Continuing with my posts on my brief journey back to the south, I noticed again when I visited Maria that southerners have hospitality and manners down-pat. “Come on in” is a well-known southern expression that you hear when you go to someone’s house…and you are expected to stay awhile and EAT SOMETHING.
While visiting my dad Leland, he offered my sister, her kids and I some nut-clusters chocolate in his refrigerator that a client had just made for him (from scratch). He insisted that we get more than just a few pieces. Simply. Delicious. It would have been impolite to say no, I reasoned!
Politeness is one of the strongest attributes of southerners. I was raised by my strict parents to say “yes ma’am,” “no, sir,” “please,” and “thank you.” (Although eating fish with your fingers is acceptable manners, as my nephew Nicholas pointed out to me when I “wrongly” ate fried catfish with a fork -gasp!)
I was also raised to write thank you notes after birthdays and holidays, something I have tried in vain to teach our kids to do, who are terrible procrastinators – something that drives me almost crazy because I want to get things done NOW. It’s humiliating having southern grandparents email or call weeks or months after they sent a birthday or holiday gift to our children, because no thank you card was sent to them in the mail! I assure the relatives that it’s not because I “forgot my raisin'” or that they are ungrateful, little brats; they simply forgot – or put it off.
Thank you notes, and written letters in general, have become a lost art. But thank you notes are part of southern tradition. If you are homeschooling, they make great language arts projects for practicing handwriting, spelling, and grammar.
A stationery box full of beautiful thank you cards, reflecting your unique elegant or quirky personality, can be a writer’s dream. For professional business owners, a handwritten thank you or other note will make you stand out in the crowd and be remembered. In fact, I received two thank you cards for my business in my post office box yesterday from new online friends, which surprised and touched me – yes, handwritten ones!
Thank you notes are a way of going the extra mile to let others know how much you appreciate them and that you CARE.
Another southern tradition used to be sitting on your front porch with a glass of sweet tea (and I do mean, sweet!) and waving to people as they drove or walked by. Life is too busy and hectic for that now, and even southerners today are finding that they need to slow down the pace and savor life more.
But the practice of “not knowing any strangers” still abounds in the south. People speak warmly to you in public, whether they know you or not, as if they are related to you. Sometimes they ARE related to you. When we met someone at Maria’s college graduation, my dad – who has done extensive genealogy research on both sides of the family – wondered if he was a distant cousin because of his last name. Maria thought this was hilarious.
But southerners are genuinely interested in knowing who you are and where you are from – and who your family is!
When I went to downtown Valdosta while Maria was at work, I found a little floral shop filled with beautiful Christmas decorations. The owner, originally from London, chatted with me as I admired her displays and of course, she asked me what I was looking for, where I was from – and who my family was.
Some people (especially non-southerners) find this interest in your life disconcerting, even nosy. I believe the heart of it is a desire for intimacy with others. Isn’t it better than just being ignored? Maybe the South has a few good lessons to teach us.
I guess there are exceptions to southern hospitality and politeness. My sister Maria, my nephew Nicholas and I went to the Game Stop store one afternoon for Nicholas to exchange a video game.
The store was packed and the lines were long. Maria asked a white man standing in front of her with his son if there was one line or two, and he began ranting: “There’s two lines, but they’re not moving! There’s only two workers here, who apparently don’t want my money. What’s the problem, let’s go, people!” He began loudly clapping his hands, like he was at a football or basketball game. We would soon need a referee blowing a whistle.
As his voice became louder and the rest of the customers grew more uncomfortable (the store employees were just trying to do their job, looking down and not responding), a customer standing further back in line became the prophet of the hour. “Hey man, we are waiting in line, too. Be quiet, man! Go to Wally World if you don’t want to wait!”
The man replied that there were four registers and only two employees, and an employee told him that one was a “dummy register.”
The customer then became downright rude: “That’s just what we need in here, a dummy! This is ridiculous! What’s wrong with you people?”
Then it became more interesting. The other customer told him to SHUT UP, and said, “I’m fixin’ to show my true color in here: NE-GRO!” (Yes, this was the actual conversation!) They began arguing until the irate man finally was waited on, purchased his son’s video, and walked out (to everyone’s relief). So much for southern gentlemen.
My sister turned to me and said out of the side of her mouth, “I wish I had a card to give that man and tell him to call me in four years so I can help him with his problems, when I’ll be a therapist!” (She’s enrolled in the master’s program now in psychology)
We both started laughing, but later we talked and wondered together: What was really going on in that man’s life to set him off like that? Nobody likes waiting in long lines. But he was obviously agitated about something more than a video store line!
One of the highlights of the trip that I have to tell you about was on my flight home. There was an older woman sitting beside me on the plane, and when the flight attendants gave us our snacks, she began a conversation with me in that lovely southern drawl: “Are you going somewhere for the holidays? Do you live in the south?” I explained I used to, and had been visiting my sister for her college graduation.
I found out several things about her as we had our conversation: she was on her way to visit her sister in Kansas City (she and her 2 sisters were going to rent a limo and ride around the Plaza!), but she lived in Georgia now; she had been married to a military man and they’d spent some time in Germany where he’d served in the army; her husband had died 14 years years ago; and she had moved to the south when her grown children moved to the Atlantic coast. She had two children, several grandchildren, and also several great-grandchildren.
“Life is short,” she told me wisely. “We should enjoy our families each and every day. And so many things depends on our attitude. We should have a good attitude, no matter what is going on in our lives, good or bad.”
I love these God-appointments!
I had noticed a device in her hands when I first sat beside her and asked her if it was a Kindle. It was an Ipad 2. I asked if her children had bought it for her and she said no, it had been a gift to herself and she started laughing. She said she liked playing games on it.
Intrigued, I asked what games and jokingly asked if she played Angry Birds. (I’ve never played it, but have heard people talking about it online.)
To my surprise, she said she HAD played Angry Birds sometimes. Now I started laughing. But mostly she likes playing Solitaire and other games on it. She said that her great-grandson likes playing Angry Birds on it, too.
But what she really wants, she confided in me, was a Kindle Fire. She then began telling me the features and benefits of it – you can download ebooks on it, watch movies and T.V. shows, listen to music, play games, have the internet on it, etc.
When this great-grandmother began sharing that you could get great apps on it, I thought I would scream laughing. Technology has taken the world by storm – even for your great-grandma!
It was good to go for a visit. Tune in tomorrow for more about my trip to the south. I want to share with you about my parents’ nearly 100-year-old home which I grew up in, and about the Crescent, my dream home. (Think of Ashley’s home in Gone With The Wind.)
I’m “fixin'” to go relax now. 🙂
Oh, I did bring home a little souvenir- I picked cotton from a cotton field to show Leah. It’s as soft as the ones in a package of cotton balls. (This amused Maria.)