Etiquette Lost

 

“Yes, ma’am, No, ma’am, Thank you, ma’am, Please!”  The little ditty echos inside of my head like basketballs rebounding off of walls.  We’re tryin’ to help our daughter and son in law teach our grandbabies to consistently say “Yes, ma’am, Yes, sir….”  My bride, Grandmommy Linda, is big on this little saying which is why it is repeating over and over again like a never-ending loop.

In the world we presently live in, the learning process is somewhat tougher than it used to be.

Etiquette is not a Southern exclusive but there was a time when Southerners of any class, race, or religious affiliation displayed good manners.  It was a priority.  Our good manners were a badge of pride.  Remember “Southern Hospitality?”  We seem to be less hospitable these days, displaying poor manners.

I don’t mean knowing which spoon or fork to use, outside in folks, but the polite, “good” manners which seem to be eroding as I write this.  Some folks would ask, “Who died and made you Lord of the Manners?”  It’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to.

When I coached, I periodically admonished my charges to “Remember where you come from (your parents), who you are representing (your parents, your school, me), and what you stand for. (Truth, Justice, and the American Way?)”  In other words, “Don’t disappoint your mommas and daddies.”  Disappointing momma was a big deal.  Good behavior was an expectation and most of the time it was realized.  That included baseball caps taken off inside the building and worn with the bill pointing forward.  I am old school.

It seems we have misplaced our manners and please don’t think I’m denigrating today’s generation; I’m not.  They are not the guilty ones.  Erosion takes place over time and today’s generation reflects what they are being taught and those who taught them…or didn’t.  Some of us are failing our charges, failing the next generation, and this has been going on for multiple generations.

Please don’t point a finger, blow out your chest, and pontificate, “Not me!”  We can all do better and there is no one cause.  That being said….

I happened upon an article in Southern Living, “20 Unspoken Rules of Etiquette That Every Southerner Follows.”  Should have said, “used to follow” but to their defense, it was an old article.

Using today’s world view some of these seemed Draconian.  If you read the article one might think most Southern manners revolve around eating and they do.  I learned most of mine while eating fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and washing it down with sweet tea so sugary it set my teeth on edge.

I’ll come back to the article in a bit, but I just had a thought.  The undermining of Southern manners may have coincided with the rise of fast-food eateries specializing in fried chicken.  KFC, Chick-fil-a, Popeyes, Spinx…wait…Spinx?

Spinx is a glorified gas station founded in South Carolina offering gas, oil and about anything else you might need to outfit a wilderness trek through the Australian Outback.  Offerings also include slow service but pretty good Southern fried chicken.  You know the kind, crisp and greasy at the same time.

The problem is not Spinx but what I call “stand up food”.  The food rests on waxed paper and you stand around eating out of cute little pasteboard “boats” in red and white checkerboard.  Greasy fingers wiped on dirty jeans; baseball caps still perched backward on heads kind of food.  There’s the problem.  There isn’t a table to learn your manners around and the people you are eating with have no better manners than you do.

Once upon a time, Grandmamma went out and chopped the chicken’s head off, gutted it, dipped it in boiling water and plucked it clean.  All before she got around to cutting it up, dipping each individual piece in the batter of her choice and frying it to a golden brown.  You damn well were going to sit at a table, “minding your manners”, while you ate it.

If you didn’t mind your manners, you might find yourself going to bed without your supper instead of waiting for the adults to be served so you could get your chicken wing.  I was twenty-five before I evah got a pully bone.  Manners have eroded with the death of the sit-down, family meal.

Matching the world we live in, we have become grab and go consumers.  I am just as guilty of grabbing a piece of pepperoni pizza after gassing up my truck…having never left the gas station.

Let’s look at the article, shall we?  I won’t hit all the points because I am assuming you can read as well if not better than I can write.  These are just some “manners” that were hammered into my head…or beaten into my backside.

“Never eat with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full”  Son, you are sprayin’ food everywhere!  At least cover your mouth.  Alternative reminder, “Children should be seen and nevah, evah heard.”

“Get your elbows off the table!  If you are that tired you can go on to bed.”  As I stood in line at the local Chick-fil-a, I saw a bunch of folks who needed a nap.

“Never wear a hat to the table…or inside a building.”  This one…!  For some reason this is the pinnacle of rudeness for no other reason than my father, who worked in a greasy, lint filled cotton mill weave room, always removed his hat when he entered the cafeteria.  It was the polite thing to do and if I didn’t remove mine it might be nailed to my head ala Vlad the Impaler.

Addendum, “Always take your hat off in the presence of a lady…and all women are ladies until proven otherwise.”  If the sun was particularly bright and hot, one might get away with a simple tug on the bill or brim and a nod.  Sunstroke and sunburn trumps manners.

“Never sing or whistle at the table or talk about unpleasantries.”  This one was tough if asked, “Did you behave at school today?”  Sometimes the answer might prove to be unpleasant in regard to the response.  I didn’t understand the singin’ or whistlin’ but never did I….

