Tag Archives: southern traditions

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.

100th Post! Y’all Say Potato; We Say Tater

17 Jun

On the SSPL Facebook page, I asked y’all to vote on what my 100th post would be and this topic won unanimously (except for the vote cast by my sister for “cream of something soup,” which I’ll get around to soon).

One day, Geoff says to me: “That’s the only thing you say that makes you really, really, really sound like a redneck.” The word in question: foil. As in tin foil. For him, it has two syllables: foy-ll. For me, there’s only one. Sadly, I do not know how to spell my pronunciation phonetically, but I’ll try: Ok, I have been trying for about ten minutes now, searching the internets even, and I can’t (or cain’t) make it happen. The pronunciation of the “oi” sound (which is consistent across other “oi” words like soil, toil, boil, etc.) does not seem to be one that’s used in any other words in the English language. Or none I can think of. Closest I can come is oh’l. But that’s not it exactly. I think it’s a sound that’s nigh impossible to pronounce unless you know it from the womb (practiced your rolling Rs lately?).

Elfi Walter painted this "pitcher" of a pitcher.

Ok, let’s move on. In the South, what you’re writing with or using to attach a corsage is a PIN. Whether it belongs to you or is atop something, it’s OWN. A PITCHER might be a vessel to pour from or an image captured via camera or a guy in tight pants hurling a ball at another guy in tight pants.

Conversely, DON and DAWN are not pronounced the same way. One is a girl, duh! Also, what you sleep uncomfortably on and how you came by that mess of fish are two different things: COT and CAUGHT.

Most people are familiar with Southerners’ blatant disregard for the letter G, but did you know we also like to change letters or drop them at random? I can’t teach y’all all the variations, but here are a few: supposably, prolly (who needs “bab”?), everbody, histry, libary, chimbly, nuCUler.

This CHARdonnay has a lovely bo-kay, for a $3 bottle o' wine.

Sometimes, just to mix it up, we add letters or even syllables where they don’t belong like misCHEE VEEous or manDENtory. My mayonnaise– (or mannaise) hating friend Sandy has a talent for adding letters where they don’t belong. I can’t figure out what the system is, but when it’s cold out it’s “nipply,” or the black-eyed peas taste a little too “hamhockly.” One of her favorite things to say is, “God bless a moogy milk cow.” And I always think, shouldn’t that cow be moog-Ly?

There are a few pronunciations that are specific to my family (or at least I haven’t heard them elsewhere) like VEE DEEo (for video), Q sin air (for Cuisinart), and CHARdonnay (for Chardonnay).

But my favorite all-time mispronunciation is “Dixie.” Let me explain: Before the Civil War, the Citizen’s Bank of Louisiana issued ten-dollar bank notes that bore the French word “dix” (for 10, which is pronounced “deece”). Folks started calling them “dixies” and the name spread such that the South became known as Dixieland.* Technically, it should have been deece-ie land, but I reckon D.C. was already taken.

*This is my favorite of the three theories on the origin of “Dixie.”

What are your favorite Southern mispronunciations?

Photo credits: Chipotle card by someecards.com, pitcher painting by Elfi Walter available at etsy.com, Three-buck Chuck by GSankary from Flickr Creative Commons.

98. Chivalry–Blondes Prefer Gentle (As Do Brunettes, Redheads, and Blue-Haired Ladies)

13 Jun

When I moved to Seattle for the second time back in the early 00’s (can you believe we’re already into a new decade and have yet to settle on a name for the last one?), I kept running into a problem with the menfolks here: they just would not help. Now, I’m about as feminist as Sarah Palin is not, but I’m not above letting y-chromosomed folks handle the heavy lifting…or anything involving wires…or car parts. Also, insects.

Let me take you back to late 2002 when my then-roommate and I were reduced to doing something shameful and unnatural, namely, hiring a man from the back page of The Stranger. The situation was that we needed a gi-normous desk moved from one room to another through a narrow doorway. We did not have A. the upper body strength to do the job ourselves, and, yes, we did try or B. a guy who would give us a hand (or more accurately two strong hands and biceps to match). So, naturally, we turned to the back page of the stranger, bypassing the ads for paid research studies, DUI lawyers, and “massage” therapists, till we spotted just what we needed: Man With Truck. Actually, we did not need a truck, just a man would do. When we explained this and offered to cover his minimum fee, he reluctantly accepted the job. He may or may not have driven over in his truck. We neglected to check.

After a few more failed attempts at soliciting male assistance (including a potluck wedding reception at which we’d been asked to construct an elaborate electrical-cord system–we’d asked a guy nearby to help and were refused with the excuse “I’ve got to bring in the potato salad”) I was starting to lose faith in the gender as a whole. Then my mom called to tell me about how she was leaving a store and struggling a bit with her purchase when a one-armed man ran over to help her.

Let’s review: a ONE-ARMED man helped my mom with her bags. A ONE-ARMED man she DID NOT KNOW. A ONE-ARMED man who RAN over to help. I’m sorry if I sound a little biased, but Southern gentlemen ROCK.

To be fair, I should say that my opinion of men in Seattle was formed before I made the acquaintance of many kind, generous, and helpful people of the male persuasion who live here. Especially the one who lives here in my house. I guess one should refrain from making general assumptions about the opposite sex when one is on an Internet dating spree.

Where's a boy when you need one?

However, I think it’s fair to say that Southern gentleman do tend to act more gentlemanly (except when they don’t–this means you, Skoal spitters) than their Northern counterparts. I think they’re more likely to go out of their way to help folks they don’t know. Sure, guys here will hold the door for you and would most likely lend you a cell phone to call 911. But would they pull over to change a stranger’s tire? Open the car door for you? Offer to carry your groceries? Maybe not. I mean, during my time in Seattle, I’ve come across approximately 2 million five hundred and twelve rain puddles and can count on no fingers the number of times a man has thrown his coat over one for me.

