Growing Up Southern
This is a new space for me. I have always enjoyed writing. I really have always looked at it as a way to get the thoughts that rolled around in my head out. Although I think I am more nervous of what others would think so most of the time I have kept a lot of these ideas and stories to myself. See that’s unfortunately one of the prices for “growing up southern”.
My Mama raised me to value the opinion that others have of you. After all when we all go what is left for others to remember us by but our reputation and name? See nowadays many people believe the “who cares its my life” mentality and yeah I get your sentiment and more power to you sister. Unfortunately though that is not what I was taught.
Growing up southern for most of my life unfortunately has always had some kind of negative shadow over it. So I thought in an effort to help the five people that I am sure will actually read this get to know me better, I would introduce you to some of the lessons that growing up southern have taught me.
1. Yes ma’am is not an insult
Do you know how many times in my adulthood I have almost been cursed out for saying yes ma’am to someone? Here is the thing when I was ten years old I forgot often to say “yes ma’am or yes sir” So you know what my Mama did? She made me write 100 times “I will say yes ma’am and no ma’am and yes sir and no sir”. If Mama saw me cheating at all…meaning going down the paper writing each word 100 times then going back up to write the next, she would rip it up and make me start all over. For two weeks I was only able to go to school, eat, sleep, and write this sentence until it was done.
See my Mama and her parents and I am almost positive her parents parents saw this as a sign of respect. It wasn’t a way to make someone feel old or diminish who they are. As a child it was how you show you respect someone. Also lets face it, I had to write it a 100 times so I think I earned the right to say it every once in awhile. If it bothers you, you may just have to get glad in the same pants you got mad in.
2. Everyone knew your business
Remember me saying earlier in this post that my Mama was always concerned about the reputation we had in a town? Yeah this came also in the territory of everybody knowing your business. She had the policy “ you embarrass me I will embarrass you”. Meaning if anyone comes forward with any information on foolishness we had created, it would not be good for us. My older sisters had a hard time learning this lesson.
My oldest sister skipped school one day. When she was finally complete with her shenanigans she rushed home before anyone could discover she had skipped. About 1 hour before she was supposed to be home my Mama called and left a voicemail on our answering machine stating she knew my sister was home. See what my sister had forgotten was that everyone knew everyone’s business. One of my Mama’s friends spotted my sister at the movies that day and called my Mama at work. Bingo, she got caught. My Mama knew every place she went that day. I’m sure using that magic us Mama’s have as well as the tips that came in from her friends all over town. The punishment was she got her car taken away and Mama got to drive her to school.
Not that people knowing your business is always a bad thing. Now that I have a child of my own its nice to know that he has his own neighbor hood watch committee, so that if he ever tried this risky business, his Mama would know. The takeaway? I learned to never do anything I didn't mind anyone else knowing about.
Now we all know the South is famous for our hospitality. Did you know that is why South Carolina’s state emblem has a pineapple? Back in the day when we would throw big parties pineapples tended to be the centerpiece of our dinner tables thus reminding folks of the hospitality we showed.
Today in the south we don’t really do this anymore but we are still showing hospitality. When I was growing up every year near the holidays my Aunt Genell would make what she calls “Friendship Cakes” she made these for everyone she knew. Looking back on it now I can only imagine how many days that took. She also always knitted a blanket and hat for any new babies in her inner circle. Even after she was very ill she still knitted one for my son. My aunt unfortunately is no longer here, but she is still the symbolism of hospitality in my family.
She never would allow her friends to think she didn't care. She was always willing to help her neighbors despite her still working full time for many years. She invited all friends, family, and neighbors to every party she ever threw. She literally would do anything for anyone. Hospitality in the south isn’t just offering some sweet tea or lemonade to someone who stops by. It goes beyond that. It is helping your neighbor when they are in need. It is offering someone shelter in your home if you know they need it. Hospitality means always having your door open. Through the years I have always attempted to mimic my aunt in this regard. To let everyone know my door is always open and the warmth of hospitality will always greet them.
4. Southern Food isn’t sustenance its a tradition
For a long time the south has been revered for its tradition of great food. Many think food is just to provide nutrients and sustenance. In the south its beyond that. We look at food as a tradition. Many of us cook recipes passed down from generation to generation. Everyone has their own spin on how to make a dish. No matter what your Aunt Mable may tell you, it doesn’t mean that only her banana pudding recipe is the right way to make it. Don’t tell her that though. In the south we are a prideful bunch and nothing insults us more than if you question someone’s recipe or way of doing things when it comes to the kitchen. You will need to use the manners your mama raised you with and keep those things to yourself. Trust me, its for your own safety.
As a little girl growing up I can remember many times snapping beans and shucking corn with my grandmother. She also taught me how to can things and make my own preserves. Growing up my Mama taught me my aunts recipe for real mustard potato salad that is always a hit anytime it hits my table. As an adult I stuck to my Southern Living cook book like it was my lifeline for cooking survival. Through the years I have adapted and changed recipes that I have learned for my own wellness that I will someday pass down to my children.
Like I said in the south food goes beyond feeding your body, it is a tradition. Many kitchens are filled with little girls standing on step stools watching their Mama make a casserole or bake a cake. In many homes little boys are learning how to smoke meat on a grill or smoker with their Daddy while he tells them how important it is to have “the ring” in the meat. Cooking in the south is tradition, family, and most importantly love.
I think the most important lesson I gained growing up in the south is simplicity. I grew up where going to McDonald’s once a month was a treat. We weren’t allowed to stay inside on pretty days. We knew when it was time to head home because the street lights came on. Now not to paint this Norman Rockwell picture of what the south is, because I know that isn’t the truth. Nothing in this world is perfect. However, growing up this way where things were just simple it helped me to appreciate having a simple life as I got older.
My Mama always helped me to appreciate that the more you have in your life the more you have to work to maintain them. After all how many U-Haul’s do you see following hearses? Not many. She taught me that as long as I had a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food on my table my life was good. I’m not really sure if this lesson came from not having much as a kid or the fact that she hammered this in our head but either way I have always tried to do that. The one thing I will tell you is that I am a person that values moments above anything else. If it means having less expensive things so I can travel with my family and have memories and moments with them that’s what it means. After all who will be here to take care of all of these things when I am gone?
The south taught me that living a simple uncomplicated life is something to be proud of. To teach my son to work hard for the things you have. Also to remember that when you do get ahead not to get too big in your britches over it. To help others by showing your hospitable side. That could mean helping them patch a hole in their roof or inviting them over for a cold drink. To hold true to southern recipes because they are more than just food. Southern food is a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation to help bring people together. To always do the right thing even when its hard. In these parts bad news will always travel faster than good. If you remember that everyone knows everything and that there will always be eyes on you, you will make sure that your light is always shining bright. I will teach him to always respect others. This will come when they may not like him, they may hate him, but that he will have to still respect them. To always show your manners to others even if it hurts him, because his Mama taught him better.
These are the things growing up southern taught me, and these are the things that make me who I am. These are the things I hope we can come together and keep teaching the generations for years to come.