Addendum for the next eight months, “Nevah, evah talk politics at the supper table.”  Definite unpleasantries.

It seems like there are many Southern manners related to gender, doors, and entries…”Ladies and girls first”, “Always open the door for a woman, a girl or your elders”, “Adult ladies first in the food line”, “Always stand when a woman enters the room (and when she sits, stands or leaves the room} and pull out the chair and help her seat herself.”  Not that she needs help, it is just the gentlemanly thing to do.  I think assisted seatings dates from the days of corsets and layer upon layer of petticoats and crinolines.

I ran afoul of the “opening the door” thing back in the late Sixties when I opened the library door for a cute, little coed.  There was an ulterior motive.  This was during the “burn your bra” period of history.  She burned me a new one and it wasn’t a bra.  Turns out she needed no help from a man.  I knew such but old habits are hard to break.  I still open the door for my wife, and she seems to appreciate it.

“Never go to a gathering empty-handed.”  The South is the casserole and banana puddin’ capital of the world for this very reason.  It doesn’t matter if it is a house warmin’ or a funeral, bring something other than yourself.

Politeness, civility, and graciousness seem to be the casualties of today’s war on political correctness.  Bullying, apathy, and indifference have replaced our good manners.  I don’t know we will ever get them back.  In lieu of manners, just be kind.

Please feel free to add any you are enamored with, in the comments section.  I’d love to hear from you.  Y’all hurry back now.

***

The article may be accessed at https://www.southernliving.com/culture/unspoken-etiquette-rules

Don Miller’s author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Viennas, Nabs, and Cherry-Lemon Sundrops

 

Or as is said ’round heah, Vienners…a somewhat heavy accent mark on the “ners”.  “Vi-en-NERS”.  Some of us end words with “er” that don’t require it, like yeller instead of yellow.

If you are North American and happen to find yourself in Germany with an intense hankering for a Vienna sausage…and, if you can actually get a vendor to understand your Southern accent, you’re probably not going to get what you are expecting; a “baker’s” half dozen of two-inch or so sausages in a jelly-like substance, all contained in a small can with a pull tab.  I remember when you had to us a “key“ to open the top of the can by inserting it into a metal band you twisted off.  Lawd have mercy if the little band twisted or broke, you might starve to death.

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What you’re going to get in Germany is a long, slender sausage that we Nordamerikanisch would call a skinny hot dog wiener.  They are called Wiener Würstchen in the Germanic states.

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I’m sure, by now many who haven’t clicked to a more interesting post are wondering, “What the hell is he babblin’ about.“  A better question might be “Why is he talkin’ about whatever the hell he is babblin’ bout?“  I’m getting there.

Recently, I handed a new friend twenty dollars to tide him over until his “gubmint” check arrived.  We had become friends that very day but that’s another story.  After thanking me he pointed out, “This’ll buy a lot of  Vienners at the Dollar Store.”

I commented, “And some soda crackers, too.”

As I drove home, I thought, “or buy a lot of Spam…or Potted Meat…or Deviled Ham…which might just be disguised potted meat.”  Nope, I just researched potted meat and wish I hadn’t.  Potted meat is not Deviled Ham.

While I haven’t eaten any of the above in decades, they do hold a warm spot in my heart and as my new friend pointed out, “They’ll hep keep the wolves away.”  I’m also sure they contributed to my 2006 heart attack because as a child I ate a great deal of the highly salted and fatted proteins, what I call “mystery meat”  as in it is a mystery as to what meat parts were used to make it.  I suggest you not read the ingredients if you actually like them.  Ignorance is bliss.

During the summer of my twelfth (12) year, I went to work in the fields alongside my cousins and an uncle.  It’s not like I hadn’t been working in the fields before, this work paid money…mullah…greenbacks…two dollars a day, ten dollars for five early thirty to dark thirty days per week.  Cash money every Friday evening.  Ten brand new Silver Certificates.  There was a caveat.  Two bucks a day plus midday meal.

Two bucks a day plus midday meal to load and haul hay, hoe and pull corn, clean out animal stalls and load their leavings into a manure spreader to…what else…spread manure.  Saturdays, I worked alongside another set of cousins on another uncle’s chicken farm.  The two farms were nothing alike except shoveling poop stinks no matter what animal it comes from and two dollars a day ain’t enough even with the midday meal.   Especially when the midday meal usually consisted of Vienna Sausage or Deviled Ham, soda crackers and a MoonPie or pack of nabs…all washed down from a jug of warm water.  Yummy.

Nabs?  For the uninitiated, nabs is Southern lingo for the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) which first produced small sandwich crackers usually filled with cheese or peanut butter.  Here in the South, we ate Lance’s, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, or Tom’s from Columbus, Georgia, but we still called them nabs.

