Tag Archives: southern traditions

88. Telling Folks What They Ought to Do

22 Mar

I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Southerner who hesitates to give advice, solicited or not. Certainly not my parents whose suggestions ranged from “You need to get a teaching certificate” (Dad) to “Here’s my credit card. Go buy some of those teeth-whitening strips” (Mom).

While I’ve never been terribly keen on following trails blazed by others on my behalf, I must credit my parents for some of the best unsolicited advice I’ve received.

First off, my dad’s: “You are responsible for where you put your feet.” He imparted this sage wisdom as we were walking through the livestock pavilion, which was a mandatory prerequisite before exploring the more festive parts of the state fair, such as the tilt-a-whirl, caramel apples, and tossing ping pong balls in hopes of scoring an inevitably short-lived goldfish.

As a kid, I took his words as a warning against stepping in actual poo, but have come to appreciate the overarching message. It’s given me just enough pause to ask myself things like, “Do you really want to show up at a heavy metal dive bar in a tie-dyed t-shirt?” or “Should you really rent an apartment that features countertops covered in faux marble contact paper?” The underlying question is always: “Who’s going to clean that shit up?” I wish I could report that I always watch where I’m going. Sadly, I’ve stepped in more than my share of figurative poo. But by and large I’ve learned to wipe it off and make it to the taffy stand before it closes.

My mother’s oft-repeated wisdom was: “You don’t have to tell everything you know.” She probably would have said this in response to my mention of the Holloway Women’s Homemade Spanx. If she’d ever had to take the witness stand, she’d have happily agreed to tell nothing but the truth. But the whole truth? Well…

While the bulk of unsolicited advice in the South tends to come from family members, there are plenty of other folks who’ll happily tell you what to do: friends, coworkers, neighbors, hairdressers, salesladies, people behind you in line at Kroger, and last, but certainly not least, preachers.

Unsolicited advice I’ve received includes (but is not limited to):

You should…
Get married. Have children. (Hopefully, in that order.) Find a “real” job. Change your name to Heather. Think with your head and not with your ass. Try using some of that self-tanning lotion. Wear your retainer. Learn the joys of cooking with Splenda. Drive slower. Drive faster. Floss more often. Start listening to Shania Twain. Stop thinking so much (offered as a cure for migraines). Rethink that long johns and cut-off jeans ensemble. Wear your hair straight. Give “Ugly Betty” another chance. Move back to Mississippi.

While I’ve occasionally followed a bit of unsolicited advice (see long johns and cut-off jeans above), most of it falls on selectively deaf ears. My unsolicited advice to those who enjoy volunteering their opinion: If I don’t ask; don’t tell.

What’s the best/worst/strangest bit of unsolicited advice you’ve received?

Photo Credits: I found all sorts of advice-related paraphernalia on ETSY. “Take my advice, I’m not using it” sign available from pattisprimitives. “Watch Your Step” ID holder available from FrouFrouToo. “Eat Your Veggies” pillow available from alexandraferguson’s.

87. Pigs in a Blanket (aka Piggies)

17 Mar

My greatest accomplishment as a Southern Culture Ambassador has been converting Seattleites into piggie lovers. It was with great trepidation that I first showed up at my book/brunch club with a tray of piping hot piggies. I thought surely my sophisticated, erudite friends would scoff at the prospect of eating lil smokies and American cheese wrapped in store-bought, fresh-from-the-can crescent rolls. Lo and behold, not only did they not scoff; they scarfed. I might’ve even come home with an empty tray (and by “tray” I mean giant faux Tupperware container). I can’t remember, seeing as I was so stunned.

I don’t make piggies all that often due to my aversion to coming in contact with what can only be described as (squeamish folks might want to skip ahead) lil smokies juice. But when I do show up with a container of piggie deliciousness, I step aside quickly lest I be pounced upon like Pepé Le Pew’s long-suffering, would-be lady friend.

(Hmm. I’ve never thought about it, but the folks at Looney Tunes seem to endorse stalker behavior. But then they also encourage playing with TNT and running off the edges of cliffs, so it’s all relative, I suppose.)

