In an earlier blog post I talked about several southern traditions that I love and hope will last for several more generations. In this installment, I’ve got several more that I would be sad to see corrupted or fade from use. Plus I’ve included a few extra tips for maintaining their integrity.
Sweet tea. Often referred to as “the house wine of the South,” there’s much more to real sweet tea than the cloying drink that many fast food chains and restaurants are trying pass off as authentic. Their Karo-syrup laden concoctions are not the heavenly beverage that we carefully make with tea bags (Lipton or Luzianne, please ma’am) and pure cane sugar. We are taught how to properly brew it by our mothers and grandmothers, and when you create the perfect blend of tea, sugar, and water – it’s absolutely transcendental. Oh, and a quick note to restaurants above the Mason-Dixon line: We drink it all year round, not just in the summer. It isn’t “seasonal.”
Bless your heart. This is the “aloha” of the southern lexicon. There is a marked difference between “bless your heart” when offered with genuine feeling and sincerity and “bless her heart” which is a nice way of saying, “She just can’t seem to get it together, poor thing.” We don’t like to offend, so tossing that “blessing” out there keeps everything nice and polite.
Potluck Dinners. These are also referred to as a Covered Dish or a Dinner on the Grounds. (“Dinner” is the noon meal. “Supper” is the evening meal. Jot that down.) A frequent event in almost every southern protestant church, the Potluck is an opportunity for local cooks to prepare enormous quantities of their best dishes, place them on mile long tables, and beam proudly when they are asked for the recipe or when there is none of their contribution left to take home. You will always find several versions of potato salad, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, Red Velvet cake, and various species of congealed fruit salads. Please remember to take a “no thank you” teaspoon-sized portion of the mysterious, unidentifiable dishes so their makers don’t get their feelings hurt. Do NOT show up to one of these events with store-bought fried chicken. You will be “discussed.” (As in, “Oh, my. She brought KFC. Bless her heart.”)
Honey. I’m not referring to the kind you drizzle (okay, pour) on your biscuit. This is the “Hey there, honey, how are you doing?” kind. Although primarily used as a term of endearment there is one non-negotiable rule: NEVER call someone who is 10 or more years your senior “honey” especially if you are related to them. Seriously. This could result in being cut out of the will or not getting Aunt Mozelle’s antebellum pearls. It’s a wonderful all-purpose word that can be comforting, humorous, self-deprecating, friendly, or condescending, depending on the context. Use it carefully but as needed.
Funeral Processions. In the South we take dying very seriously. Much care is devoted to choosing the appropriate dress for the deceased, selecting the music and pall flowers, and setting up the post-service meal. I still get a lump in my throat every time I travel in a funeral procession and see the many sheriff’s deputies, policemen, and ordinary citizens, stand respectfully, hat in hand, as the bereaved drive by. I was taught to pull to the side of the road and wait until the cars with their lights on have passed by. Honoring the departed as well as their families in this fashion is a worthy tradition and one I would hate to see disappear.
Living here is a gift and I’m always proud to claim my southern roots. We welcome all those who embrace our way of life and appreciate our love of tradition and good manners. As my Kansas-born best friend says, “I’m not from the South but I got here as fast as I could!”