My Daddy told me: “Choose a side. It’s despicable to see someone who is mealy mouthed and doesn’t stand for one side or the other.”
One thing I have found to be mostly true, as true as any rule can be, is that in the South, you are either proud or humble. There is very little in-between.
You know the feeling I am sure. You find something that somewhere back in time meant so much but years have passed and you have forgotten its existence. Then you find it and it’s like running into an old friend who reminds you of happy times.
One Sunday while sitting around the dinner table, Louise and I began to tell Daddy stories, the ones that stretched back to the early days of his preaching life. Since I was born 12 years after he ‘made a preacher’, as our folks said back then, I could only contribute what he had told me about those days not what I had seen.
When you add the opportunity to go off to college or move out on your own, we’re fooled into thinking that we’re mature enough and wise enough to make decisions that will affect the rest of our lives.
My grandmother – Daddy’s mother – was sometimes called “crazy” by others who didn’t quite understand her eccentric ways. Of course, in the South, we are proud of such a label for it means that we are interesting and worthy of being the center of coffee and cake conversation.
For those of you who are faithful to this column, you will, no doubt, recall that last year I made brand new resolutions. I tossed out the old ones that I had failed at repeatedly and trudged ahead to new ones, optimistically believing that success was mine for taking.
I realized this year, though, that there is one day of the Christmas season that never disappoints me. In fact, it is always warmer, more loving, memorable, and joyous than I expect. That’s the day that I put up my favorite of three trees.
Whether this has been a year that leaned more toward blessings or tribulations, give thanks for it. Because even the hard times are leading to better times and when you get to those better days, you’ll celebrate them with pure joy.
The American Dream. Pure and simple. Why aren’t we doing more to extol it these days? Why aren’t we celebrating the opportunities of a country where the poor can rise mightily?
It’s been 20 years without Davey Allison and I, at last, am able to laugh at his antics rather than recalling just the sorrow. And there are the lessons, too, that he taught.
I do not believe it is a coincidence that our family from Mama and Daddy’s generation lived, for the most part, long and healthy lives. There were no preservatives in their food and their water came either directly from mountain streams or deep wells.
When the military guard stood at attention at Mr. Hoyt’s casket and taps played, I put my hand over my heart and cried.
She did not squander time on life’s foolish pursuits – shopping for pretty dresses, parties, choosing a new lipstick color or beach vacations. She was, all would agree, a statue for sturdiness, a monument to women who looked life and its troubles squarely in the eye and stared down those challenges.
About the only thing that has changed is that Mama doesn’t make my clothes any more. And that is both a good thing and a bad thing.
This is my South of which I am so proud, a community, broad and vast, where tribulations and triumphs alike are shared.
When it’s born in you, you just keep doing the best you can to help those in need.
Any self-respecting Southern woman has a list of casserole recipes a mile long ready to bake at a moment’s notice. You got a sickness or a death in your family, we’ve got just the casserole for you.
She said it, of course, with smirk. Those women who really don’t understand the ways of the women of the South seem to always speak about us in words that are vividly cloaked in disdain.
Charlie Tinker had a front row seat to history, ranging from a friendship with Lincoln to the Civil War to the hanging of those convicted. Thanks to his diaries, we are able to see what he saw.
“Some day,” Daddy used to say often as I was growing up, “I’m going to the Holy Land. I want to walk where Jesus walked.”
Having helped raised Mama to independence, I can tell you —be it teenagers or elderly mothers, independence is a good thing for everyone.
Upon discovering Charles Almerin Tinker’s leaf-strewn grave in Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn, NY, we – one of us more than the other – began to study the names and dates engraved on the towering monument.
The renowned bow maker in my hometown died. Only in the South would this probably be news because we Southern women do admire a package well wrapped.
The way she was was a long way from what she became. I can't help thinking about how life veers so far away from the beginning of the journey and how the destination can vary drastically from where it all started.
It was a long, and very worthwhile, walk to observe the grave of Tink's great-great grandfather.
Farming knows no boundaries. Cows are born on the rainiest days and get out, usually scattering into the road, in the darkest of nights, water lines burst on the coldest days and tractors break down in the field under the most scorching sun.
For those who have no idea how good they've got it, how blessed they are in life, introduce to them to the other folks.
We've all got stories, we just don't all turn them into books. But that's not to say we shouldn't.
Somehow I ran across an out-of-print book called "The Last Lap." It is now 15 years old but tells an intriguing, timeless tale of the early days of America's first stock car racers.
You can't buy history like this. You can't earn it, either. You just have to thank the good Lord for giving you the gift of a small town family.
With Mother's Day here again, my thoughts drift back to Mama and how she put me through college.
The truth isn't always pretty. Or easy. But it certainly gives respect to those who tell it.
At a garage sale, that bowl would bring no more than a nickel or a dime, bought by someone who would use it for dog food or fertilizer or such. But from me, you couldn't buy it for a million dollars.
Though I come from hardscrabble folks where education was a luxury, they had enough learning to know that others should be treated with decency and respect.
In churches like ours, the men gather on one side and the women on the other so they can sing parts and blend deliciously together. To me, it is simply beautiful to hear songs like "I'll Fly Away" or "When We All Get To Heaven" sung with such gusto, almost always ending with a soprano refrain.
Oh how I love a parade.
I can't wait to return and tour the home again, under official guidance.
Mr. Gene Bobo was special. There's no denying nor disputing that. He was a courtly Southern gentleman, his manners impeccable and his vocabulary belonging to a genteel past.
Honesty isn't always pretty, but sometimes it gains respect, no matter how unpleasant.
I love dreamers who have courage. That's even better than an Academy Award.
It's six degrees of separation. Southern style when it comes to knowing people in your neck of the woods.
Now I understand all the other folks who have quoted such high prices -- returning calls and showing up makes a person valuable so they can charge more.
I've been thinking about kids in the middle like me.
Twain once said, "A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read." When it comes to writing, I'll spin that a bit: The writer who won't invest thought in the lives of others has no advantage over those who can't.
I'll probably be repeating these resolutions again next year. Just like all my previous resolutions.
"Have you ever told a short story in your life?" I asked one day during one of marathon length. She twisted her mouth tightly as oft she did when annoyed. "If it's too short, it ain't worth tellin'. Why waste the time?"
As Truman Capote, the Alabama-raised writer, often said, "Every Southerner goes home sooner or later, even if in a pine box."
The third, and final, installment, of a look at Charlie Tinker's diary.
A picture can really be worth a thousand words.