It’s always fun to try to explain the South- it occurred to me that Thanksgiving in the South might provide some enlightenment of our people and our region.. We all know how interesting, maddening, delightful and hilarious family holidays can be!. We would never want to be too critical of the family because, well- Southern Food, Southern Beauty and Southern Accents are far superior. The South has eye popping beauty- refined, rustic or rough as a cob, like the people who’re from here. Take the Grumpy Uncle who can get loud- you know this type- knows it all but never knows when to hush up. His scope of the political landscape is daunting- he’s a ‘law and order, hang ’em high and often’ kind of guy whose wife watches NPR and graciously corrects him -saying ‘Thank you darling for sharing your perspective’. They stopped watching the news together years ago and have agreed to disagree. She likes diversity- attends Combined Worship Services with all Communities- Grumpy Uncle stays home.
And then there is the Nephew who lives for the Opening Day of Hunting Season- Bucky is always dusty from the chert roads he drives on. Sometimes we think Bucky loves his hunting dogs, Jackpot, Fang and Cream Puff more than he loves his own Momma! He offered to take his Momma up to the hunting lodge and teach her how to shoot; she politely declined. Secretly she keeps her great grandfather’s pearl handled pistol under the mattress, loaded. In fact, she won’t allow that mattress to be turned- it weighs fifty ‘leven pounds and is reported to be worth a fortune.
Then there is Aunt Eugenia, who is always interested in ‘Who your people are’. It has been reported that when a distant cousin was thinking of marrying a questionable young man- Aunt Eugenia wrote to the State Director of Archives and History asking for the lineage of the young man. She has had a working relationship with the Directors for decades. The bane of her existence is her Niece, the political activist, the one who agreed to attend the full round of Catechism Classes at First Presbyterian and then announced to God and the Church Elders that she would not consider putting herself forward for Confirmation and Sprinkling even though the programs had already been printed. Her family was horrified.
And we can’t forget Long Tall Double First Cousin Floyd, who has led singings at Sacred Harp Conventions for 50 years. Everyone feels obliged to ask him to say the Blessing. With bowed heads, the women struggle to keep the food warm while Cousin Floyd starts in praying- he opens up with original sin in the Garden of Eden and ends fifteen minutes later with a flourish at the Great White Throne. Everyone is very thankful by then. His plump wife is the prize winning Pentacostal Princess of the Covered Dish- she wrestles with high blood pressure and swollen ankles. The high salt content in Cream of Mushroom Soup and Canned Onion Rings contributes to it. At the other end of the table is a Union Boss Aunt whose husband is Foreman on Third Shift. He had to learn how to make biscuits and cornbread and the best blackberry jam this side of heaven, just to survive his working wife’s inability and disinclination to ever come near an Iron Skillet; though she is proud to say- her Ironworkers have been making Iron Skillets for generations. She’s tough as pig iron- he’s a big teddy bear.
The offspring of Grandmaw Bama, a full blooded Cherokee, continue to act like wild Indians whooping it up as part owners of Mississippi Casinos but were wise enough to marry good Methodist girls who are quiet and unassuming members of DAR. Their parents are the bankers, the lawyers, the accountants. Generally their mothers are pillars of society or teachers who wear sensible shoes. They know the ropes of society’s high demands. We count on them to bring the Tea Sandwiches, the tiny Dinner Rolls and Petit Fours, tiny being the operative word.
And isn’t there always a skinny freckled Nephew with buck teeth who is the official photographer, and has an annoying habit of catching the Beauty Queens without a smidge of lipstick on, looking pale as ghosts? The Beauty Queens are in varying degrees of glamour- for instance, the Cotton Queen and the Peach Queen are a cut above the Peanut and Boll Weevil Queens. Yet all the Queens run the vacuum cleaner wearing Tiaras and no matter how old they get- will always be Queen of Everything. And dare I mention the motorcycle riding Vietnam Veteran, Billy Jack who brought home a sweet foreign wife? They wear matching bandanas- he bears a striking resemblance to Willie Nelson- while his wife has been here 40 years but still thinks dumplings are steamed! Their son was a child prodigy, learning to play classical violin before he was three, while simultaneously perfecting hogcallin’ .
Aunt DawDaw keeps chickens and always brings the devilled eggs- her son, Mason inherited the Family Cotton Farm and shocked everyone by not majoring in Agriculture- instead he got a degree in Horticulture with a concentration in Floral Design. Fitzgerald now makes Wreaths and Floral Arrangements with the Family Cotton, his designs grace the front door and Thanksgiving Table. Folks whisper he’s topping high cotton making more on his floral designs than a bale of cotton brings but Fitz is still suspect among the local farmers. The Aunts wave away Fitzgerald’s eccentricity, who is loved and admired by his loving and proud family. All of the unmarried girls tell Fitz they want him to make their bridal bouquets with the Family Cotton!
Like veteran cyclist Billy Jack, Great Uncle Chester also married a foreigner. Bless her heart she was a Yankee. Uncle Chester moved her down to Texas out in the middle of nowhere, promptly drilled an oil well or two- then had the nerve to invite the whole family to his ranch for Thanksgiving, of all things. We don’t have Stuffing made with bread balls or cubes whatever they are– We have Dressing, Cornbread Dressing! Thanksgiving Food is Sacred in the South. Unfortunately, it was discovered that Uncle Chester’s wife was a liberal when she tried to make Dressing- and failed miserably. She put a liberal amount of Oregano in the Dressing instead of Sage! All of that Oregano caused a gag reflux in Aunt Flora, who actually had to excuse herself from the table! She never forgot nor forgave it. A real southern lady and an impeccable cook- from then on, every year without fail- if Aunt Flora hadn’t personally made the Dressing- she would cautiously taste the Cornbread Dressing before it went to the table- hissing that she would never get over Chester’s wife- ‘She put Oregano in the Dressing!’ On her deathbed, Aunt Flora stretched out her frail hand and said – ‘If you evah put Oregano in the Dressin’ I will twirl three times and come up out of mah grave!’ No one wants to risk it.
This is the South, y’all. We are alike but different- some of us think the others should be more open minded- others cling to the old ways. We may not yell for the same SEC football team but we all agree it’s the best football in the country. And, we never disagree on how gorgeous it is down here or how to make decent food, especially Cornbread Dressing. The South cannot be described in all of its varying degrees of civilized or uncivilized behavior. Norman Rockwell never painted a Southern Family having a Southern Thanksgiving- he would not have inflicted that on the General Public. However, because the South is so much prettier than other places and because the food is unmatched anywhere, we defend her, overlook her eccentricities and step carefully in our Graveyards for fear of all the Rolling Over, Rising Up and Twirling surely going on…
I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving! Wherever you are, remember this tale of a Southern Thanksgiving, and perhaps your own family will look positively sane by comparison! Oh lord, y’all- like all good Southern tales, this one is part Truth, part Myth and part Outright Lies…
Love y’all, Camellia
All of the photographs are mine, to try to dress up this absolutely horrible description of my beloved South! The beautiful floral arrangements were taken recently at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear Alabama- ok, admit it…they are gorgeous!