I went to Good Wings to get my first meal of the week — I can’t eat when I’m feeling blue — and I actually got my unsweet tea order correct. As I took a big sip and said Hallelujah, it occurred to me that being southern must mean different things to different people. I don’t know when Southern become synonymous with sweet tea. I don’t drink sweet tea, it taste like obesity. I don’t eat greens. I damn sure don’t want a fried pickle.
I once had someone say to me, “You know, it’s like… how do you eat an elephant?” Only I’ve never heard of the expression ‘how do you eat an elephant,’ so I replied: “What? How do you eat an elephant!? I don’t know, here in the south, I guess you’d deep-fry the son of a bitch.”
When the room stopped laughing and explained it to me, I don’t know if I’ve ever been so humiliated in all my life.
If not, tickled.
So I’m perfectly aware that we have customs that are a little strange. I’m also aware that being Southern doesn’t necessarily mean that I coat everything in Crisco. Being Southern means that I still say “yes, sir” and “no, sir” to the man at the fast-food window. Being Southern, to me, means that I recognize your right to be who you are in the freest nation on Earth. Being Southern means that nobody’s a stranger. Meaning that when God commanded go out into all the world and preach the gospel, he didn’t just mean white people that are American. And when he said ‘Thou shalt Love Thy Neighbor,’ he met Syrian refugees, too.
It means dignity. It means prayer. It means a throwback to a time gone before, and a life lived immersed in lessons imparted by generations that have past by. Singed in ashes from the smoldering remnants of a brighter, more ravenous time. When the desire for American citizenship and the flames from the spark of patriotism and pride burned hotter and higher than any on Earth. The bonfire of America’s Greatest Generation lives on inside of us, still.
For all time.
That’s what it means to be Southern.
Where we do onto others as we’d have them do onto us. Where we do not covenant thy neighbor’s tractor — or their wife. We eat chicken strips from the gas market and make it a meal. We don’t call the pound on a loose dog — no, we just round them up and take them back home. Where there’s no such thing as someone else’s children or none of our business, and we believe life begins with football in the fall.
Southern means a spring of things, a fountain of renewing freshness in a world gone stale. The ripeness of life here is in the quality of goodness of the people that pass by. Which is why my southern white ass cannot understand the popularity of the Republican party and a man like Donald Trump in these parts. There’s nothing southern about either of those at all. Just bullying, selfishness, hypocrisy, and lies.
You can keep your liquid glucose and that tangerine-tinted twat, neighbors.