Biff Sock Pow

Finding the humor in everyday life.

Archive for the tag “Southern literature”

Elegy for the South

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According to my quite depressing stats page, it has been 9 days since I last posted anything on this blog.  It is painfully obvious that this here humble blog of mine is not on cruise control yet.  I’m not sure what the opposite of cruise control is (expiring free-fall?), but whatever it is, that is what my blog is on.

Some of you may be wondering where I have been for 9 days.  I flatter myself, of course, to think that anyone wondered.  Self-flattery a hobby of mine.  The flatter the better.

Well, to answer the question that no one asked, I was on business travel last week.  Most people that get to travel for their jobs get to go to exotic places, like New York, Chicago, Boston, London, Las Vegas, San Francisco, etc.  I get to go to unexciting places like Podunk, Georgia.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Georgia.  I grew up in Alabama and Mississippi and I consider Georgia to be in the blessed trinity of the Deep South.  But glamorous it was not.

As I drove from Atlanta far out into the treed hills surrounding Podunk, I noticed through the rental car window the red clay, the towering pine trees, the magnolias, the mimosas.  The ground underneath the pines was brown with a bedding of pine needles.  The air was thick with the scent of pine and magnolia and honeysuckle.  I saw a patch or two of kudzu.  The air was warm and humid.  All of this conspired to give me flashbacks to growing up in Mississippi.

Georgia, like Alabama and Mississippi, is beautiful.  Outside the big cities, the pace of life in the Deep South is a peculiar kind of slow, on the surface seeming to be dawdling, plodding, and lackadaisical.  But it is none of those things.  It is a deliberate kind of slowness, measured and ponderous, inspired by sweltering heat and thick humidity.

People are a little more friendly.  Southern accents abound.  And I don’t mean those fake Southern accents you will hear in movies and on TV.  I mean an honest-to-God Southern accent, lyrical and lilting, seemingly unschooled and unpolished, but in reality ingeniously cadenced and nuanced and efficient and seductive.

But Georgia, like Alabama and Mississippi, has been overrun with modernity.  There are Targets and Krogers and Hiltons and Sports Academies and Chili’s and Dillards.  Stand in the “good” part of town and it is indistinguishable from any other mid-sized or bigger town in America.

Such a pity.

Our culture is becoming homogenized.  Generally, that is a good thing.  High quality and good service and variety have become uniform across the land.  But the price we paid for that was a near complete loss of regional identity.

If, rather than boarding a 737 for a 2 hour flight to Georgia, I had been somehow teleported from the suburbs of Dallas to my destination in Georgia, I would have been at a loss to tell you where I’d ended up.  Had I even left?  Was there a reason to go back?

I have been watching the dissolution and the erosion of the Deep South all of my life.  Some of that is for the better.  I am more than eager to see poverty and racism be eradicated.  But it saddens me that the good has been erased with the bad.

But I can close my eyes and smell the magnolia and honeysuckle and, for a moment, I can forget that I am surrounded by homogeneity and indistinguishability.  The bland is replaced with the colorful.  Modern aloofness is replaced with Southern hospitality.  The corporate is replaced with the homespun.  Hotel lobby chairs are replaced with front porch swings.  Bottled water is replaced with sweet iced tea.

But only for a moment.

Sixty Second Fiction #2

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It’s hotter’n hell. It’s a hunnert if it’s a degree. The devil hisself wouldn’t last more’n an hour walkin’ along this ol’ dirt road afore he just sat down and quit.

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But I’m walkin’ it, just like I done walked it a thousand times at least. Ever since I was a young’n. Back and forth. Hotter’n hell or colder’n a well digger’s butt. I walked it when I was 7. All by myself. It was a mile from the house down to the blacktop road where the ol’ yaller school bus’d pick me up and carry me on up to Worthen to the school there. But I didn’t take to schoolin’ none. All that there readin’ and math and such, that weren’t for me. I’m a Shumate, just like my daddy and his daddy and his daddy. We ain’t never had much use for school lernin’. But Mama … she said them people in Montgomery passed a law and ever young’n had to go to school whether they wanted to or not. Mama … she was proud. Said it was good fer me. But Daddy said it was a waste of everbody’s time. But the law said I had to walk this ol’ dirt road and take the bus into town. Cold … hot … rain … didn’t make no diff’ernce.

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After I was in seventh grade they said I didn’t have to go no more. All the men went off to the war. I had to help Mama with the farm. Weren’t much I could do about it. Nothin’ much would grow in that poor ol’ Alabama red clay except Johnson grass and bitter weed. But I reckon it was enough for the five of us; me and Mama and my three little sisters. Or maybe it weren’t really enough. Seems one or the other of ‘em was always sick or feelin’ poorly. I did what I could, but Doc Everit wouldn’t come out all that way for no Shumate. I said we had a good passel of collards about then, but he just snorted and said he wad’nt comin’ out all that way for no collards.

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Ain’t much harder than diggin’ in that red clay. Specialy in summer when it was like digging in brick. But I done it. Deep as that feller told me I should. The preacher said it looked real nice and nobody coulda done no better, even them fellers over in Thomasville that got paid to do it. And he preached real nice. I told him I didn’t have no money but I had some collards or some black eyed peas or a hen. And he said he didn’t need nothing. He said he done it out of Christian love. And I said I was much obliged.

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And now I got to do something. I cain’t raise no three girls on just collards or a scraggly hen. The preacher told me they was hiring men over at the mill with strong backs and they didn’t care none about if they had any book lernin’ or not. I reckon Daddy ain’t coming back. They said the war was over a year ago. So I’ll just keep on walkin’ this dusty road a while longer. At least til they’s grown up enough to get married and go off on their own.

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