I sat in last week with a group of highly educated folks who were debating regional distinctions in America. Most of them were of the opinion that they no longer exist. I beg to differ.
I am a Southerner - a native son of the American South, born in a cotton mill village at the height of the post-World War II baby boom, by the grace of God, I might add.
I grew up going barefoot all summer and know what it is to sit down and pick sandspurs out of my feet. I also know what fried rabbit and squirrel dumplings taste like and what chitterlings smell like while they are cooking. I can't testify to the taste, because I haven't been hungry enough to eat one yet. Same thing for opossum.
When I was born, there were still living Confederate veterans, and when people spoke of "the war," a lot of them still meant "the one where we fought the Yankees."
Being a Southerner, I know about dirt roads with red clay gullies, wild blackberries and hog plums. I have set out rabbit boxes and caught catfish on a trot line. I have never tasted moonshine whiskey but have gone for many a ride "in the country" with my daddy that ended with an old man leaning over into the car window and rolling a half-gallon fruit jar out of his bib overalls into my daddy's lap.
I can remember when, as a young boy, I could drink out of the water fountain at Ray Moore's Gulf station, but Gussie, the black woman who helped raise me while my mama was at work in the mill, couldn't. I couldn't understand that in the 1950s, and it makes even less sense to me now, but I can remember it.
I get Elvis Presley and would rather listen to George Jones sing than all three of those tenors put together. And since I am a Southerner, the Blues and jazz are as much a part of my heritage as Myrtle Beach and Rock City.
I grew up pouring peanuts in my Coke - and still do it, every chance I get. I also grew up standing up for Dixie. I still do that every chance I get, too - but the chances are few and far between these days.
It takes me longer to say things than a guy from New Jersey, and I drop the G's off my words and turn all "R" sounds into two syllables, especially when in the presence of Northern interlopers.
I know that y'all is a contraction of "you" and "all" and refers to more than one person. I have never in my life uttered the words "you all" and would no more do that than I would refer to a Co-Cola as a bottle of pop. I know that "What kind of Co-Cola do you want?" is a perfectly logical question, just like I know that when someone asks "How's your mama-n-em?" they are referring to your mother, your other relatives and anyone else you might have come in contact with over the past 10 or 20 years.
Because I am a Southerner, I fully understand that autumn Saturdays are holy when it comes to football and that the game they play on Sunday is merely for entertainment. I am not an Alabama fan, but I revere Bear Bryant; I am not an Ole Miss fan, but I appreciate the Mannings. The good Lord knows I am not a Georgia Tech fan, but I offer grudging respect to Bobby Dodd, who was the epitome of the true Southern gentleman.
And because I am a Southerner, I know that Northern bias is the only reason Ohio State gets to play for the BCS Championship every year. I also know they will never win as long as they are matched against the SEC.
I know that grits is groceries - and good eating if you have the good sense to put plenty of salt and black pepper and butter on them. I know that the pot liquor left on your plate after the turnip greens and purple hull peas are gone is perfect for sopping up with buttermilk cornbread.
Because I am Southern, I know that the War Between the States was in no way civil and that slavery wasn't the only issue. Even though the South lost that war, I don't know anyone who would have traded Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson for a million Grants or Shermans.
Lest we forget, Martin Luther King Jr. was a Southerner, too.
Because I am a Southerner, I am not at all impressed by talk of global warming because I've seen hot summers all my life. I have gone to bed in the days before air-conditioning when it was so hot you had to sleep with your arms stretched straight out to the side because you couldn't stand to feel them against your own skin, and I have seen Mama cover the roof with wet bed sheets to try to get a little relief from the heat.
Those egghead types can pontificate from now 'til kingdom come, but I am proud of the fact that I am still Southern after all these years.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.