It ain’t all magnolia trees and plantation homes honey.

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. 😉

Ya’ll Talk Different

Somebody told me, to my horror, that there was a class you could take to lose your Southern accent. I was curious so I Googled it, which I don’t think the Queen put in her original English verb list, but anyway I got 198,000 results in .22 seconds. I clicked on the first link and read the headline, “Is your Southern accent holding you back?” Immediately following the title was a testimony from a woman who endorsed the program of study as a “God-send.” She said she now sounds like the highly-educated woman that she really is, which is quite questionable in my opinion, but we’ll let her slide. Do we Southerners speak with an accent?  Heck yeah we do.  It‘s our birthright. Is an accent and an education inextricably linked – heck no!  To the Southerner his accent is authentic. It’s bona fide. Folks from Boston don’t use Rs, but they aren’t signing up for courses to teach them how to stick an R in at the right spot.

When I was a lieutenant in the 3D Armored Cavalry Regiment I served, for a period of time, in the S3 (Operations) shop. Our field artillery officer was a lieutenant from Boston named Grover.  His noncommissioned officer (NCO) was a black man from Louisiana.  One day about 10 of us were sitting in the office talking and this NCO said, with a thick Cajun accent, “LT Grover, he ain’t got an arra (R) in his whole vocabulary. He just leaves ‘um floatin’ in the air and LT Blackmon, he snatches ‘um up and puts ‘um in words that ain’t even got no arra (R) in ‘um.” It’s a wonder that, with a Cajun, Georgian, and Bostonian, we could even communicate, but we were fortunate to have a fellow from Texas who could translate. He was right though. I grew up laying my head on a pillar at night, and looking out the winder of my car.  Our washing machine even had a rench cycle right after it finished worshing the clothes. LT Grover went home from work every day and pa’ked his Ka in the yad.

Sometimes we Southerners even confuse each other when we talk. There are certainly regional accents, but in the South the thickness of the accent also varies between the county and city. When I first transferred from the county to the city high school I met and began dating a girl who lived in town. I stopped by her house one day after school to ask her if she wanted to go to the fair with me. She looked at me with the strangest expression and asked why I wanted to go see a fire. I repeated fair several times before she figured out that I was talking about a carnival vs. a bonfire of some sort.

Yep, our language sounds different in the South, but so do New Englanders, Brits and Aussies, yet they aren’t taking courses to change who they are so why should you and I? Mark Twain, who wrote in our tongue, once said that his books, “are like water; those of great geniuses are wine. Fortunately, everybody drinks water.” You might pronounce words a bit differently. You might even misuse a verb here and there, but you help define a distinct thread in the American fabric. Be proud of who you are and where you came from.


Childhood, with its endless collection of memories and experiences, is the golden chalice of storytelling and writing. There’s something unique about our early memories, when we experience something for the very first time. Fairy tales, fishing, seeing a snake, catching a grasshopper, riding a horse, even seeing a mouse in the house for the first time all leave a lasting impression worthy of a story later in life. We’re more alive as a child, taking note of things of very little importance that go on to shape who we become. Despite what adults do not know, children pay close attention to them, especially the older ones who have begun to wrinkle and sag. I guess it’s curiosity, but children are fascinated with tobacco stained fingers, teeth that can be removed, wire-rimmed spectacles, large ears, blue veins under paper thin skin, and hair that seems to grow right out of old people’s ears. Some kids stare, others, the inquisitive ones, reach out to experience touch. The sound of a storm, the smell of a hospital and the taste of spinach — stories galore reside with those memories if we brush back the foggy static we’ve accumulated since we grew older and quit paying attention to the little things in life.  Kids feel the emotion of the moment, remembering the first time they saw their momma cry, the first funeral they went to, and the first bloody nose they ever saw. Memories fade with time but they never fully disappear. We just have to take the time to recall them, write them, tell them.

It was unseasonably warm on a blue north Georgia day in the middle of winter. I was racing sunlight, wanting to forever freeze a spot in time with a picture before dark. More important I wanted to hear the water talk.

I rounded a curve where the road turns to dirt and got the first breathtaking glimpse of a partially frozen Holly Creek. She wound her way off Grassy Mountain, tumbling through rocks and under a canopy of mountain laurel as she found her way to lower ground; water that hadn’t seen a human since she fell from a cloud and seeped into the mountains.

I parked and quickly made my way onto a trail that led down to the water’s edge. Like a breeze blowing over a glacier, the air got noticeably cooler as I neared her. Gray Squirrels took advantage of the softer ground at mid-day to dig up dinner from a winter’s storage already half consumed. They ignored me until I departed the trodden path and entered the forest, instantly transforming myself from passerby to potential threat.

I found a rock to sit on. Finally, out of cell phone and GPS coverage, I was in the draw that holds Holly Creek. The water was so clear that the sunlight glowed on the rocks below her surface; water creating a fresh, misty mountain breeze that moved along with her. I heard the guttural bellow of a lone cow echoing off the ridges that lay on either side of me –- must be near feeding time.

Chattahoochee. “Picture rocks” in the red man’s tongue who named it centuries ago. The sun set at a quarter till six and a deathly quiet settled into the mountains, except for the creek. The creek always speaks, if we but listen.

tricky february

The Journaler goes through his February notes.  Year after year page after page of cold annotations fill the lines. Crunchy ground, ice and snow, the frozen earth is dark and brown. No leaves on the trees, no blossoms, no blooms, no green, gray skies, coats and sweaters, scarves and gloves, hats and boots that is what February is made of.  But 2012, you tricky girl, el Niño or la Niña who knows?  Green is the grass that could soon need mowed. Short are the sleeves and shorts for the heavy guy who sweats all the time. Plants, they are tricked and could soon begin to bloom, but a frost would kill them, why not winter resume? In the mean time it’s warm so undecided we will be. Do we pack up our wool or keep it close by is the question you see.

Rick Bragg on what’s country

Rick Bragg

“What’s country now is what’s always been country: Away from home without your wife’s permission in a twice-wrecked 1986 Ford Bronco with a Don Williams cassette forever-lodged in the tape deck, a tangle of Zebco 202 fishing rods and reels banging in the back, grinding through the foothills of the Appalachians with a Bojangles’ ham and biscuit in one hand, munching intermittently between choruses of “so what do you do, with good ol’ boys like me” and wondering how mad she will be once you get home.”

–Rick Bragg, writer