So what do piggies taste like? Well, folks, they taste like hugging seldom-seen but always-cherished old friends. Like recalling collective memories that lead to hysterical laughter. Like dancing to “I Will Survive.” Like carefree college days. Like nostalgia. Like home. Also, meat, cheese, and bread – three of my favorite food groups.

My sister is the designated piggie maker at our annual Christmas party. I think she does it partly for the powerful admiration piggie making elicits. Mostly, I think she fears that if she didn’t make them, we might go piggie-less. The horror!!

I must confess that her self-appointed position of Piggie Maker in Chief has led to fights on more than one occasion – almost always in the refrigerated section at Kroger. But then, if you can’t make a scene in public, what’s the point of fighting?

This year, we decided to nip the Annual Angry Kroger Confrontation™ in the bud by orchestrating a fight in the car on the way over – role-playing style. (Of course we’ve never been to therapy. Why ever would you think that?)

It went something like this:

Jenna (playing me): Jenna! WHY are you buying so many crescent rolls? You don’t NEED that many crescent rolls!!

Me (playing Jenna): If I don’t buy eight thousand cans of crescent rolls, people will STARVE TO DEATH!

Jenna (playing me): Just get three cans! You don’t NEED more than three!

Me (playing Jenna): I’m getting four! I ALWAYS get four!

Jenna (playing me): WHAT-EVER! Get what you want. FINE. I don’t care. FINE!! WHAT-EVER!!!

Pause to represent the deafening silence that is our ride home from the grocery store, which will be followed by a private cooling off period/sulking time.

I’m delighted to report that it worked. We managed to go a whole visit without fighting once. We’d almost done that one time before, except that an observation that we hadn’t had a fight led to a heated argument. About what, I cannot recall.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a going-away party for two of my favorite people in Seattle who are now two of my favorite people in Boston (despite the fact that they up and left me for better jobs. The nerve!).

Our host Jenny, who’s always generous with comfort food and hospitality had put out quite a spread, the star of which was a tray of piggies! (And by “tray” I mean cute serving dish.) I quickly popped one into my mouth and two thoughts immediately sprang to mind: 1. That’s one dee-li-ci-ous piggie! And 2. There are five left. How many can I get away with eating? A quick glance into the kitchen assured me that more were on the way. Yippie!

So long, lil smokies. Nice knowing you.

I’ve often toyed with the notion of making a fancy version of piggies, but can’t break from the “don’t fix what ain’t broke” school of thought. When I tasted Jenny’s piggies, I prepared myself for a paradigm shift. There’s no way that was a cresent roll from the plastic-wrapped-cookie-dough-and-canned-items-claiming-to-be-biscuits section of Kroger. But they WERE! However, the lil smokies had been replaced by lil smokie-sized chicken and apple sausages. Yum! Also, they were cheese-less, which is usually a deal breaker for me, but I have to admit I didn’t miss it. I know! Shocker!

One might argue that Jenny’s version weren’t technically “piggies” and ought to be called “chickies” or somesuch. I hate to break it to y’all (and hope I’m not reveling trade secrets), but the Holloway girls’ “piggies” would more accurately be called “cowies” or “beefies,” neither of which sounds terribly appetizing, although not as bad as what Geoff mistakenly calls them: “Puppies.”

84. Mardi Gras (“Throw Me Something, Mister!”)

8 Mar

Throw me something, mister!

Laissez le bon temps rouler, y’all. At least until midnight tonight. You’d think that in the South Fat Tuesday wouldn’t be that big a deal. I mean, what distinguishes it from Fat Wednesday, Fat Thursday, or Fat Friday? In a word: beads.

Pop quiz: Which city hosted the first Mardi Gras celebration in North America? If you answered “New Orleans,” you are A. wrong and B. obviously not from Alabama. Yes, folks, the good people of Mobile, Alabama, got the party started years before New Orleans was even founded. They gave birth to the tradition, and then New Orleans came along and turned it into a juvenile delinquent with a substance abuse problem. Not that they’re bitter.

