I really can’t think of anything that I dislike about living in the South…ummmm…humidity and mosquitoes can be found anywhere. Right? And sometimes we only have two seasons – “damn cold to damn hot”… in just the blink of an eye. I remember a “damn Yankee” football player from the early 90’s who had joined us from one of the “I” states, Indiana I think, and who, before our first August football practice, explained to me that “I can handle the heat. It gets hot in Indiana, too.” An hour later, after his eyes had rolled back in his head, I was cooling him off with ice water-soaked towels and forcing him to take sips of Gatorade. Yes, it does get hot in Indiana but, “It ain’t the heat here. It’s the humidity!”
Mosquitoes are just a fact of life in the South and I praise God that they don’t grow to the size of vultures. On a trip to the coast, I remember making an impromptu nature call where the only facility available was an old fire road in the middle of a pine forest off Highway 17. As I completed my task, I looked down to ensure nothing got caught in the zipper and could see a cloud of mosquitoes attempting to make off with my man part. Itchy and it was in November! #*&%^*! And I did zip up too quickly!
So, heat, humidity, and mosquitoes notwithstanding, I love everything about the “real South”…although sometimes I have had a hard time finding the real South that hides in the paradoxes that we, as Southerners, seem to embrace…or ignore. A quote made by many – “We prepare our tea with hot water, then cool it off with ice, sweeten it with lots of sugar and then add lemon to make it sour” -illustrates just one of those paradoxes. So in regard to the “real South”, it is hard to find something when you are not sure what to look for.
Most of my education about this “real South” came via a black and white TV or books, although there were a few trips to the Center Theater in Fort Mill or the drive-ins located in Rock Hill or Lancaster. I remember seeing the movie To Kill a Mockingbird with my parents as a pre-teen and I certainly did not understand the dynamics of the movie until I read the book as a young adult. Even then most of the dynamics escaped me. In the Heat of the Night was another movie with the same dynamics. By 1967 I understood the racism and the Jim Crow laws that went with it but, because of the home of my youth, I paid little attention to those dynamics. I hate to admit that I did not see Gone with the Wind until college. After reading the book I wondered how it actually found its way to the silver screen. For those of you who live above the Mason-Dixon Line, the mansion Tara, Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley, along with dozens of happy slaves that went with the movie, was just the way it really was— wink, wink— in the “real South.” One of my favorite movies, despite the fact that I grew up on the wrong side of the equation, was John Wayne, William Holden, Constance Towers, and Althea Gibson vehicle The Horse Soldiers. I believe it did capture the best and worst of both sides during the later part of the Rebellion, including the gallantry and brutality on both sides. The scene based upon a real-life attack by the Virginia Military Cadets still sends chills up and down my spine. Ah! There are those pesky words: REAL LIFE. At least the movie scene ended with only a spanking instead of the deaths that did occur at the Battle of New Market in May of 1864.
For some reason, probably out of boredom, I picked up one of my father’s novels – a historical romance novel that took place near Antebellum New Orleans entitled The Foxes of Harrow by Frank Yerby. Later I also read its sequel The Vixen and several of his other works. I don’t know if it was the underlying eroticism or the fact it was a historical novel (I’m pretty sure it was the underlying eroticism!) but I was hooked. I believe that it colored my thinking, especially when I read and saw Gone with the Wind. There were no stereotypical and happy, “Aw shucks, Massa” darkies in Yerby’s books. It would be much later than I would realize that Yerby was bi-racial. A Georgian who experienced enough racism to leave his country for Spain, he would posthumously be inducted as a member of the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame. Paradoxes again; I would guess?
The South that I grew up in was as far from Tara as it was from the sun, even on the hottest day. It certainly wasn’t The South I read about. The South I grew up in would have been more like Mayberry without a main street and could have been portrayed in “Song of the South,” by Alabama not the Disney movie by the same name. That movie took place during Reconstruction and has been accused of being racist because of such characters as “The Tar Baby.” Because of this alleged racism, I haven’t seen it in years even though I find myself singing “Zippidy Doo Dah” on occasion. This example almost makes my point that we need to recognize the paradoxes of our history that include racism and segregation. That history is as diametrically opposed to my home and Tara. The mansions and associated lifestyle, the fine gentlemen and beautiful women, along with the happy slaves that were portrayed in these movies and many of the books that I read, seemed to be a far cry from the people and farms that I envision from the window of my mind. There certainly were few, if any, African-Americans, stereotypical or not. My history or my heritage, the story of my grandparents and parents, would be better portrayed in Alabama’s words:
“Cotton on the roadside, cotton in the ditch
We all picked the cotton but we never got rich
Daddy was a veteran, a southern democrat
They oughta get a rich man to vote like that
Song, song of the south
Sweet potato pie and I shut my mouth
Gone, gone with the wind
There ain’t nobody looking back again”
Unfortunately, after the Charleston massacre and the firestorm that erupted around the Confederate Battle Flag, it would appear that we are looking back again and some are singing “Away, Away, Away Dixieland.”