People never get over the south. Visitors to this mystical gathering of states come and go and some of them stay. Some people from other lands endure us. Others exploit us. Still others enjoy us.
What brings so many people here to this vast warm wonderland? Some may want to escape brutal winters or expensive economies. Some stop here just to find work. Many create families and get distinctive in-laws at the same time. Folks arrive in the South for many reasons. When they get here, are they are expecting our matchless splendor?
Can anyone anticipate our four seasons with long, hot summers; blazing, brilliant autumns; chilly, cozy winters and dogwood springs scented with fresh-mown grass and deep red roses cascading down the fences?
Have they ever visited Alabama with its sweet lyrical name, the heart of Dixie where stars fell down to kiss the ground? To this day, I remember our big old farm house in Deatsville with the huge oak tree (really) out front, the one where Dad hung a thick rope and attached a tire so we could swing. I swung in that swing and kicked the dirt with my foot just like Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Sometimes I’d push my little brother David in the swing when he was four years old.
He followed along while we threw rocks down from the hayloft or went out in winter to watch vapor rise from cow patties. One time a bull chased my brothers and David cut his leg on barbed wire trying to get away. During the school year we waited at the bottom of the red dirt driveway for the bus. In hot weather, my brothers didn’t wear shoes. Once, our black-and-white English setter, Duchess, chased the bus like a scene from a Disney movie. We went to school where they served chocolate milk or orangeade in little waxy cartons and angelic rolls made of light.
We didn’t live out in the country that long. Mostly we lived in cities, but always in the South, where we grilled out; caught honeybees and lightning bugs in jars; played hide and seek; threw dirt clods; ate fried fish and fowl; played beauty queen; watched football and baseball; joined the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts and, naturally, went to church—including Vacation Bible School with Popsicle-stick crafts, Kool-Aid and sugar cookies. Along with air conditioning.
Our mother and grandmothers made biscuits and cornbread and crispy fried chicken and pork chops. I can make pretty good cornbread and pork chops, but not the same golden-brown chicken or biscuits. I don’t have the touch.
People in the South play outside a lot and do things some folks have never heard about—like noodling, which is wading around in muddy water and catching huge catfish with your bare hands. And I don’t know if deer hunters everywhere else rub blood on their faces when they kill their first deer, but some hunters in the South do just that. They will also cut your shirttail off the first time you miss a sure shot.
Southern ladies and gentlemen will just about kill you for their families and friends, but they’ll also choke up or cry over a graduation ceremony or Old Glory; a war veteran or a nervous child at a piano recital; a horse breaking free or maybe a magnificent tree cut down before its time.
Southerners sometimes feel one with nature and maybe with God. We fish and bicycle and run barefoot on beaches and ride inner tubes down whitewater rapids. We dress up for church and proms and dress down for chili suppers and pancake breakfasts. We ride motorcycles and play golf nearly year-round. We like coffee and sweet tea and bacon and butter. We probably live better and die sooner than just about anybody, but who knows for sure.
Generally speaking, a true Southerner will try to make your acquaintance. I saw a woman the other day passing through here from Michigan. I asked her how she liked the South. She said, “You are good at being fake nice.”
“Fake nice is better than real mean,” I answered. She didn’t know what to say and left for the ladies room in a few minutes.
The South can leave you speechless. The South cannot be explained. It can only be fully enjoyed or marveled about or maybe even hated. The South embeds itself in your heart.
Wherever you go, even if it’s all the way across oceans and years, you will always feel the magnetic pull of a swaying willow tree; the melodious sound of a clear stream over flat rocks; the shiver of water so cold it chills watermelons; the reflection of a silvery pond where you saw one elegant black swan gliding past; the trashy, colorful flash of a beach city; the Spanish moss hanging solemnly from a Savannah tree; the smoky or tangy taste of slow-cooked barbecue; the perfect brown and white rows of cotton bolls; the greenish-blue shimmer of giant lakes and nearly always, the trusting hello, the firm handshake or the gentle hug of a stranger trying to be your friend in less than a minute.
Minutes pile up. For many minutes, some of my Northern and Western strangers and friends share the almost unspeakable passion of this exciting, inviting, almost-holy land where God lingered a little longer.
There’s something special and different about the South called the Spirit of the South.
The South’s fragile force invites you; betrays you; puzzles you; repels you and enthralls you. Sometimes she disappoints you or loves you to death. But she won’t often let you forget. The South will stay in your mind like a shadow behind a door, or like the grace of a breeze at the very edge of a summer night.
Brook Evans is a writer living in Cleveland, Tenn. Visit her website at whitehothair.com. “1,000 Words: A Writer’s Journal” is an occasional feature showcasing essays, stories and anecdotes about Chattanooga, the South and our world. To be considered for publication, submit 1,000 words or less to http://scr.im/2gp6 (protected email). Use “1,000 Words Submission” as the subject of your email.