Have you encountered a random act of chivalry? Do tell…

Photo credits from Flickr Creative Commons: Tire changing by Raul Lieberwirth, Carrying groceries by Amber, Rabbit by Pablo Domingo.

96. Riding Lawn Mowers for Big-Ass Yards

27 Apr

When one of my friends, a native Seattleite, visited the Deep South for the first time, he was astounded by the amount of space folks have, including the biggest lawns he’d ever seen. At my house here in Seattle, we cut what grass there is (and by “we” I mean Geoff) with a weed whacker. We’ve got a lovely English-style garden in the back, but the grass in front doesn’t even justify a push mower. The house where I grew up, though, is a whole ‘nother story. One that involves a riding lawn mower.

Like many Southern folks, we lived out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by woods on all sides and, yes, a ginormous yard. One of my greatest thrills as a kid was getting to ride along as my dad mowed the lawn. Even today the smell of freshly mown grass makes me giddy with nostalgia. Ok, maybe giddy is too strong a word. Let’s go with “slightly less cranky than usual.”

As much as I loved going along for the ride, I couldn’t wait for that glorious rite of passage: Driving the lawn mower all by myself. Looking back, it might have been wise for me to practice before being set loose, but I reckon failure is how we learn. I’ll never forget the feeling of taking the reins for the first time: one part elation, three parts terror. As soon as I took off, I headed straight up the huge oak tree. Sadly, this would not be the last time a vehicle under my power would come in contact with a tree, but I shouldn’t digress…

Sorry, y'all, this won't cut it.

I’m sure I panicked. I most likely screamed. I definitely concluded that mowing the lawn was not for me. Now that I think about it, this childhood trauma is probably what caused me to abhor yard work of any kind. (Or at least it sounds like a better excuse than “Bugs. Worms. Dirt. ICK!”)

I’m sure the bike-riding granola folks here in Seattle would be horrified by the oversized carbon footprints left by gas-powered riding lawn mowers. I admit, they’re not exactly, well, “green.” But when you consider the Herculean task of cutting an acre or so on a sweltering summer day, I bet even Ed Begley Jr. would happily hitch a ride.

Photo credits, Flickr Creative Commons: Riding lawn mower by WindRanch, push mower by Dan Cederholm.

93. Fried Pickles–Chips, not Spears

12 Apr

Ever since I moved to Seattle, the 5 Spot has been one of my favorite restaurants. Along with their eclectic selection of American comfort foods, they feature special regional menus that change every few months. And it’s not just the menu that changes, y’all; they redecorate the whole restaurant (including the bathrooms). You’ll find all manner of kitch from the featured region like Mardi Gras beads and masks for New Orleans or the particularly impressive donkey and elephant paper mache mobiles for the Washington, D.C. theme. (I couldn’t resist the Marion Barry Cakes – pancakes covered in marionberry sauce and topped with candied macadamia “rocks” and a sugar crystal butter ball. Dee-Lish-Us!)

What does any of this have to do with fried pickles? Well, I’m getting to that. But first let me tell you about what goes on in the restrooms. Or one of the things, anyway. As soon as you walk in, you’ll hear a bad radio drama that will sound vaguely familiar. It will probably take a few moments to figure out what this is supposed to be, unless you cheat and look at the sign on the wall that tells you. The first few times I encountered this, I thought it a travesty that someone would butcher classics like “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” or “Charlotte’s Web.” Then I found out who was doing it: the 5 Spot staff. How loveably dorky!

Now to the fried pickles. Many years ago, I spotted fried pickles on the 5 Spot menu. “Hallelujah!” I shouted (inside my head), and promptly ordered a batch. Imagine my surprise when what arrived at my table were not crispy, delicious, deep fried dill pickle chips. No, folks, these were spears. Spears!! After a few mishaps such as this (I can’t even talk about the Fried Catfish Incident), I’ve learned not to order anything the 5 Spot tries to pass off as “Southern.” (With the exception of the fried chicken from their regular menu. It’s actually pretty good.)

If you’ve never had Southern-style fried pickles, you might be wondering why spears would be so appalling. After all, they’re still pickles. They’re still deep fried. Yes, yes, but spears and chips are worlds apart when it comes to pickle/batter ratio. In my mind, there’s no such thing as too much batter. I’m still waiting for the restaurant that will sell fried chicken, minus the chicken. Don’t get me wrong. I like chicken, but I LOVE the battered and deep fried skin.

Good news: They DO sell fried chicken skin.
Bad news: In Malaysia

Given the popularity of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, this ought to be a no-brainer. I mean, what do they do with all the leftover skin? It’s 2011, y’all. How is it possible that nobody has invented chicken rinds?

Some of the best fried pickles I’ve ever had came from Kismet’s, a little hole-in-the-wall Greek restaurant in Brandon, MS, of all places. If you like regular fried pickles and ranch dressing, wait till you try their version with Greek seasonings and feta dressing. Yum!

I wish I could tell y’all where you can get some tasty fried pickles around here. Alas, I do not know. The ones at The Counter are semi-decent, emphasis on “semi.” After a quick search, I found folks on Yelp raving about the fried pickles at The People’s Pub. Just when I was starting to get my hopes up, I learned that they serve SPEARS. Sorry, Seattle Yelpers, but y’all don’t know what’s good!!

Photo Credits, Flickr Creative Commons: Chips basket and pickle spears by Robyn Lee, chicken skin by Phil Lees.

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