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Even knee high to a grasshopper, it was not lost on me, this miraculous place I call home. My father made sure of it, as we toured burned out homes and battlefields. Seemingly innately, I have always known there is an eloquence in the South that awes me, even then, and Sundays – my favorite day of the week – is when it seems shown best, when things that I hold dear seem most prevalent: an adherence to tradition, faith, fellowship; a love of neighbors, and friends are old and always welcoming. Here, people continue to strive to help one another, go to church on Sundays, and freely extend that belief to others, if even in the heartfelt abundance of offered prayers and greetings we might find on social media, whose reputation might belie such truths, but singing volumes of who we are as a people. Perhaps, it’s the signs of a coming spring that has caused my mind to drift, with daffodils blooming all around, bringing with it fond memories of dinners on the ground and Decoration Days of yesteryear: my late grandmother’s and Great Aunt Rae’s famous chicken and dumplings, pecan pie, fried chicken, banana puddings, and casseroles for miles.
“To be a Southerner was a matter of life-and-death importance,” wrote the American-born Duchess of Windsor in her 1956 memoirs, The Heart Has Its Reasons. In her sentiment, she certainly wasn’t alone. It’s shared throughout my family, in details large and small. My maternal grandmother, who reveled in telling tales of the duchess’ love story, was also a woman of a certain era. Like so many ladies of her generation – when I was growing up – she had a standing hair appointment with Ms Phoebe Burke on Saturdays, after which she’d go grocery shopping- always to Morris’ – and come home, hair teased and styled and covered in a bonnet, carrying enough nourishment to feed the family that had gathered in masses, awaiting her return. Perhaps, this was my first introduction to the adage that, in the South, food is love, living and breathing with my grandmother. As with others of her time, she never learned to drive, which never, in those days, seemed odd but rather an extension of who she was, and, thus, the return from Ms Phoebe’s and Morris’ was always accompanied by my grandfather – the Hoke to her Miss Daisy – and whose name, following the proverbial Mrs, that my grandmother signed as her own most all her life.
The coming moments as they pulled into the drive, was also a sign that the land is full of idiosyncrasies. Against type, those Saturday meals were rarely in the dining room, which also doubled as her office, as it was space that allowed her to juggle the books for various business ventures. As part of that was residential real estate, I always remember the welcome of strangers – tenants and would-be tenants – coming and going; always hospitable and trying to find a way to help someone who may have found themselves on the down side of downtrodden, both an extension of faith, but in a knowledge that the land beneath them, too, had been bruised and battered, and as cliche as it might have come to sound – no matter where you live – maternal and sacred. For generations, we have made a life from it: lived, breathed, and died for it. From it, too, we seem to spring: our quirks, our simple grace, our abundant faith, our gentle pace of life, the rolling hills and farmlands, the coastlines and mountain getaways. I am as proud to wear the badge ‘southerner,’ as anything I do or say or am. There are places in this land that speak to my very soul, call out to me, haunt me, inspire me, and humble me beyond any measure. The same can be said of people, who are a proud lot. They are not, by design, showy or necessarily grand. There is no pretense, nor better on this earth. The people simply are – existing beside one another, locked into place and steadfast. It shows in their every fiber. Their heart. Their character. Blessings – they run abundant here. How very fortunate we are.