SOT IN OUR WAYS
“Grace changes us and change is painful.”
Grace aside, for Southerners, change is not only painful it is damn near impossible. Southerners don’t like being told what to do, how to do it…or being told no you can’t do it. Statements like “I’ve done it this way for (fill in the blank) years” are the norm along with colorful expletives accompanying any attempts at change. We are known to dig in like mud turtles, even when faced with the fact that what we are being asked to change to is a hundred times better than what we have. Well, “Bless your heart!” With a new washing machine, my grandmother still did part of her washing in a washtub with a scrub board. Honestly, sometimes I’d like to have a phone with a rotor instead of the one that provides me with a hundred different functions including my wife being able to find me by pushing one button…and don’t get me started on my wife and her Missouri mule-like ideas about change. “And just what was so wrong about Windows98?” Southerners look at change with a jaundiced eye. Lord help us if the “Gubment” tries to get involved!
Saying the South is conservative used to be like saying that the Grand Canyon is a deep hole. Now it has gotten less so. I fear that any liberal shift is due to Carpetbaggers transplanting themselves into our homeland and “rooting” out a place for themselves the same way that a wild hog “roots” out an acorn. These days Southerners tend to vote Republican and support the party of the “status quo.” If you ask someone why they voted Republican you are likely to get an answer like, “Well, my family has voted Republican since 1964.” But, why do YOU vote Republican? “You dummy, didn’t you hear me? I told you my family has voted Republican since 1964!” Southerners do hate to repeat the obvious. This should explain how unusual it was for Strom Thurmond to successfully make the change from Democrat to Republican in 1964 due to a protest “that he said” was against “big gubment” and state’s rights. It worked and he was responsible for the flip-flop in the political spectrum that we follow today.
I consider myself a moderate simply because I will expect some change in my life. You know, change in underwear type things. No, I try not to be held hostage to any party politics but it is hard. By saying that I am a moderate places me so far left of my friends that many of them think that I might as well be standing next to Karl Marx. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any southern liberals. It just means they have a tendency to be African-American or, if white, they tend to hide their liberalness and admit to it privately only to a voting machine. Please be aware that I am speaking of Southerners born and bred, not damn Yankees. If a Southern liberal’s friends or family were to find out that they voted for a Democrat, this revelation would likely be accompanied by looks that you would expect your Baptist minister to give you if he caught you coming out of a liquor store or “Hooters.” Never mind asking why he was there because we are also big on “Do as I say do not as I do.”
Before I go on with my tirade I should point out that our “set in our way-ness,” while a Southern white attribute, is not a trait limited to one race. My friend Butch, who is African-American, is as conservative as they come and it has rubbed off on other members of his family. Of my generation, his loooonnnng pontifications would make a Kentucky colonel or GOP politician proud! It surprises me how much our world view is comparable despite our differences in race. I attribute this to our rural upbringing that included chopping cotton and corn and working in textiles along with parents and grandparents who would “switch deem legs.” Despite this similar history, I imagine he has voted Democrat since 1964. Why? “You dummy, didn’t you hear me? I told you my family has voted Democrat since 1964!”
I don’t understand why people in other parts of the world consider us to be uneducated and backward just because we are conservative and as inflexible to change as a piece of rebar. I just thought that “tongue in cheek.” Despite improvements, our school systems still rank lower while obesity, poverty, and numbers of unwed mothers still rank higher than the rest of the nation. The world view is of a fat, tobacco chewing redneck who is a high school dropout sporting “shit-caked” work boots and wearing a “South will rise again!” belt buckle. Usually, this redneck could stand a bit of dental work on his four teeth and is much more concerned about the Second Amendment than any other aspect of “gubment.” His mate is barefooted and wearing a dress she made herself from a feed sack. “Sugah Pie” is pregnant and showing to be quite far along despite having a babe in arms and another, a year older, in a dirty diaper and tugging at the hem of her dress. They will not have to worry about having three in high school at the same time much less college. In front of their single-wide is a rusting pickup truck on blocks whose engine is leaking vital fluids as it sits on a sagging picnic table next to it. Yes, there is a redbone hound asleep under the truck. Is this an accurate portrayal? Hell no…and, unfortunately, hell yeah! The climate is changing but for those of us who are not “sot in our ways,” the change is slow. Oh God, I may be a liberal! Please don’t tell anyone! I will try to do better.