Tom’s was eventually absorbed by Lance’s but still retains its name and is better known for its peanuts, while Lance is better known for its nabs.  Walk into any Southern mercantile and ask for a pack of nabs and a dope, they know exactly what you want.  You do have to provide which one of the gazillion choices you desire.1

Image result for nabs crackers"

That leads me down another rabbit trail.  Tom’s peanuts and Pepsi Cola.  In the afternoons my uncle would head out to the closest mercantile and bring back a Pepsi Cola, still called a “dope” in my neck of the woods, and a pack of Tom’s peanuts.   Any soft drink was called dope because the original Coca-Cola formula contained cocaine.  Back in the day, Southern soda shops were referred to as “hop joints” and Coke delivery trucks as “dope wagons.”2

For some reason, Tom’s peanuts go perfectly with Pepsi Cola.  I should have said goes perfectly IN a Pepsi Cola.  We’d pour our little bag of peanuts into the Pepsi Cola bottle and consume with gusto.  You could put them in any soft drink, but my choice was Pepsi.  A needed jolt of sugar for energy to get you to dark thirty and the salt from the peanuts helped to replenish what your body had lost as you tried not to die from heat castration 3 in a Southern hayfield.  I don’t know if it contained cocaine but it did seem to refresh you.

Image result for peanuts in pepsi bottle"

Another Southern staple was the MoonPie.  MoonPie?  I’ve never been enamored by the MoonPie, two huge graham cracker cookies with a marshmallow filling dipped in chocolate…originally.  You can get a MoonPie in many flavors now…banana, double yuk.  Not being enamored doesn’t mean I haven’t consumed a gracious plenty of them.  You eat what you have and what you can afford.

The MoonPie is truly a Southern creation, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1907 at a local bakery.  As the story goes, visiting coal miners asked the owner to create a “man-sized” cookie that could serve as a “workingman’s lunch”.  When asked how big, the miner replied, “As big as the moon.”  We know how it got its name but not how MoonPie became associated with RC Cola, but it seems one cannot be consumed without the other.

Image result for moonpie and rc cola"

How RC or Royal Crown Cola, another Southern creation born in Columbus, Georgia became associated with MoonPie is a depression-era story that has been lost in the mists of time.  For a nickel, each, Southern laborers, textile workers or Kentucky coal miners could afford a filling lunch for a dime.  “An RC and a MoonPie” became a part of Southern culture with no help from advertising moguls.4

Flirting with Southern blasphemy, I said earlier I was never enamored with the MoonPie.  Nothing sacrilegious, I don’t like marshmallows and if I wasn’t drinking Pepsi, I might have a Cheerwine rather than an RC.  Cheerwine…I haven’t had one in years.  Honestly, unless Jack Daniels is in the glass I haven’t had any soft drink in years.

Cheerwine is a cherry-flavored cola produced in Salisbury, North Carolina since 1917.  Sweetened with cane syrup and containing a higher percentage of carbonation, a culture of its own sprang up.  Cheerwine cream-filled Krispy Creme donuts, Cheerwine flavored ice cream, Cheerwine pickles, the base for a barbeque sauce, and my favorite, a cherry, lemon, Sun Drop cola made with Cheerwine. 5

Sun Drop? You don’t know about Sun Drop? A citrus-flavored soda made in Missouri which is almost Southern.

Image result for cheerwine old fashioned"

Memories of sitting in the shade of huge water oaks next to the river, the humidity, and heat finding its way into the shade.  Slappin’ to keep the mosquitos from carryin’ you off before you finished your lunch.  At least the Vienna Sausages were warm and the gelatinous gunk has turned into an oily liquid that could be shaken off.  Ooh, I just remembered what the hands holding the sausage looked like.  Well, a bit of dirt or manure never hurt anyone…”ain’t hurt nobody.”

A twelve-year-old doing his first grown-up job, laughing with his cousins, listening to his uncle sing old-timey hymns just before pinning back the twelve-year old’s ears with a language he had never heard before because of something stupid he had done.  Learning lessons needing to be learned.

Learning to drive a tractor and then the big ole flatbed.  Learning you never pick up a bale of hay on the river bottoms without flipping it first.  “How did that moccasin get under there?”

Staring at long rows of corn, hoe in hand.  That sinking feeling that you’re going to be there all day, a long day.

Watching the early morning mist from the river find its way into the bottomland and the sun creep above the water oaks.

The late afternoon thunderheads forming beyond those same water oaks, praying the would wash out the rest of the day…or at least cool it down.

Lessons and memories at the finest…even if the food wasn’t.

Acknowledgment:  I realize Vienna Sausage is not a Southern creation but like all cultures “We ain’t above stealin’ an idea.”

Footnotes:

1 “A Nab is a Nab is a Nab”  Southern Food Ways https://www.southernfoodways.org/a-nab-is-a-nab-is-a-nab/

2 “Is it true Coca-Cola once contained cocaine?”  The Straight Dope https://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/384/is-it-true-coca-cola-once-contained-cocaine/

Heat Castration:  A non-recognized medical affliction caused by heat and humidity resulting in the “Sweating of one’s testicles off.”

