanie at Stuff Christian Culture Likes expounds on the epidemic of PDA via Facebook that may have affected a couple near you. And if you are one of the couple’s she’s described and the post gets your dander up, well…

Tori at The Ramblings has just the solution: PROTEST! Bring your own sign and crabby attitude.

Well, that’s it till tomorrow.

Feel free to share your favorite finds from the interwebs. But keep it PG-13, folks. My dad and other Baptists read this blog. I don’t want to get myself protested.

94. Camping (Not That I’m Happy About It)

14 Apr

Disclaimer: Everything I have to say about camping in the South is based on my personal experience way back in the 1970’s. Here goes:

When I was in fifth grade, I wrote a scathing expose on camping and got to read it in class. Everybody thought it was hilarious. I can’t remember what all I said, but the gist of it was: I hate camping. I really hate camping. Also, camping sucks. Which is why I hate camping. So much.

This was the first time I truly realized the power of a number 2 pencil and Trapper Keeper-compatible loose leaf paper. My highly unscientific hypothesis was: People like to laugh. I can make people laugh. Therefore, people will like me.

I wish I had a copy of my essay on camping, but it has most likely disintegrated by now, considering how many times I read it to a captive audience. (By “captive” I don’t mean “fascinated by” so much as “prevented from fleeing.”)

Here in the Pacific Northwest, people see camping as a way to loosen the shackles of society, commune with nature, catch a rare glimpse of a star-filled sky, and sleep in tents. That all sounds great (apart from the sleeping on the ground aspect), but unlike any camping I’ve ever experienced.

Our campsite looked kind of like this,
only smaller and with plastic fruit lights.

When I was a kid, my dad would hook our pop-up camper to the trailer hitch on the car and away we’d go to the KOA Campgrounds in uber-exotic Wiggins, MS. Once we’d parked in our assigned spot, we’d set up camp. This involved popping up the camper and erecting a tarp cover to shade the picnic table, complete with a snazzy string of plastic fruit lights. (My mother never met a place she couldn’t decorate.)

My first order of business was scoping out the nearest bathroom facilities (some things never change). If we were lucky, there’d be a sketchy looking building with toilets and showers fairly close to “home.” One of the stereotypes of Southern folks is that we don’t have running water. Well, I’m here to tell you we do. In the wilderness, no less.

The ones in Wiggins, MS,
were slightly less grand.

The next item on my agenda was chasing squirrels. Not for supper. Just for fun.

One of the selling points of the Wiggins campsite was that it featured a lake with sandy beaches. Since I’d always associated sandy beaches with oceans, I once tried to teach myself to surf using the lid of a Styrofoam cooler. I made a valiant effort, but, alas, it was not to be. Turns out that surfing requires, well, surf.

Me, Jenna, and her creatively named doll, "Denna."

I can’t remember what all we ate when camping, but I do know that our food was cooked on my dad’s trusty propane Coleman Stove. As it turns out, a propane stove can be quite useful in a crisis. When Katrina knocked out the electricity at my parents’ house, my dad used his to cook up ham and eggs, and more importantly, coffee. “Eggs?” I asked. “Where are you keeping eggs?” My dad: “In the cooler.” Me: “Of course.”

Seeing as I’ve never been a fan of dirt, insects, public showers, and propane-tinged food, the only thing that made camping remotely bearable was when we brought along our portable color TV. My dad claimed that my sister and I were the only people in the entire history of camping who couldn’t stand to leave the TV at home. What? Other folks were content to miss an episode of “Mork and Mindy”? Seriously?

I do understand why people might choose to stay at campsites to economize while traveling on vacation. But, y’all, the campsite WAS our destination. I still can’t fathom how cramming four hot, cranky, occasionally TV-deprived people into a pop-up camper constitutes a vacation. Now that I think about it, maybe my dad was trying to give us an idea of what Hell might be like so we’d do our best not to wind up there.

Somebody ought to
buy me this.

Every once in a while, I’ll hear people in Seattle planning weekend camping trips. They make it sound quaint, enticing, blissful even. Which starts me thinking, “Maybe it would be different without the scorching heat and 1000% humidity. I’ve long-since cured my TV addiction, and it would be nice to see actual stars again.” I might just be persuaded to try again, if it weren’t for this one thing: I hate camping.

Did you go camping as a kid? Would you voluntarily go now? What’s the one item from civilization you’d find it most difficult to part with?

Photo Credits, Flickr Creative Commons: Camping sign by Susan Hunt, Bathhouse by Amy the Nurse, TV by Eric Albee

I Love Not Camping luggage tag by Anne Taintor available here.

90. William Faulkner, King of Yoknapatawpha County

25 Mar

“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.”
— William Faulkner, “As I Lay Dying”

Southern people love William Faulkner…unless they hate him. There’s really no middle ground. You won’t overhear a bookstore patron saying, “Faulkner’s all right, I reckon, but I prefer Stephen King.”

Reading “As I Lay Dying” in high school was my introduction to full-length Faulkner. I see this as both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because starting with, say, “The Sound and the Fury” might’ve caused me to break out in hives and consider myself allergic to his work. (This had happened before with Melville/”Billy Budd.”) A curse because “As I Lay Dying” set the standard by which I judge Southern novels. So far, everything else has come up short.

In “As I Lay Dying,” Faulkner offers a collection of first person narratives, recounting the adventures of a family transporting a dead body across Mississippi in the middle of summer. Why would they attempt this, you might ask. Because the body belongs to their mother (who had previously lain dying), and she insisted on being buried with her people. Also, each family member has an ulterior motive for going to town, ranging from Vardaman, the youngest who wants a toy train to Anse, the father who wants a new set of teeth (and manages to snag himself a new wife in the bargain).