Is there any place more fun than New Orleans on Fat Tuesday? I think not. If your idea of fun includes being jostled by an unruly mob, having beer spilled on you (repeatedly), and groveling (or worse) for some cheap-ass plastic beads. For some, this is heaven. For others, it’s hell. For me, it’s a little of both. Yes, folks, I’m willing to dodge a little vomit in hopes of catching a doubloon. If anyone wants to trade one for the giant pair of granny panties I caught one time, please let me know.

The last time I celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans, I was in my 20s. If I were to do it again, I’d want a hotel room with a balcony. Not necessarily to avoid being trampled (though that’s a plus), but to have access to a bathroom that’s been sanitized for my protection. I would rather pee on the street than enter the ninth circle of hell better known as the porta-potty. Picture the poophouse scene in “Slumdog Millionaire.” Or don’t. I still have nightmares.

Ok, moving on. Did I mention there’s cake? And costumes? And beads? And cake?

It’s not particularly tasty cake. But there’s green and purple frosting. And a plastic baby inside. If you get the slice with the baby, you win a fabulous prize: you have to procure a King Cake and host the next party. Woo hoo! Who doesn’t enjoy providing pastry for a bunch of drunken ne’er-do-wells? I’m not sure what happens if you don’t follow through. Maybe Rumpelstilskin convinces your first-born child to run off and join the circus or take up with a bunch of proselytizing vegans.

Well, I should wrap this up before Ash Wednesday rolls around.

What’s the best thing you ever caught at Mardi Gras? No STD stories, please.

All photos from Flickr Creative Commons: Bead seekers by Philippe Leroyer, Mardi Gras Beads by Mike Bitzenhofer, and King Cake by Logan Brown.

79. Butter my butt and call me a biscuit (and other Colorful Expressions).

25 Feb

Been there, done that? Buy the T Shirt!

Never do I feel more Southern than when I say something along the lines of “He was drunk as Cooter Brown” and someone responds with 1. A confused look or 2. “Who is Cooter Brown?”

Well, hell, I don’t know who Cooter Brown is. My guess would be someone who was frequently inebriated or “three sheets to the wind,” as we say.

As a Mississippi girl, I’ve been using colorful expressions since I was knee high to a grasshopper. This ain’t my first rodeo. I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck.

While I have sometimes been accused of acting too big for my britches, y’all best not say I’ve gotten above my raisings. Whoever thinks that doesn’t know shit from shinola. (No, I don’t actually know what shinola is, but if the two items were displayed before me, I’m sure I could make an educated guess.)

I hear y’all saying, “You kiss your mama with that mouth?”

All right then, moving on.

Some Southern expressions might lead one to believe that we are a violent people. For example: “I’ll knock you into the middle of next week,” “I’ll snatch you baldheaded,” or “I’ll slap you nekkid and hide your clothes.” The horror!!

Even some of our compliments sound threatening, such as when we encounter something “so good it makes you want to slap your mama.” Why?? Can’t we all just get along?

Southerners have countless expressions to describe a person’s shortcomings: “Useless as tits on a bull,” “Dumb as a box of rocks,” and “Ugly as homemade sin (I’m not sure how it compares to the store-bought kind).”

My favorite is used to describe someone (usually female) who’s not exactly aging gracefully: “Rode hard and put away wet.”

Of course, any rude comments can be negated with the addition of a sincere-sounding “bless her heart.”

If the array of casseroles and cakes at the family reunion makes you happier than a pig in slop, don’t go overboard or you’re liable to end up full as a tick on a hound dog. Oh, I know you want just one more slice of red velvet cake, but people in hell want ice water. (Unless they’re Southerners; they want sweet tea.)

When it’s hotter than blue blazes, let’s hope you have air conditioning (“Good lord willing and the creek don’t rise”) or you’ll be sweating like a whore in church.

All right, y’all, it’s audience participation time. What are your favorite expressions?

Don’t just sit there like a bump on a log! It’s on like a chicken bone!!

Photo credits: Shirts featuring sassy Southern sayings available from Sweeteashirts.com.

Cooter Brown’s sign by erjkprunczyk, Flickr Creative Commons

“Butter my butt” postcard and other fabulous letterpress items available at YeeHaw’s Etsy store.

