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Southern to the Bone

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.

Damn straight.

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?


45 Responses

  1. Wonderful post! I love all things southern and am proud to be a born and bred southerner! Can’t wait to see The Help, everyone raves about it. Thanks for the reminder of all things southern…warts and all!

  2. It’s a fabulous movie, Deborah, and it will make you cry and contemplate the way we were raised. I have to say that I love being a Southern woman. We’re strong stock, aren’t we? Enjoy that movie about strong women in the South 🙂

  3. What I didn’t know about Kentucky when we moved her a few years ago is that this is Bourbon country. We live within sipping distance of a dozen distilleries, historic and new, and I am an official card-carrying inaugural Bourbon Woman!
    Bottoms up.

  4. I was raised in DC and MD but spent my summers on my grandparents farm in the VA mountains and Tenn, and high tailed it down to North Carolina as soon as I could. Met a Southern boy and stayed.

    I have always considered myself a southerner because yes, DC and MD are southern, below the Mason-Dixon line, AND my parents raised me the Southern way. Both sisters were more northern in their wishes in schools and boyfriends.

    When I moved to the Raleigh area, I thought I was moving to Mayberry and I loved it. But now things are so overgrown, so many folks have moved from up North, I might as well be anywhere.

    BUT the friendliness of the South remains and rubs off on those who are not Southern. We are laid back, friendly, and know how to make sweet tea like nobody’s business.

  5. I didn’t know you live in Kentucky, Keri. And you’re in the actual county? Very cool. I’m not a big bourbon gal. More of a coffee gal. But my husband loves good bourbon.

    Julie – you are definitely Southern. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. I was born in Pennsylvania! LOL.

  6. You know I’m Southern, darlin’!! What I love-/Southern woman can set you straight with a smile and wearing pearls!!! We like to look sweet when we’re having a hissy fit.

  7. Hey Liz,

    I am not actually southern, even though I write southern books. I was born in New York City, but my mother was a farm girl from Estill, South Carolina — a place that is literally in the middle of nowhere — not close to Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach or the I-85 corridor. She sent me to this place every summer, where her brothers and sisters talk me about being southern.

    To this day, my brothers and I all agree that our entire outlook on life was changed by those summers. It was in the middle of the 1950s and 1960s. And, yeah, The Help resonates. I know that the state of race relations in the South was the main reason my mother moved to New York in 1939. But she sent us back to learn what we could. Adn we learned a lot — good and bad.

    I always tell everyone that in my opinion the greatest American hero ever written was Atticus Finch.

    • I like your small town voice, Hope. And really yours is not so much regional as it is rural. Anyone can identify with it.

      There is something about growing up at our grandparents’ knees. My best memories are shelling peas at my grandmothers and then cutting into a huge Saline watermelon. (In LA Saline’s are the best!)

  8. What a great post. I am a southern girl through and through. I agree with Julie – no one makes sweet tea like in the south. My friends call my tea sugar crack tea (although I admit we have started cutting back on the amount of sugar we use).

    I want to see the movie The Help. It’s getting great reviews.

  9. Card carryin member of GRITS (Girls Raised In The South). We smile and use the sweetest voice when we cut you off at the knees. You’re on the ground and we’re walking away before you realize it. Our parents are Daddy and Mama. Friends have names like Bubba, Skeeter, Scooter, Blossom, Pumpkin or two first names. You know a woman is southern when she says “How’s your Mama?”
    “Well bless your heart” can mean anything from you are the nicest thing ever to you are subhuman or my gawd you are dumb as a box of rocks. When I lived north the first time I was stunned the women didn’t watch football. Really? I mean what do you do on weekends? Friday night HS games. Saturday college and Sunday the Pro games.
    Could go on for days. Nice post Liz.

  10. born and raised small town Texas girl here, and it’s a fascinating place to live. Looking forward to The Help. I remember my daddy talking about the maid who raised him, I think he loved her more than his mama.

  11. Great post, Liz. We spent a year in Alabama and it was probably the most different culture from any of the other places I’ve lived in the States. I remember we went to Olive Garden on a Saturday night and it was dead (on a Saturday!!). I asked the waitress where everyone was, and she said, “Either at the game, or watching it.”

    Being a military brat and military wife means I kind of grew up as a child of the world, but I most closely identify with the western US, and especially Arizona and California where I lived the longest. (Though Virginia will be my 2nd longest residence by the time we leave.)

    What I’ve learned from moving around so much is that while each place has its own feel, culture, traditions, and outlook, at the core of things, we’re all human with the same basic needs and desires.

    A well-written book can highlight the good and bad of a region or people, but it will resonate because we see ourselves in them too.