Macabre comedy ensues.

I once made the mistake of taking a graduate-level course on Faulkner, which required reading an assigned novel every couple of weeks. I’ve always had a penchant (and dare I say, talent) for getting things done at the last possible minute. Not so with Faulkner. His work should be savored like a piece of artisan-crafted dark chocolate, not gobbled like a waxy Hershey’s Kiss. Sure, I read “The Unvanquished” in one night, but I can’t recall a single plot point. I’d guess it’s about a dysfunctional Mississippi family who may or may not turn out to be vanquished. Am I close?

The most common complaint I hear about Faulkner is that his work is difficult to read. No argument there: it is. But it’s kind of like exercise: difficult at the time, but satisfying (especially if you reward yourself with ice cream once you’re done).

In an interview for The Paris Review, Faulkner was asked: “Some people say they can’t understand your writing, even after they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them.” Faulkner replied: “Read it four times.”

If you find yourself near Oxford, MS, looking for a literary excursion, head over to Faulkner’s Greek Revival home, Rowan Oak. On my visit, the docent was knowledgeable and none-too-strict, which was nice, seeing as I had to move the plastic barrier at the door of his study to get a better view of his writing on the walls. This was the outline of his novel “The Fable,” for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. Sadly, my parents painted over all my crayon scribblings decades ago. Who knows what all I could have won by now…

What’s your favorite Faulkner novel, story, or anecdote? And if he’s not your cup of sweet tea, who is?

Photo credits: Rowan Oak sign and Faulkner’s writing on the walls photos courtesy of Nick Russell. Check out a collection of his AH-MAY-ZING photos on his blog Visual Textuality.

89. Dinner on the Ground

24 Mar

The first two things you should know about dinner on the ground are: 1. It’s not dinner and 2. It’s not on the ground. Ok, actually, it IS dinner for Southerners, but I didn’t want to confuse folks who think of dinner as an evening meal. In the South, dinner is served once a week (at noon on Sunday) or possibly twice if there’s a holiday involved. All other midday meals are called “lunch” or occasionally “brunch” (for fancy people). The evening feeding event is called “supper.”

During my time as an expat Southerner, I’ve rarely heard the word “supper,” apart from that short-lived “supper club” trend that swept Los Angeles in the late 90s. But I try not to think of that, seeing as my only supper club experience involved stopping Gary Busey outside the bathroom to tell him, “I loved you in Carny!” and “Stay off the motorcycles!!” Yes, there might have been demon liquor involved. But as my mother always reminded me: I don’t have to tell everything I know.

While dinner on the ground may or may not be considered “dinner,” it is definitely NOT on the ground. Unless you are the type of person who doesn’t mind the occasional speck of dirt in your mashed potatoes or grass stains on your Sunday best.

I’m sure my non-Southern readers can’t wait to find out what this mysterious event actually is, so here goes: It’s a potluck meal after church on Sundays. I know, kind of a letdown – unless you actually GO to one.

I’m not sure how the tradition of dinner on the ground got started or how it evolved off the ground and onto folding tables. I suspect it had something to do with the desire to boost church attendance. Even the worst backsliders (and y’all know who you are) will endure a sermon and some hymn singing for an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of Southern delicacies. For free, no less! (Or at the low, low price of a two-liter Coke or a pack of those crappy dinner rolls parked next to the hot dog buns at Kroger.)

Wrong!

Dinner rolls: Right!

As a general rule – based purely on my personal observations – the farther into the backwoods you go, the better the food’s going to be. I suspect there are some city churches that don’t even do dinner on the ground anymore, which just seems terribly sad.

If you want a true taste of Southern cuisine at its finest, try to finagle an invitation to a dinner on the ground. I’m partial to the Baptists, but I’m sure a Methodist spread might do. You’ll find a funeral food worthy display of casseroles, meat-flavored vegetables, and homemade Dixie sweets – with the added perk that nobody actually died.

In case you ever happen across a dinner on the ground, here are a few helpful pointers:

Whose green bean casserole will reign supreme?

1. Get in line early and often.

2. Do a little reconnaissance: know your options and save room for the best stuff.

3. If you encounter two or more versions of the same casserole, opt for the dish that’s most empty. Don’t hesitate to take the last serving or the person behind you might swoop in and beat you to it.

4. Avoid desserts with tell-tale signs of store boughtness like those dinky tin pie trays or cookies in a plastic tub. I like to make a sampler plate of everything that looks promising. But if there’s something special you want, get it before it’s gone.

5. Aim for the best seating option: a table with chairs. A chair without a table is trickier, but anything beats the last resort – the ground.

6. Don’t start fixing a to-go plate till everybody’s done eating. Wait till folks start retrieving their casserole dishes and then act quickly.

Dessert: YES!!

NO!!

This may sound counterintuitive considering how fond Southern people are of their food, but nothing makes a cook happier than returning home with an empty dish. And you can be sure folks are keeping tabs on which dishes moved the fastest. Leaving with a dish that’s still ¾ full is like being the last team member picked during P.E. class. But worse because who cares about P.E.?

Before you leave dinner on the ground in search of the nearest surface suitable for napping, make sure you find out who made your favorite dishes, praise them lavishly, and ask for the recipe. Don’t be surprised if you’re swept up in a spontaneous hug. Many Southerners equate food with love, so if you love what they cook, they’re sure to love you back.

What’s your favorite dinner on the ground delicacy?

Photos from Flickr Creative Commons: Green Bean Casserole by littlemaiba, Pecan Pie by leah1201l

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