Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The South Sometimes Rises Around Me

“True grits, more grits, fish, grits, and collards. 
Life is good where grits are swallered.”
– Roy Blount, Jr.

I am not a Southerner. Born in New Jersey and raised in New York, I guess I am a Yankee.

My first trip to the South occurred when about eight or nine years old. My grandparents spent a winter in Miami Beach, and my family flew down to visit. It was my first plane ride.

Many folks contend that driving south on I-95 or the Florida Turnpike, when crossing the Palm Beach County line you are no longer in the real South, but another, expatriate south composed of relocated northerners, seniors mostly, and southerners from the Caribbean, Central and South America, creating an American melting pot quite different from traditional American Southern culture.

My next foray introduced me to the real south. Hub was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, and we spent the first few months of married life in an apartment on the outskirts of this city. Believing we would be there for a while, I applied for teaching jobs. It struck me as unusual that a photo needed to accompany applications. This was my introduction to the world of the discriminating South.

A few months in Charleston left its mark on my brain and stomach. A local butcher shop exhibited cuts of meat previously unheard of and mostly untried, especially a variety of pork products to this day studiously avoided. And I was never a ham fan. I ate (or at least tasted) grits and hushpuppies, black-eyed peas, okra, collard and mustard greens, none a part of my current diet. Fried foods are a Southern staple, and although I love fried chicken, avoid fried foods today. I enjoyed the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, but the dish was never a favorite.

Since the early 1970s I passed through the South many times, usually driving I-95. Stopping to refuel body and vehicle, there was not much interaction between the Southern nation and myself.

So where am I going with this?

A couple of weeks ago we spent five days in Atlanta, Georgia - the peach state. Nowadays most of the peaches used commercially or sold in retail stores are grown in California, but I will not quibble with a state’s claim to fame.

We participated in a Road Scholar Intergenerational program with our grandson. One night we visited Stone Mountain, a park outside the city.

On the side of the mountain is a Southern version of the great Mt. Rushmore figures. Stone Mountain portrays three Civil War-era VIPs:

Stonewall Jackson – West Point graduate and Confederate commander who died in 1863 after being shot by friendly fire.

Robert E. Lee –West Point grad (second in his class) and head of the Confederate Army for three years. He surrendered to the Union General Ulysses S. Grant (another West Point alumna).

Jefferson Davis – Mississippi Senator initially against secession. When the South seceded he resigned from the Senate and became President of the Confederacy. Another West Point grad, he spent some time at the military academy under house arrest for his part in the 1826 Eggnog Riot, a plot by cadets to smuggle whiskey into housing.

Maybe West Point should have held a reunion and let alumni slug it out…

A lot of non-Southerners – especially kids – probably have no idea who these three men are. They might guess George Washington amidst a Revolutionary War scene…

But I digress…

A laser show entertained the crowd. A highlight – at least for the locals – was a slow, spirited rendition of the Confederate anthem Dixie. A silent dramatic portrayal of these three bearded men on horseback dressed in old-fashioned garb and sporting rifles, shooting other men dressed in old-fashioned military clothes aiming weapons and shooting at them, played on the mountainside.

I got an uncanny feeling the Confederacy was not exactly dead. Or as an ubiquitous bumper sticker declares:
North 1 South 0…halftime

And as Mark Twain wrote in Life on the Mississippi,
“In the South the war is what A.D. is elsewhere; they date from it.”

So save your Dixie cups. The South may rise again.

And to make your day, here is the King himself - Elvis Presley – singing Dixie.

4 comments:

  1. Have you read Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz? It's worth a read.
    Except for fried chicken and maybe biscuits, traditional Southern food just makes me scratch my head and wonder "what's this about?"

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  2. Civil War? What Civil War? The correct title in our southern regions is The War of Northern Aggression.

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  3. Very interesting. I visit my sister in Florida and don't feel any "southern" vibes at all. Guess it's because they are transplants. I should visit Georgia, I guess, to get that creepy feeling of the South getting ready to rise again. :-)

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  4. The old saying about Florida: the farther north you go, the more south it is. Don't know if that's true anymore.

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