  12. Loved this post! I’m Canadian, but I have a special love for the South. Can I be an honorary Southerner when I come down there? And I absolutely adored The Help. One of the best movies I’ve ever seen. So interesting that you have memories of your father’s maid.

    • Yes, it’s a terrific movie and one that is as good as the book. In fact, those talented actresses really made it almost better. I still think of Allison Janney’s (Sp?) face when Ernestine was told to go. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such mastery in acting as that particular moment. Just beautiful!

      You come on down anytime you want, honey 🙂 We’ll make you feel right at home.

  13. I think we should let Kaylea be an honorary Southern Gal since she asked so nicely! (and BTW – Love your name. Am using it in a Cowboy short story I’m working on.)

    I’m embarrassed to admit I’m a Southern Snob…meaning I don’t consider Maryland “southern”…hee hee I love stories set in the south. I love the humidity. It sets such a nice sultry mood for a sexy story, don’t you think?

    And as far as that stupid comment from the person from another country who didn’t “get” some of your story…I sometimes have trouble with HQ Presents and HQ Medicals that are set in New Zealand and Australia. The terminology used doesn’t make sense to me. But would I ding the book based on that? Of course not. That makes me look stupid, not the author!

    You have a great southern voice, Liz. Never lose it.

    • Thanks, Cyndi, and you know I can’t lose my voice. It wouldn’t be my writing without throwing in some y’alls and Kitty Lou’s potato salad. Seriously, I try to appeal to a broad audience but I won’t change the reality of the world I live in anymore than I would expect a Bostonian to toss away her reserved nature. It’s part of who we are.

  14. I love Southern anything and everything!!! This is a great post and makes me want to move to the South. LOL.

  15. Enjoyed this post. I’m from Nova Scotia and prefer lobster and beer to sweet tea and grits, but not in my books. Love your Southern books!

  16. Great post, Liz! I believe you nailed it all! LOL I actually told my daughter to “Wait a cotton-pickin minute” recently and she just laughed like I’d told the funniest joke. I must read this book and then see the movie!

    Born and raised in Texas and I LOVE your books!! 🙂

    • Thanks, Mel. Texas and North Louisiana are pretty much similar. I’ve had people ask me about writing about Texas when I don’t live there. I’m five miles from the state line, so I’m pretty sure I can write East Texas 🙂

  17. Born and bred in Philly, I remember meeting my first truly southern gentleman. I kept wanting to pull the words from his mouth! The slow drawl (he was a NC hillybilly who I came to love dealy, btw), had me gnashing my teeth! I can still remember the day he told me his son had “gone courtin’.” I mean, really? Too funny. What a lovely man he was.

    I guess life in my neck of the woods is much more frenetic (hard to be frenetic at 100+ degrees), so I often envy those who take life slower.

    As for that review, you do what my mom always said, “Consider the source.” You can’t expect Australia to understand West Texas any more than Australia can expect West Texas to understand aboriginal art. {{{Hugs}}}

    • You are a fiesty lady and would fit in down here just fine. I love how vivacious and plain-spoken you are. Maybe it’s because I was born a Yankee. Kind of.

  18. Up here on the Rez it’s fry bread, teepee creepin’ and “Aw, ennit?” And no, I’m not even gonna try to explain what that means.

  19. Liz,

    this was such a great topic and I love reading all the responses we have gotten. So much fun.

  20. So sad I missed this post yesterday! But–when you live in the backwoods part of the country, you are not important in the electric company’s eyes. we were off for about 1/2 the day. and the storm season is just getting started. *sigh*

    Such a fun post Liz!

  21. Sorry I didn’t make it here yesterday. That frenetic northern pace someone mentioned. 🙂

    I’ve never experienced the south by immersion, only as a visitor, and mostly urban areas, and I have to admit, I’ve never found the people to be different anywhere I’ve been. Details, yes, but not overall. I get really resentful when millions of people are classed and labeled as a group. (The above mention of “Boston reserve” put my back up, but then I realized since I AM reserved and I’m NOT from Boston, I don’t really have a right to snarl. LOL)

    So to address your question at the end of your post, Liz…I don’t know. I consider myself from Massachusetts and still say so whenever someone asks where I’m from (“Where am I from or where do I live?” I always ask. 🙂 ). I only lived in MA until I was 16, though, so I’ve lived elsewhere longer, and I can’t tell you what traits make me identify with New England so strongly.

    • Well, I’ve not experienced too many New Englad gals, but I will say that it was definitely different when I attended the NECRWA conference because there was a sort of, hmmm, how to put it, plain-spoken. Jeez, I don’t know how to describe it. Not really reserved maybe, just more businesslike or intentional Everybody was friendly, so that’s definitely not the difference, but it was still there. So no dander up. I like that our country is so diverse in all things including dispositions. 🙂

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