JJ Vincent confirms some of those things we believe about the South,
and asks us to forget one very important one.
1. Football really IS that important. Don’t even think about trying to drive around a high school on home game Friday night during football season. Be ready to reschedule your wedding, your best friend’s birthday party, your mother’s funeral, the birth of your first born, the birth of your second born, that shopping trip you promised your significant other (they’ll understand) depending on what game is on. Know that for some young men, their entire sense of self is tied up in whether or not they make the team, how much they play, and what school, if any, wants them.
2. Your loyalty matters. This goes with #1.SEC. Pick a team. Know your rivalries. Know who around you cheers who which team. Know the loyalty of a potential date and their family. Your future may depend on it. Plus, you will know who will be in a bad mood on Monday depending on who won—or lost.
3. People really do live that way. Those images you see of trailers surrounded by children’s toys, broken appliances, and cars on blocks? That’s all real. And common. And it is no reflection at all on the people who live there, no matter what you see on the news, or “reality” TV. So get that out of your head right now. There are no banjos. You can put the paddles away.
4. People really do dress that way. Men have dress overalls, town overalls, work overalls. Wearing them to church, weddings, funerals, the mall, a concert, a play, perfectly acceptable. Oh, and that farmer over there in the grimy ones with the big bandanna handkerchief? There’s a good chance he’s got more money than you’ll make in a lifetime.
5. Those boots are for real. Those cowboy boots? Not a joke. Wearing them to the office with a suit? Fine. To court? Fine again. To the fanciest steak place in town? Go ahead. Chances are your server is wishing they were wearing theirs.
6. Tornadoes? Yeah, that’s real. If you think for a minute that those pleas for help are over the top, or that those staged images you see on TV dramas right before two characters declare their undying love for each other are fake, let me tell you, they are nothing, NOTHING compared to the true power and devastation of a twister. TV does the damage no justice.
7. It’s all about the food. Yes, it is. If you move here, or even visit for more than a few days, unless you have superhuman willpower or the metabolism of a hummingbird, you will gain weight. Because everything involves food. Meetings, parties, showers, meetings to plan parties and showers, weddings, meetings to plan weddings, break-ups, consolation sessions about break-ups, mornings at work, afternoons at work, food. Those buffets you see, the people you see around tables eating cheesecakes and BBQ and pints of ice creams and plates of ribs, all real. Food made with butter, oil, and cream, all real. If you come here, be ready to be fed. Not eating is a sign of disrespect. If Gramma offers it to you and it won’t kill you, you eat it.
8. Those accents that you can’t understand? They aren’t exaggerating. Depending on where you live, the accents range from barely there to thicker than the proverbial molasses in winter. It took me a good six months of living here to understand that “pin” and “pen” sound exactly the same, “Whachu lack?” means “How much do you have left to do?”, “Golla bolla” means, “Got a bottle of”, and Boomhauer from King of the Hill lives and breathes. Everywhere.
9. There’s a church on every corner, and five gossips in your town. Alabama really is that religious. Even the people who behave in the most unchristian-like ways imaginable probably go to church. There is a church for everyone who wants one, from the thousand seat mega-churches to converted houses and services in bank meeting rooms. And if you do not belong to one of them, be prepared to be questioned, judged, and generally treated as “not quite right.” Because southern gossip is real, too. And chances are you’ll only hear it third hand, if at all.
10. “Hey y’all, watch this!” is alive and well. That stuff you see of those southern-fried, funniest-things, I-can’t believe-they-did-that video shows? NOT STAGED.
11. Family ties are strong, and Mama’s boys are real. That stereotype about Southern boys doing everything and anything for their Mamas? It’s true. Every bit. If you are in love with a Southern boy, you may never come before his mama, no matter how much he grumbles and groans about her.
12. Below the Mason-Dixon = stupid hick. Please forget this one. We have PhDs by the thousands, rocket scientists, research hospitals, the SPLC, civil rights organizers, top universities, soil and climate scientists, teachers, writers, social activists, imams, rabbis. We have functionally illiterate elders who can tell you more about American history and do more math in their heads than you can do on a calculator. We have immigrants and refugees from around the world who engineer bridges and run businesses. We have shrunken old men who remember when they could not eat in town, but will look you in the eye when they shake your hand. And that shirtless guy out there on the riding mower with bad teeth, spitting tobacco and singing Toby Keith? He retired from the Army a few years ago. Turned in his three-stars for a little place by the lake.
Photo: domzanghi / flickr