4 “A Brief History of Tennessee Moon Pies” The Culture Trip https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/tennessee/articles/a-brief-history-of-tennessee-moon-pies/

5 “Ten things you didn’t know about Cheerwine” Wide Open Country https://www.wideopencountry.com/10-things-didnt-know-cheerwine/

The Illustrating images were all stolen from Pinterest as was the featured image.

Don Miller’s books, fiction, and non-fiction may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Cornfields…in My Mind

 

It’s early February, it’s been cold here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge…not Chicago or Moscow cold…but for us thin-blooded Southerners it’s been damn cold.  It’s warmer today but that’s because it is raining to beat the band or to beat my metal roof.  Despite the elements, thanks to my son-in-law’s mother, I’m thinking about cornfields.  A bit early in the season to be thinking about cornfields but my thoughts tell me Kimberly’s memories of cornfields are a little different from mine…maybe.

Kimberly, Justin’s mother, posted a cornfield meme extolling the joys of running and playing in the cornfields of her youth and the memories they elicit.  I’m happy for Kimberly and her memories…mine are different and not the least bit warm and fuzzy.

I tend to lump cornfields and hayfields together…except I don’t eat hay.  Corn I love…in any form including liquid and I’m not speaking of corn syrup.  Sorry, the train went off the rails for a moment.

I remember corn and hayfields as places to stay away from if possible.  It was impossible for me to stay away from them, it was part of the job…or just part of my childhood.  There was always a lot of work associated with them both and to this day I break out in hives when I see square bales drying in a hayfield.

I associate corn and hayfields with loneliness, extreme heat, humidity, stinging bugs and venomous snakes.  You’ve never been hot and sweaty like cornfield or hayfield hot.  Drowning in your own sweat hot.  You’ve never been scared like flipping a hay bale over and finding a moccasin scared, the wrong end of the snake bound up in the bale.  You’ve never been scared like plowing a cornfield near the bottoms and having a black snake fall out of a tree and land on your shoulder scared.  You’ve never been stung like stepping into a yellow jacket’s nest stung…wherever, it really doesn’t have to be in a cornfield or hayfield.

As scary or painful as those examples were, I associate corn and hayfields most with loneliness.  You’ve never been lonely until being set out on the river bottoms, watching the old Chevy flatbed disappear.  Hoe in hand, a paper bag lunch of Vienna sausages and soda crackers, a jar of water wrapped in newspaper to keep it cool, knowing you are going to be there ALL DAY LONG, ALONE.  Alone with only your thoughts, your fears, the heat and humidity, the stinging bugs and the reptiles.  Endless rows of corn, thousands of miles long.  All day until you saw that old Chevy flatbed coming back to get you.  Hoping, as the thunderheads built on the other side of the river, that that old truck would get there before the thunderstorms and the lightning they would bring.

I do have good memories too, not about playing in the cornfields or hayfields, but the aftermath.  Laughing with my Uncle James, Mike and Rusty…after the hayin’ day was done.  Playing football in the fields and scratching yourself to death if you fell in the stubble.  Watching the sweat fall from my grandmother’s brow as she cut sweet corn to cream or turn into soup mix.  Eating that first roastin’ ear of the season.  Maybe tastin’ just a touch of corn likker.

Thanks, Kimberly…thanks for triggering a bright and warm memory on a drab, gray day.

For more of Don Miller’s writings, you may find him at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

GREEN RIVER…UM, UM, GOOD…

Good food, good times and good friends you didn’t know you knew.

I sat with my beloved at a raised bar done in corrugated metal and salvaged wood.  We sat on tall, padded, metal bar stools and sipped Narragansett.  It had been a while since we had partaken of the ambrosia of the gods… pulled pork BBQ, slaw and fried okra.  We were sipping beer and watching the big screen as we waited.  Narragansett is a Yankee beer.  Despite its Northern birthplace, I like it as much as the beers from more Southern climes.  I like good beer where ever it is brewed…I know, sometimes I wouldn’t know a good beer if it bit me on the ass, but “Gansett” goes well with the BBQ…and it’s cheap enough to have two…or three.

I’m reminded a bit of Cheers, “where everyone knows your name.”  Well, here at Green River, they may have forgotten our names, but they do recognize us…and it’s been a while.  Melanie and Tammie noticed us immediately and despite being covered up with other diners took time to check in and reconnect.  There was a third little girl whose name I’ve forgotten.  I feel terrible.  That’s Cheers-like, isn’t it?  She checked in too.

In addition to my love affair with great BBQ, I have had a love affair with hole-in-the-wall establishments dating to when I first ventured into a bar named The Cellar in the very late Sixties.  Dim, smoky places…

” Meeting… in smoky places,

Hiding… in shadowy corners,

Dancing… where no one knows our faces,

sharing love stolen in the night,

in smoky places.”

