Legacies, lima beans, crowder peas, and other parts of growing up Southern

I ended up having to do a ton of running around today to get all my errands done. One of my last stops was at the farmer’s market. I know, I know, I talk a lot about food. It’s a fun subject. But I was browsing through all the things that are available fresh at this time of year, and I was reveling in it. The smells were fabulous—fresh peaches, eggs, okra, blueberries, tomatoes, blackberries, and mounds upon mounds of different kinds of beans.

It’s upon these things that I choose to rest the legacy of the place I call home. When I think of “the South” I think of something other than the ugliness that resides in history books. I think perhaps I’m so crazy-passionate about this place sometimes because of the in-your-face dichotomy between grandeur and squalor.

When I see “the South,” I see the small-town environment that I was raised in. The requirement of self-reliance imposed upon us because of our distance from town and, indeed, from each other. The smell of the river, green and muddy and rattlesnake-y, oozing across muddy banks in glaring sunshine. The heat—the ever-present, humid, stifling heat in summers, and the particularly southern way of drawling a fan back and forth across your face to move the heat around and past you with the least possible amount of physical effort.

Cotton fields. The shocking speed at which the corn grows after a rain. Learning that it rains twice—once in a cooling shower as it comes down, and second as a steam bath as it goes right back up. Growing up unafraid of tornadoes, even though they came every spring.

Cornbread. With butter.

Catfish. Fried.

These are the things that stay in my soul; the feel of rocky dirt between bare toes as I helped my family dig up potatoes before the morning heat got too intense to work outside. (Not to mention how long it always seemed until the end of the row.)

I can polish my act. I can drop a good portion of my accent if I have to, but I can’t do it without guilt. There’s a certain pleasure in presenting myself as an intelligent, cultured person who is unashamed to speak with a drawl. I’ll admit that more than once I’ve taken great pleasure in letting my accent slide back into the deepest drawl I can muster while dealing with someone who makes it clear that they think a southern accent can be automatically equated to ignorance. It’s amusing to toy with someone who thinks they’re patronizing you, then cleanly and swiftly cut them down, leaving them no recourse and no way to comfortably apologize.

People who make idiotic assumptions like that deserve no better.

(sigh.) But, anyway. I do wish that there was a way to untie “the South” that I experienced growing up from “the South” that was responsible for such misery for so many. But that’s impossible; they are, unfortunately, two sides of the same coin, and that troubles me greatly.

I choose to honor the good things. It’s the best I can do.

Good night, y’all.

Comments

I think what I planted was crowder peas, but not sure. For some reason I threw out the packet. They are green with black starting to come in on the bean. Can you tell me of they are crowder peas. Looks like green beans with some black

Beautifully said, my friend. As another expatriate Southerner, I too have such pulls and tugs on my memories and feelings about the South. These were assuaged somewhat a while back when, at a meeting, I met a Black fellow about my age, from Charleston, and we shared stories of growing up in the South and of living in the North. The beauty of it was that we both realized that there was much more that connected the two of us in being Southern than there was separating us by race or history. A particularly funny moment was when he suddenly said, "Here's a test!" and pulled out his neatly pressed and folded white handerchief. I could have cried, but of course quickly pulled out mine and we laughed heartily -- didn't have to say a word, both holding the badge of the Southern gentleman. We talked of Ma'ams and Sirs, of the necessity of ALWAYS greeting civilly anyone you happen to cross paths with, a necessity inexplicably not shared by all of those north of the Mason-Dixon line. At any rate, thank you for so poetically bringing these thoughts back to me.