This past few weeks I’ve felt very Southern. Not that I haven’t always felt that way, but I’ve been watching Friday Night Lights for research on my newest endeavor and my kids have been practicing football in 100+ temps, so I’m coated in all things dusty, dirty and brutal. Yes, football is a rabid passion down here in the South. And then I read and went to see the movie The Help. Been drinking lots of ice tea and sitting on the porch ’cause the dang electricity keeps going out and it’s hotter than the devil’s pitchfork in Louisiana right now.
So, yeah, been embracing my Southerness.
I know we have plenty of stereotypes – Y’all. Sweet tea. Bible-thumpin’ and Aw’ Shucks. But wait a cotton-pickin’ minute. We’re more than that.
Southern people (not knockin’ any other area, just so you understand) are creative, rebellious, poets of the soul. We drawl the elemental truth with colorful stories and poignant longing for the past while moving (slowly) into the future.
I think that’s why I like writing the stories I write – small town Texas and Louisiana (and you know I’ll make it to the Diamond state soon enough). I like the stereotypes of Southerners…and I like to dig under that red-neck, coon-ass, hillbilly skin to the passion and practicality beneath. Recently, I saw on one of the review sites – no, maybe it was Amazon – where someone warned about how American (and Southern) my last book was. She said she didn’t know what I was talking about half the time. No, wasn’t a good review. But she doesn’t know what she‘s talking about. I nailed being a gal or dude in East Texas. I know my small East Texas town stuff, thank you very much, Miss Australia. And so, it’s really a good thing. I’m writing what I know. Bless your pea pickin’ heart for not knowing that.
Writing what you know seems to be the way to go. It gives authenticity, grit, and fullness to a story. Take The Help. I’m willing to bet that that book/movie affected me way more than someone who lives in up-state New York. Not that someone from Albany can’t love and appreciate the beauty of that story. But down here, we lived it. I read the book and loved it. Saw the movie a few weeks ago and cried all the way home. It just hit me where it needed to. I can remember my daddy’s maid who raised him. Hattie. She wore a uniform and she raised my daddy. Hattie had a cat named Ralph who when you shined a flashlight on the carpet, he’d chase the spot light. She was big and cooked a lot. And she loved my daddy. I can still remember her wide smile. And then I think about her, and about how my grandmother likely treated her – with a mixture of kindness and abhorance. Hattie didn’t sit up front in my grandmother’s car. She kept her own plate and glass. She was so similar to every maid in that movie. Shreveport ain’t far off Jackson, y’all. That was the way things were. Sad and bittersweet were those relationships between maids and the children they raised, the people they worked for. So, yeah, I’ve been feeling very Southern – which, honestly, is both wonderful and regretful. Because we Southerners have done some really awful things in the name of perserving our way of life, in the name of clinging to some forgotten past that is better left alone.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being Southern. Love sweet tea and chicken and dumplins. Love football and smocked clothing. Love big plantation houses and slow Southern drawls. I guess it’s good being Southern – warts and all.
So what about you? What do you love about where you live…or hail from?