 

Thank you, Corsairs, all though I’m not talking about THAT kind of smoky place.  My first real date with the love of my life was in a dim, bluesy, smoke-filled, hole in the wall and no we weren’t hiding from anyone at The Casablanca.  Just listening to the Blues sung by Ronnie Godfrey, a friend of my love who would eventually sing at our wedding.  Later, at different times, we would celebrate a significant anniversary, a New Year’s celebration and Mardi Gras at the Cypress Cellar, a hole-in-the-wall that became less and less hole-in-the-wall like until it finally changed into a bright Mexican restaurant with a different name.  I do miss the Cajun cuisine…and its “hole-in-the-wallness” although the Mexican restaurant is very good…just too bright to be a hole-in-the-wall.

We first wandered into Green River BBQ thirty years ago.  It was an accident, like a lot of the good discoveries in our lives…one might say discovering each other was an accident that worked out well too.   Late in the day on a cool and foggy, fall evening, it was our first trip to the small town of Saluda in North Carolina.  Deciding we wanted to eat, there were three restaurants to choose from.  We picked the correct one…for us.  We watched a football game on a not so big screen TV and met Melanie, the owner, and her husband.  The husband hasn’t been in the picture for a while and I admit that I really haven’t missed him.  I doubt Melanie has either.  We sat in the small, rustic dining area reading the quaint and rusting metal signs of pigs adorning walls finished from old salvaged boards.  A screened in porch led us to the dining area and the sound of the slamming screen door reminded me a bit of home.

Waiters and waitresses have changed over the years as has Green River.  Melanie has expanded the dining room, now done in corrugated metal along with the unfinished boards.  True big screen TVs are available to watch sporting events if you so desire.  Joining the rusting signs, garden rake heads are attached to the walls and utilized to hold wine glasses.  Yep, a wine list has joined its beer list.  The screened porch is now enclosed to increase year-round seating, but the screen door still has that pleasant bang and a bit of the parking lot has been confiscated for outdoor seating.  Most importantly, while the people and objects have changed, the attitude hasn’t.  It still feels like a welcoming hole-in-the-wall…and a bit like home.

This past Sunday, we met new friends.  Steve from Wilmington, spending a few weeks helping a friend clean up his home’s lot and searching for information on how to get rid of groundhogs without shooting them.  Deshi, from the small town of “Somewhere,” India, teaches at the local community college and is quite the football fan.  We nodded at an old friend, John, the chubby, red-faced, dark headed guy that always comes in alone and sits quietly working the Sunday crossword.  There were other regulars I recognized, they greeted us even if they didn’t know our names.  My kind of place.

One might surmise food is not the primary reason I go to Green River.  That would be untrue.  I opened with good friends, good times and good food.  My only complaint about the food is…I don’t have any complaints about their food.  They have great entrees, some that don’t even involve BBQ, but I do remind you, you probably shouldn’t order fish in a restaurant advertising pulled pork, slow cooked ribs, and barbeque chicken.  When asked to name your side dish, do try the fried okra with a little Ranch dressing on the side.

Yes, good friends, good times and good food.  There are other restaurants in Saluda and they too are good, friendly and have their own “hole-in-the-wall” ambiance…they just don’t serve BBQ.

For more of Don Miller’s “a bubble off plumb” outlook on life please visit his author’s page at http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501

Southern Bias

“The past is never dead, in fact, it’s not even past.” One of the South’s greatest Nobel Prize laureates. William Faulkner

A blog follower of mine paid me a superb compliment…I think…I hope. Her comment was, “I love reading your musings. You confound my biases about Southern attitudes.” No, she ain’t from around here but sometimes I wonder if I should be. I guess I need to ask the clarifying question, “What biases?” I haven’t heard back yet and since our power went off due to a thunderstorm, I guess I shall attempt to saunter on alone.

I don’t believe she meant, “As one Forbes pundit overstated several years ago, ‘the common media view of the South is as a regressive region, full of overweight, prejudiced, exploited, and undereducated numbskulls.’” I wrote a previous post about our own contributions to those biases , “Sot in Our Ways,” but will not re-till this field since I don’t believe it fits her bias. The reason I believe this? She writes from her Michigan farm about chickens, goats and puppy dogs. She even has a story about possums. Sorta sounds like a female, Yankee version of me…except she’s probably a better writer than I am…no, not probably.

I realize the South is full of paradoxes and I know our paradoxes create biases. Sweetening our tea before adding lemon to make it a bit sour. Revering the past while seemingly revering little of the present. My great Grand Daddy preaching on the evils of alcohol while being drunker than “old Cooter Brown.” My guess was he was railing about the evils of “sto’ bought” rather than homemade. Going to family reunions to find our mates…that was a joke although I did date a very distant cousin once upon a time. I lived in a sparsely populated area and female company was at a premium.

I guess another perceived reason for bias is our murder of the “King’s English.” Droppin’ our gees, talkin’ slower than molasses running in the wintertime and usin’ the word y’all all of the time. I was once told the difference between Southern girls and Northern girls was that if you asked for a kiss, Northern girls might answer “You can!”, Southern gals might answer “Y’all can!” Remember, y’all can mean one…maybe. Well, y’all can is singular, y’all ALL can would be plural…kinda like “Youse guys.”

