This time last year, I had a glorious three days in Atlanta, Ga. and I can no longer deny it. It appears I was a Southern Belle in my last life. I have a lovely college chum who lives outside the city, smack in the heart of the once-Cherokee Nation, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She helps me soak in as much Southern as I can when I visit.
I began to have suspicions about myself when I realized that hearing “How y’all doin’ today?” or any sentence said with that sweet Southern accent to be downright soothing. I found myself shamelessly eavesdropping on the locals as we strolled the same shops, just to hear them talk.
I found delight in every ramshackle cottage, pasture, forest and neighborhood we passed. They just glow with history. Then I consulted “Confessions of a Tarnished Southern Belle” by Celia Rivenbark and found my absolute proof.
She spoke of old aunts who live on Payday bars (my favorite) and confirmed that it is a very unSouthern mistake to wear your regular clothes all the way through your pregnancy. She touched on how Southern sisters cannot abide someone dressed in navy paired with “sort of” navy and how “y’all” sounds so much better than “you guys.” She reminded me of how much I love grits and eggs with biscuits and red-eye gravy, pecan pralines and fried green tomatoes.
My favorite Southern trait is the delicious tendency to take the edge off any scathing remark by adding “Bless her heart,” and to describe something truly ugly as “most unfortunate” like “She has a most unfortunate nose.”
I chuckled upon hearing one Southern matron say, “Jeffrey, (the clerk at one of the many design showrooms we visited) you absolutely must do my entire lower level again this year for Christmas.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m plannin’ on it. Do you have the stuff from last year?” Jeffrey responded calmly.
“Yes, but I want more!” she called over her shoulder as she breezed out the door.
This exchange verified my friend’s earlier explanation that the Southern women go over the top with their decorating. The displays in the stores backed that up and it was all I could do not to try and stuff one of the lushly decorated Christmas trees into my carry-on luggage.
I still have some things to work on. I not wild about NASCAR or okra, and I doubt I’d survive a summer there. If the humid heat didn’t leave me limp, the loss of blood to mosquitoes would. But I know what being told the coffee is “saucered and blowed” means, as well as the definition of “turning funny” in one’s old age.
I know I was struck speechless by being able to see untouched forest well into the next state and being able to walk to the nearby swimming hole. I even found what looked very much like a genuine Cherokee spearhead along the river bank. I also know that nothing will ever relax me like sittin’ on the porch (and everybody has a porch) just rockin’ and sippin’ on a Coca-Cola.
I came home as happy as a possum in the sunshine, but I had to rush down and take in an ocean view quickly before I said something most unfortunate about California, which just then smelled like an old ashtray, bless its heart.
Jean Gillette is a freelance writer hankerin’ for another small mint julep. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.