77. Dust Ruffles (Pretty AND Practical)

23 Feb

For Southerners, having a bed without a dust ruffle is like showing up in public without your britches: Everybody can see your stuff! The horror!

Whenever I see ruffle-less beds in magazines and even – gasp! – real life, I always wonder, “Where do they stash all their stuff?”

The answer, here in Seattle anyway, is: In the basement. Oh, how I wish my fellow Southerners could know the joy of having a giant room in which to store all the stuff that Goodwill probably wouldn’t take, but that you, nevertheless, find yourself unable to part with.

Why do most home builders in the South opt for attics? You can’t go in them between the months of May and September due to the possibility of heat stroke. Maybe it’s because Southerners mostly use the space for Christmas decorations. Except for my sister who also has an extensive collection of Halloween decorations.

Now that I have a basement, I’m down to only one of those plastic under-the-bed boxes, but I’m not about to do away with my dust ruffle. (Despite all the complaints I get when I’m out of town and Geoff seizes the opportunity to put boy sheets on the bed.)

My waiting-to-be-revised, but relegated-to-the-back-burner (or “eye” for my Southern peeps) novel has a scene in which my narrator lifts the dust ruffle of her childhood bed searching for shoes she might’ve left behind and finds…nothing. She says, “What kind of person has nothing under the bed? My mother.”

While parts of my novel are somewhat autobiographical, that line is pure fiction.

My mother made the most of any and all storage space available. If you put something on the table and left the room, by the time you got back, she would’ve already stashed it somewhere. If you asked where it was, she always said, “It’s wherever you left it.” Um, no…

There’s no telling what all you might’ve found under the beds in my mom’s house: board games, bags of pantyhose, vacuum cleaner attachments, items waiting to be re-gifted, etc. You might even find some actual dust. My mom kept a clean house, but who bothers with cleaning under the bed? Not people with dust ruffles!

The best thing about having a bunch of random crap under the bed is that it leaves little room for monsters. On the flip side, though, if a real-life monster breaks into your house, you may have nowhere to hide.

Photo: Battenburg Dust Ruffle from Bella Home Fashions.

Do you have a dust ruffle on your bed? If so, what’s it hiding? Don’t worry, I’ll never tell…

76. Pralines (Don’t Even Think About Adding Walnuts)

22 Feb

That about sums it up...

First, let me specify: I am writing about PRAW-leens. I’ve never eaten anything called a PRAY-leen. Most especially, not a PEE-can PRAY-leen. In fact, I can’t believe I just wrote that. Now I have the word “PEE-can PRAY-leen” stuck in my brain in the manner of a Barry Manilow song. Oh, wait, now the phrase has been usurped by “Mandy.” ACK!

Recently one of my readers (who just so happens to have two first names) asked about a good recipe for pralines. I’ll be sharing one in this post, but first I’m going to sing the praises of one of the world’s greatest candies.

Pralines represent three of my favorite food groups: Butter, sugar, and nuts. Not necessarily in that order.

I dare anyone with a sweet tooth to walk by Aunt Sally’s Pralines in the French Quarter of New Orleans without stopping in to sample a warm praline. Caution: like heroin, pralines can be addictive after the very first taste. However, unlike heroin, you will not end up emaciated after prolonged use. Quite the opposite, actually.

Fortunately, Aunt Sally’s website features a 1-800 number “praline hotline.” Which I reckon is a lifesaver for those experiencing a praline-related emergency.

If you’re looking for an immediate fix and can’t find a nearby purveyor of pralines, you could stop by Baskin Robbins for a scoop of Pralines ‘n Cream ice cream. The downside: you won’t be able to appreciate a praline in its singular glory. The upside: hello! Ice cream!

One of the best parts of Christmas for me was the smorgasbord of candies my mom always used to make: toffee, coconut balls, white fudge, haystacks, and pralines. Even when she wasn’t able to stand for long, she’d pull the folding kitchen ladder up to the stove to sit and stir. And if she didn’t have the stamina to tackle everything, she’d insist on making pralines because they’re my brother Mike’s favorite.