I know many Northerners who have biases about our food. No one I know actually eats Moon Pies while drinking a “dope” and I have never in my life eaten pickled pig’s feet…and won’t ever unless starving. Some folks above the Mason Dixon Line wouldn’t be caught dead sucking a crawfish head after eating a crawfish tail or eating grits even though polenta is nothing more than grits with a Latin name and probably a heftier price tag. Grits should be viewed as a “blank canvas.” Plain until you start adding color…say…mixed with cream cheese and covered with grilled or blackened shrimp “runnin’” in a brown roux featuring Tasso ham or andouille sausage and chives. Now that’s colorful. I will not discuss Cream of Wheat.

I have my own bias or at least an issue with the way certain folks use the verb barbeque interchangeably with the verb grill. Barbequin’ ain’t grillin’. Grillin’ is charring burgers, hot dogs, chicken or fish. Doing so is fine, I love a good chargrilled burger or chicken done right…with a beer can up its butt. BBQ, however, requires low, low temperatures, hard wood coals and large animal parts although we will sneak a chicken or five in for good measure. Most importantly it requires time…hours of time…sometimes a night of time…with lies and brown liquor to help you pass the time or pass out. Rome was not built in a day and good BBQ requires at least that long.

There is a true earned bias. Many Southerners believe if Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, their favorite college football coach sits to the left…regardless of how much he cusses. For sure, Southern college football is a religious experience of sorts. Even our most hated rivals brag about how they always fill their “House of Worship” no matter how many games they lose. Yes, that was a “hell fire and brimstone” missile aimed right at their little garnet and black hearts.

Okay, maybe I am the exception proving the bias or just the rule and no William Faulkner’s quote had little to do with this essay…except it might exemplify one of our greatest paradoxes and I just like it.

“Musings of a Mad Southerner” Stories from my Southern heart. New nonfiction from Don Miller at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss

If you are interested in reading posts from my Yankee, female doppelganger, use the following link to touch base with Nancy and her Bluestem Farm. https://bluestempond.wordpress.com/

LIVER MUSH

I absolutely despise calves’ liver. My grandmother would cook it, sometimes my mother would, even my beloved Linda Gail has attempted it. Smothered in onions and gravy, I would carefully scrape the onions and gravy off the liver, push the liver as far away as the plate would allow and then spoon the gravy and onions onto big ole cathead biscuits. I am sure this practice, as well as applying sausage gravy to big ole cathead biscuits, was a primary reason for my heart attack due to clogged arteries in the mid-2000s.

It’s not the taste of calves’ liver, it’s the consistency. Stringy and tough. I once was served liver nips and feel I must pause to point out, liver does not have nipples. It’s liver dumplins’ made with calves’ liver cooked before being ground with savory spices. It is a South Carolina “Dutch Fork” recipe and yes, I know dumplins’ should be spelled dumplings but it’s just the way we say it…dumplin’ not dumplinnnnnggggg! The dish was quite good, delish in fact, regardless of how you say it.

My dislike for calves’ liver might have been the cooks. My grandmother and mother were not known for their culinary abilities and my beloved was a great coach. It would be during my college days before I knew you could order steak any way other than crisp and brittle. My mother and grandmother did well with fried chicken, biscuits and certain “exotic” dishes like “cooter” soup or catfish stew, “victory” burgers and chicken pot pie. Steak and liver just weren’t their best efforts. My grandmother’s creamed corn was to die for, due in part I think, to the sweat of her brow dripping into it, or the fried fatback it was cooked in. Mom’s butter scotch pie…sorry, I’m having a moment… maybe they were better cooks than I give them credit for. I should also say when my beloved wishes to be, she is a great cook. The last time she wished to be………?

As much as I hate calves’ liver, I like chicken livers…love chicken livers. Fried or marinated and grilled. They just aren’t very good for a heart attack survivor who is trying to remain a survivor. I once tried to make a “poor man’s” chicken liver pate’ stuffed mushroom. I guess there is a reason duck pate’ is expensive and there is probably more to liver pate’ than just ground up liver. My beloved tried one and wasn’t impressed. The puppy dogs ate the mushrooms and left the liver. Not a glowing recommendation.

Which brings me, on a roundabout path, to the point of this story…Liver mush. I am guessing many people are not familiar with liver mush. It is a Southern “thang” made from ground pork liver and hog head parts mixed with cornmeal and spices like sage and pepper. I know the head parts have a few of you scratching your head part, but when a hog is processed, very little is wasted. I should have mentioned souse meat, pickled pig’s feet or pig’s knuckles first. It makes head parts sound a mite bit more palatable. My grandmother would mix the concoction together and form the liver mush into blocks, wrap it in wax paper and refrigerate. I’m sure some of you folks from above the Mason-Dixon line are thinking liver pudding and you would be close. Liver mush is a bit courser. My grandmother would slice it and fry it with onions…I don’t guess “milk and honey” from Heaven could have been any better.

