There are so many things that define the South. Dixie produced William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Jimmy Carter, Coca-Cola, and cotton of course. Duke is in the South and so is Vanderbilt. I’d mention some of those SEC schools but it’d start a fight. We have Andy Griffith, Lewis Grizzard and who could forget Daisy Duke. Our cookin’ is beyond description and all them cabbage patch dolls were born in Cleveland, Georgia, but it ain’t all magnolia trees and plantation homes honey. The vast majority of the South was, is, and probably always will be populated by proud hillbillies trying scratch out a living — good people who work a shift, try to get all the overtime they can and hoe a garden from spring to fall.
Some of ‘um try and deny their heritage – they’re the worst. They try to speak and dress differently, look down their noses at their neighbors and such, but it’s like putting lipstick on a pig – still a pig and everybody knows it. Take speaking to one another for example. When you pay for your gas or buy a Coke the lady at the counter always smiles and refers to you as Hon’ or Sweetie. For those not of Southern origin, this is not meant to be construed as a come-on, but rather a familiar and friendly way of conversing. When you pass someone on the road they throw up a finger and dip their head, even if they don’t know you. A chance meeting at Wal-Mart can sometimes turn into a full review of the local newspaper, from Obits to incarcerations. The South is famous for and proud of its hospitality so naturally when one of our own won’t speak to us at the grocery store and starts putting on airs we take it personal. That will get you put at the top of the beauty parlor gossip list quicker than anything.
The late Jerry Clower once told about Marcel Ledbetter’s cousin that went off to Divinity School. He was coming home to visit so they thought the right thing to do would be to invite him to preach. Marcel and Jerry sat in the back anxious to hear what he had to say now that he had been educated. He walked to the pulpit with his head held high and a stoic look on his face. You could have heard a pin drop as he thumbed to a passage of scripture that had been neatly marked with notes in the margin, no doubt during a theology class. He then looked out into the congregation and began to preach and right off said, Gawd instead of God. It irritated Marcel to no end. “He thinks he’s better ‘n us Jerry. He ain’t like us no more. I ain’t gonna listen to him.”
Southerners are also naturally humorous people, endowed with the capacity to make fun and laugh at themselves. Jeff Foxworthy has made a living describing us and our actions, but perhaps what makes outsiders stop and stare with that open mouth expression of awe is our language. We see the world in stories and images so we describe them as such.
“He’s so ugly he’d make a freight train take a dirt road.”
“Man that stinks. It’d gag a maggot on a gut wagon.”
“It was so quiet in there you could hear a rat pee on cotton.”
“I was more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers.”
“If that boy had a brain he’d play with it.”
And the list goes on and on. Seeing the world in pictures and stories makes Southerners peerless storytellers. Most of them don’t have much, never have, but they are proud people – proud in the good way. So if you’re thinking about coming South to visit, come on down, note our hospitality, our language, our good cookin’ just don’t pull a U-haul behind your truck when you come. ;-)