It wasn’t until after my sister and I took over the candy-making role that I truly appreciated what a GIFT my mother had given us all those years. Candy making is a time-consuming, frustration-producing, often-disappointing pain in the ass. The only fuel that enables one to power through a marathon sweet-making session is love. (Of candy itself and/or the folks you’re making it for. In the South, it’s usually both.)

I have never attempted praline-making myself, but if you want to give it a shot, here’s my mom’s recipe:

Pralines

1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 small can) evaporated milk
1/2 stick butter
small pinch soda
1 T Karo syrup
1 t vanilla
1 cup pecan halves

Cook sugars, Karo, milk and soda to soft ball stage or 235 degrees. Remove from heat and add butter. Return to heat until butter is melted. Take off stove and add vanilla. Beat until it begins to thicken. Add nuts and place in little patties on waxed paper.

Bonus: You’ll find the recipe for the scrumptious looking pralines pictured above at Dixie Caviar.

Note: If you’ve never attempted candy-making, these candy-making tips may help you avert disaster.

Photo credits: Southern Candymakers sign by Wally Gobetz, Flickr Creative Commons, Yummy plate ‘o pralines courtesy of Dixie Caviar.

What’s your favorite traditional Southern treat?

73. Makeup AKA Putting One’s Face On

19 Feb

Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch
Flickr Creative Commons

Here in Seattle, women brazenly go around showing skin in ways no Southern lady would dare. Would y’all believe that Northwestern folks consider it perfectly acceptable to be seen in mixed company with a naked…face?

I will pause here to give my Dixie readers time to recover from shock and/or faint.

Ok, then.

Yes, folks, I’ve personally seen bare-faced women in places you would never expect: parties, fancy restaurants, shopping malls, even CHURCH! I reckon they are not familiar with the 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not be seen without makeup in any public place, most especially not in the house of the Lord.”

Occasionally, exceptions can be made for things like early bird Black Friday sales (seeing as there are so few menfolks around). And you can also forgo makeup when dropping kids off at school or giving a friend a ride to the airport, but only if you don’t expect to: A. Get out of the car (or truck) or B. Run into someone you know.

Even so, there are some Southern ladies who stand on ceremony, showing up at Kohl’s before 4:00 a.m. in full makeup.

“Full makeup?” My non-Dixie readers might ask.

What? You didn’t know there are different levels? Ok, here’s a primer:

A bee-you-ti-ful makeup collection
from KeirasLuckyCharm blog.


Full Makeup includes, but is not limited to:
Moisturizer
Foundation (aka “Base”)
Concealer
Powder
Blush
Brow Pencil
Eye Shadow
Eye Liner
Mascara (two coats, minimum)
Lip Liner
Lipstick
Lip Gloss (optional)

Half-ass Makeup includes:
Foundation
Powder
Eye Shadow
Mascara
Lipstick
Blush (optional)

No Makeup consists of:
Foundation
Mascara
Lipstick (In a pinch, Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers will suffice)

Why is there still makeup listed in the “No Makeup” category? Pray that you never find out.

After 8 years in Seattle, I’ve started to assimilate. These days, I’m appearing in public more and more often without a stitch of makeup. But you won’t catch me returning to Mississippi without a fully stocked makeup bag in tow.

Mom with my sister, Jenna,
on her wedding day.

If you are not a member of my immediate family or a very close friend, you probably never saw my mother wearing anything less than full makeup. She thought of makeup like some folks think of American Express cards: Something you don’t leave home without.

No matter how much pain she was in or how exhausted she felt, she never went ANYwhere (including doctor’s appointments or emergency room visits) without “putting on her face.” Also: praying for a close parking space.

It probably isn’t standard operating procedure, but when my sister and I delivered Mom’s burial outfit (a tasteful cream-colored pant suit) to the funeral home, we brought along a selection of her Chanel makeup. Oh, and her eyelashes.

When we handed them her shoes, we were told that people are generally buried without them.

Not Patricia Holloway. She wore heels.

What item of cosmetics would you not be seen in public without?

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