Unfortunately, liver mush is no better for me than fried chicken liver but it wasn’t long ago I had a powerful hankering, which is Southern for an almost uncontrollable desire and in my case, it was not almost. I wanted fried liver mush and onions something awful. I remembered when we ran out of the homemade product we bought Jenkins’s Liver Mush at Pettus’s Store just down the road from the house. That is exactly what I decided to do…except I couldn’t find Jenkin’s in my part of the world and Pettus’s Store no longer exists. I had to settle for Neese’s Liver Pudding, damn Yankee infiltration. It was great, almost as good as I remembered. Then I made the mistake of reading the list of ingredients. You think head parts were bad? Liver and corn meal were listed third and fourth, the first ingredient was the farthest point on the front of a hog’s head. I’m not even going to tell you what the second ingredient was but I know we didn’t put that particular organ in our liver mush.

Will I eat it again? Despite the list of ingredients more than likely. I am pragmatic enough to realize if it tastes good it really doesn’t matter what the ingredients are. I’m also a realist and must admit, fried liver mush is not very good for me so I won’t eat it often. The reason I will eat it occasionally is because it reminds me of people now gone and sometimes warm feelings are worth the risk.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

SHANTIES

This past spring, on a trip to the coast, my wife and I decided to forgo the speed and ease of interstate travel for the interest factor of backroad pig trails. Despite the black water rivers and swamps cutting the land, vast fields and pastures seemed to overtake the two-lane road. Where there were homes, yards were at a minimum…except where pecan tree lined drives led to two story homes featuring circular drives, wrap around porches and columns. Mostly of the homes peaking my interest were small, broken down and square, four room homes dating from share cropping days or possibly earlier. The shanties sat on small square parcels of land and would be surrounded by towering corn stalks, tobacco or cotton by late summer. Known for rice and indigo during our colonial period and cotton during antebellum times, I guess land was too precious to allow for large plots of land to be used for recreational purposes…especially when there was little time for recreation. “Early thirty to dark thirty” days would soon be upon the farm workers of this coastal city and the surrounding area just as it had been decades ago…or may be centuries.

As I drove through the land I imagined poor whites and poorer blacks inhabiting the old share cropper’s shanties, battling each other for a life as “casual” farm laborers, having given up on the pursuit of jobs in the city. An elderly black woman stepped out of one of the tar paper houses, its broken-down front porch resembling the sway back of an overused plow horse. She was dressed as her ancestors dressed, a brightly colored scarf wrapped around her head and a long-sleeved print dress above what appeared to be bare feet. As I breezed past I almost asked out loud, “I wonder what tales she could tell?” While the journey was interesting, I became somber and introspective.

Tar paper and graying, slab wood shacks occasionally dotted the landscape around my childhood home. There was an abandoned and overgrown shack next to my house used as a clubhouse of sorts by my best friends and me. The younger me never thought about what it or these other broken-down homes represented. Our clubhouse was just a place to discuss girls, sneak smokes and talk about whatever preteens talk about…until our parents found out. I didn’t understand share cropping, tenant farming or farming on the lien back then. People bound to the land living from harvest season to harvest season, praying to pay off their crop lien or having a large enough share to put a bit of money away for the future. Hoping to buy a small piece of heaven of their own.

A friend of color told me of an ancestor of his born into slavery. Working as a tenant farmer on the same expanse of land he had toiled on before his own day of jubilee. Scrimping and saving until he could buy his own parcel of land. Clearing the land with his four children and wife, milling his own lumber and building his own four room palace. I’m positive he felt it was a palace. Filling it with hope and joy, twelve kids worth, growing his own work force and I hope expanding his little piece of heaven. There must be a tribute of some sort, especially when one considers the road blocks thrown in front of former slaves. Perseverance, persistence and a lot of patience I would suggest paid off in the long run.

As I’ve written before, my grandparents began their married life as farmers on the lien but they had several safety nets; family, the textile mills and they were white. Their dream included sixty acres and putting a child through college. Maybe there is hope instead of sorrow and the American Dream still exists. Hard work may in fact pay off.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

AN OLD FARMHOUSE PORCH

I was looking through old photographs from my youth when I realized I don’t have any photographs of my grandparent’s old home place. It also registered, I really don’t need the photographs. Their home, and memories of the man and woman who resided there, are forever etched in my mind.

I can see the house sitting on top of a hill, flanked by an old pecan tree meant for climbing and a tall pine tree meant for little except surviving nature’s many lightning strikes. The building itself was not special or unusual, just a white clapboard structure with ugly hip roofs…and lightning rods on every corner with a matching weather vane in the center. Like dozens of other farm houses found in the area and thousands in the South, it was just a square farmhouse with a kitchen and dining room attached away from the main living area as if by afterthought…or to keep the stove from heating up the rest of the house during this non-air conditioned period. The high ceilings held thousands of memories, especially in the kitchen and dining area, where everyone seemed to congregate when not congregating on the front porch.

