Betcha thought I was done debunking myths about the South with Part 1 and Part 2, but we still need to set the record straight on a few more. Excuse me for a minute while I pick this bit of ham hock out of my teeth with my pocket knife. Ok, that’s better. Now, let’s see:
Myth: We spend all our time in rockers on the front porch sipping sweet tea and/or mint juleps.
Would that this one were true! Frankly, I’m glad it isn’t because then everybody would want to come here. The fact is that most of us go to jobs every day where our bosses tend to frown on too much rocking and sipping during the course of the normal work week. But this coming Saturday is the Kentucky Derby, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be wearing my big, fancy hat and enjoying more than one of the traditional Derby libations. I highly suggest that you do the same, so here’s my favorite mint julep recipe. And if you’re a teetotaler, have you some good ole sweet tea made from that same mint syrup used in the julep. And speaking of porches …
Myth: We might be found sitting on old sofas or car seats when we sit on the porch sipping sweet tea and/or mint juleps.
I for one have never sat on either of the above in an outside setting except maybe at one fraternity party while I was in college. We also don’t tend to keep our refrigerators or washing machines on the porch either. The humming of the motors makes the hound dogs howl.
Myth: We all have old junk cars on blocks in the yard.
Sure you can see some old cars here and there, but I’m pretty sure it’s not because we’re in the South. I would imagine that it is because some people either can’t bear to part with Mawmaw’s Chrysler and Pawpaw’s farm truck so they let the grass grow up around them rather than sell them or the shade tree mechanics amongst us can’t manage to finish a project for jawing and scratching all the livelong day. I will say that a junk car figured prominently in my kindergarten experience (you can read about it here), but it was in the backyard and not the front for God and everyone to see.
Myth: Southerners only eat fried foods.
I’ll grant you that we do love to drop something in bubbling fat, get a golden brown crust on it, and gobble it right on up — fish, shrimp, hushpuppies, chicken, hand pies, beignets, okra, and pickles, just to name a few things. After all, a good cornmeal crust can make most anything palatable. (I’m looking at you, green tomato.) But with a climate that supports a really long growing season, we eat a lot of fresh vegetables too. Field peas, greens of all kinds, vine-ripened tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, squash … I could go on and on. Plus, I haven’t figured out how to get the crust to cling on to a collard leaf yet.
Myth: We all play the banjo.
The banjo is a lovely instrument and is quite complex and hard to play. The modern banjo seems to be a combination of an African instrument called a kora and a Caribbean instrument called a banza or some variation of that word. Ostensibly the banjo was brought to the South by people who were enslaved. And while the banjo is sometimes associated with Irish folk music, it would seem that the banjo didn’t make it to Ireland until the 1920s or 30s, and even then, it was a derivation of the Afro-Caribbean instrument. Now bluegrass music relies heavily on the banjo and is typically heard in the Appalachian regions of the South as depicted in the movie Deliverance where the opening scene features a squinty-eyed hillbilly “dueling” with one of the city slickers who’s come to take a rafting trip (watch it here). I feel quite sure that but for this fine piece of cinematography, and I say that in all seriousness, we Southerners would not have been pegged with the banjo pickin’ stereotype. Having said all that, I only know one person who actually plays the banjo, and then not very well, but I love to go to a bluegrass festival and enjoy those who can make this instrument sing.
Myth: We all have double first names or initial names.
In the spirit of full disclosure, my son has a double first name, but I don’t use it. I call him by a nickname — Sonny. And to be sure, many of us do have a double first name like Fannie Mae or Annie Belle or John David or William Paul. That’s where initials come in. These long names get shortened to J.D. or W.P., usually for the boys but sometimes for the girls too. And since dub-yah (the letter Northerners pronounce as “double ewe”) is a mouthful, it often gets shortened to “Dub” which makes a darn good nickname. We also love to name after, which often causes confusion when you have a lot of people with the same name. For example, since I’m named Audrey after my grandmother, I naturally became Audrey Marie to most of my family. The ones who didn’t go long went short and just call me “Aud” or “Audie.” But most of the time it doesn’t matter what your name is anyway, because most of the women will call you “Honey,” “Sugar,” or “Darlin’,” and most of the men call each other “Bub” or “Bruh” (short for “Brother”) or something like that. My father-in-law calls me “Gal” which I find quite endearing.
Myth: We’re all a bunch of Bible thumpers.
If the Southeast is the Bible belt, then Alabama has to be the buckle. There’s no doubt that religion is a big deal in the South and that churches are often the center of the community. I spent all of my growing up years in service to what I call the BaptistMethodistEpiscopalHoliness church. In other words, while we were card-carrying Episcopalians, our hometown was so small we went to whatever church was having something be it a revival, Vacation Bible School, or covered dish dinner, as did most folks. And I’ve certainly seen more than one preacher with a red face bulging out above a tight, white sweaty collar literally pounding on the Good Book and preaching hellfire and damnation. It’s pretty darn scary, if you want to know the truth. So is seeing someone fall out and start speaking in tongues. The first time I saw that, I could have sworn they were having a seizure. But while the Evangelicals certainly have a loud voice down here, there are plenty of people who practice other religions, and — hold on to your hat — plenty of people who don’t even go to church at all. Not on Sunday. Not for Wednesday night Bible study. Not for one minute. (Did lighting just strike somewhere?)
So there you have it! The whole truth and nothing but the truth. Now go forth, my children, and spread the gospel of the real South.