I now live in an area of South Carolina that has become known as the “Dark Corner.” Once I thought it got its name because of our location in regard to the mountains to our west that block the sun as it slips beyond the horizon. To “sorta” quote Yogi Berra, it does “get darker here quicker” but that has nothing to do with the name. Oh no. One local historian suggested that the Dark Corner somehow got its name because Unionist and Confederate deserters invaded the area “hereabouts” to defend themselves against a “gubment” that wanted them to uphold slavery that the deserters had decided was a “rich man’s” war to maintain the “status quo” or in the case of Unionists, a “gubment” that wanted them to rebel against the Union. In and around 1864 they decided to unite and began to fortify the nearby mountains and dare the Confederate Army or local constabulary to show up. By that time the CSA had its hands full elsewhere and there was no confrontation. I find it interesting that since the Flag issue in my state landed like a wet cow patty dropped from a B-52, there now seem to be way more Confederate Battle Flags around. I wonder if any of my tradition-laden friends realize the “checkered heritage” of where they live. “Nope, cause hit don’t matter ‘cept that the sumbitch ‘gubment is tryin’ to take my flag!” Damn Right!
Another example of old traditions dying hard is the production of “tax-free” distilled spirits. Through the depression and into modern times, the Dark Corner was known for its production of moonshine. Not just any moonshine but what has been described as a particularly “fine moonshine.” That is not an oxymoron. The smoothness supposedly came from the water. In the late Seventies it was also known for producing a particularly high grade of “killer weed” known as “Glassy Mountain Gold.” Weed did not replace moonshining because moonshining was the traditional drug of choice and “the good old boys ain’t about to change.” During the depression poor families resorted to illegally distilling spirits to pay their taxes and to make a living that the “gubment” was attempting to take away, according to their “way ah thinking.” Well, this is 2015 and it is still being made. One morning in the late 2000s, I stepped out to begin my morning run and was assaulted by the sharp smell of sour mash cookin’. Several years later I found a broken down still on a stream located on my land. They could have, at least, offered me a taste!
I was somewhat shocked to see the face of the father of one of my former players pasted across my TV on the Six O’ Clock News. He was, and is still, a respected “gentleman peach farmer” of high means. His offense? Making “shine.” His defense was that his daddy had made it and his daddy before him and…. He did not need the money to pay his taxes or even take the kids to Disneyworld, nor did he appear to be very apologetic. It was a time-honored tradition to make the “family recipe” free of “gubment” taxes and he was “sot in his ways.” My guess is that despite the hefty fine that he paid, he is still “sot in his ways.”
Most of the people I know don’t make shine and have more of their own teeth than I do. A few wave the flag and chew tobacco. Many of us own rusty old pickups. One even has the engine out of his. It’s in his double-bay garage, the one he built to work on his cars that includes a hydraulic lift rack and engine hoist. There is nothing but food on his picnic table and with it a German Shepard to guard it all. Despite his lack of a college degree, his home, garage, and farm are a lot nicer than mine. Uneducated? Not where it counts, it would seem, because they don’t award degrees for common sense and work ethic. He doesn’t chew, dip or drink his spirits out of a Mason jar and is more likely to be in flip-flops than in “shit kickers.” I think of Jimmy Buffett meets Mr. Greenjeans. He also doesn’t wave the Battle Flag but he is as Southern as the day is long and, I think, more of what the New, New South is about, despite being set in his conservative ways. Yes, he does still vote Republican. “You dummy, didn’t you hear me? I told you my family has voted Republican since 1964!”