An author I am reading, Rick Bragg, wrote, “They say the kitchen is the heart of the house, but I believe the {front}porch is its soul.” I agree and wish I had thought to say it first. This simple passage launched me down a road through fertile fields of memories as soon as I read it.

The porch of my grandparents was not screened or lighted, nor did it have a fan to blow away the heat, humidity or the mosquitos. Oddly I don’t remember the heat, humidity or mosquitos on the front porch of my youth as I do on the front porch of my adulthood. I remember July and August to be hotter than forty kinds of hell inside of the house… but for some reason…the porch was a cool oasis. Facing east toward the rising sun, the southern exposure was blocked by thick and tangled privet hedge gone wild and crepe myrtles.

I remember so much…and yet I’m sure I don’t remember enough. Watching lightning bugs in the late evenings, flashing their equivalent of “Hi, I’m a Sagittarius, what sign are you?” I remember friends and family gathering on its worn boards; sitting on metal rockers and a matching glider or leaning, elbows resting upon the plain concrete columns. They talked about their day, told stories and probably more than a few lies, their conversations punctuated by occasional outbursts of laughter.

PawPaw’s brothers and sisters came from a hill on one side and the small valley on the other, meeting in the middle on my grandparent’s front porch. For some reason the men tended to congregate to the eastern side of the porch leaving the women to “gossip” on the southern side. I remember Grandma Griffin, PawPaw’s mother, ever the lady, spitting her Peach Snuff covertly into a handkerchief rather than into the privet. My Uncle Claude, a deaf mute, sitting on the porch with hands flying, his questions answered and statements translated by my grandmother’s or mother’s flying hands. Aunt Joyce “spooning” on the front steps with soon to be Uncle Bo, their hands together with fingers intertwined. Playing two-man baseball games with Uncle Olin on the grass in front of the porch, the front steps marking first base.

Some evening gatherings combined work with pleasure. After a day gathering produce, the ladies of the homes might meet to shell butter beans or pop green beans, preparing them for their short trip to the local school and the cannery housed there. Later in my life, summer phone calls to my grandmother would include how many green beans or soup mix cans had been processed for the week. Later, as winter turned the gardens brown, my visits home would net those same cans so I might share in the previous summer’s bounty.

The porch was always a welcome place, except for the few salesmen who happened by, selling a vacuum cleaner, encyclopedias or this century’s greatest kitchen appliance. My grandmother was always courteous when she dismissed them, modelling the Golden Rule…except once. An overly pushy vacuum salesman made the mistake of following her to the door and blocking it with his foot as he completed his sale’s spill. He paid for his troubles with a face full of broom and was sent running back to the safety of his old green Chevrolet.

During the heat of the afternoons my brother and I, along with our cousins, might find a bit of a reprieve on the porch when August heat and humidity was at its highest. Make up games were our favorites, although for some reason the telling of ghost stories ranked high. The crepe myrtles might become a ship’s mast or a fort’s guard tower, while the thick privet became a jungle where we might have looked for Tarzan and Cheetah. I remember practicing my tuck and roll, jumping off the front steps and landing ala Alan Ladd in “Airborne.” We certainly had great imaginations back then. Even when the old house lay empty we used to porch as our play house until it was finally torn down, disappearing from our vision but not our memory.

I have a front porch though much smaller than the one from my youth. As my wife and I have tried to unclutter and renovate the rooms inside of our home, the porch has become more cluttered…and not with the memories I would wish. My goal for 2017 is to unclutter the clutter, replace some banisters and repaint. My biggest goal is to just sit on it and enjoy the evening cooling, watch cars passing on the road below, enjoy a cigar…if Linda’s incessant harping hasn’t caused me to quit, and of course appreciate the Jack Daniels that goes with the cigar. I would guess my biggest enjoyment will come from sitting with Gran-Momi Linda watching the grandbabies play. Watch? Not likely.

When I die, if I find my way to heaven, I hope my heaven will involve a big front porch. I would hope without the heat, humidity and mosquitos…unless I’m not in heaven. Hopefully I will find family and friends, catching up and retelling stories from long ago.

Rick Bragg, “My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South.”

If you enjoyed this story you might be interested in Don Miller’s book, PATHWAYS, or other books about life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

LIBERAL LEANINGS IN MY CONSERVATIVE WORLD

I consider myself a moderate simply because I will except 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 locates me so far left from many of my friends that many of them think that I might as well be standing next to Karl Marx. I on the other hand believe they are standing to the right of Adolf Hitler. 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.”

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 a 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 1968!”

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 (THEIR WORDS) 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 “here abouts” 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 more Confederate Battle Flags around THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT. 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 trin‘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 “them 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 2000’s, 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!

Most of the people I know, in addition to being conservative, 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!”

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life and humor try http://goo.gl/lomuQf