When I look back on it, I think that maybe I always wanted to be Southern. At first I admired the accents that came out of Tennessee Williams plays and movies like “Giant.” They were so relaxed, and interesting, and when they were heard, you felt like it was a breezy summer night and the evening stars and the Spanish moss were heavy in the air. Once, when I was grown a woman at a cocktail party a lady asked me if I was from the South because of my accent. All I could say was, “I’m from Southern Iowa.”
Then, I started to notice that I liked china….lots of China. I especially liked a pattern of Wedgwood with ornate grapes and leaves in an embossed pattern around the rim. To go with it, there certainly had to be a set of ornate silver with raised flowers and a soft lustre that was part perfect and part patina that had collected there for generations. I discovered that both combined to make the perfect Southern table when paired with white linen and crystal and always fresh flowers .
William Faulkner became a favorite writer. In English literature class Mrs. McCarthy went on and on about As I Lay Dying. Before I cracked the book I thought that all it would give me was a story about decadence in the South. But after a few pages, I loved the rhythm and the story for the characters as much as anything. I was reminded of a good old Southern Iowa term which described eccentric, electric, people with more than a hint of plain orneriness. ..the Cat Bird. A Cat Bird was always an interesting person. He or maybe she was fun to be around, politically incorrect and with attitude. Southern fiction seemed to be full of Cat Birds. I have relatives who are Cat Birds.
Not long after that I started to like Southern food. Who can argue with sweet tea, pecan pie, buttermilk fried chicken, or anything Cajun? My father told me that you can always tell if a restaurant is a good place to eat. Just look for the maximum number of trucks parked outside. It is true. Especially in the South. As a rule, there are lots of trucks parked in and around a southern café in a haphazard manner that says, “I was in such a hurry to get here for the food, I just parked!”
We lived for a while in Florida. Pensacola and Orlando were good places but they did not seem particularly “Southern.” To live in the South you have to be in Alabama or Georgia or South or North Carolina where we live now. The summer temperature is as high as the humidity, or vice versa. The live oaks are even better if there is some moss hanging from the wide spread limbs. If you find someone with the most perfect accent of all, odds are that they are from Savannah or Charleston. Not the Charleston of West Virginia, although it is not without charm.
Once my daughter was on an airplane that had just departed O’Hare and was bound for Charleston, West Virginia. The lady sitting next to her asked how far Charleston was from the ocean. Too bad she thought that she was headed for Charleston, South Carolina and she bought a ticket for Charleston, West Virginia. She made the best of it and rented a car and drove and drove. The food and the charm must have made it worthwhile.
I love southern decorating. More is always more. You need plates hung on the wall…what I call The Great Wall of China. You need beds piled high with pillows and dressed with sparkling white linens and quilts made by your grandmother. There must be books scattered on table tops and on shelves. They may be about Cat Birds or southern cooking, or southern decorating but they are always a great read. Always have hydrangea either dried or fresh in cut crystal vases. Be certain to have climbing rose bushes in the yard and magnolias planted more for their greenery than their blossoms. How else will you have greens for the Christmas wreaths or the bowl of flowers on your Southern table?
I take magazines that remind me of how much I love the South. For years Southern Living has brought me inspiration for all things Southern. The best part is the last page where Rick Bragg authors an essay about food or his Mama. Garden and Gun makes me want to put down the glass of sweet tea and run to adopt a dog so I can start recording stories that might one day be acceptable to the Good Dog series. Better Homes and Gardens, published in Des Moines, Iowa is informative and entertaining and has good content but it seems to lack the soul that you find in a great Good Dog story.
I would like to have a pick- up truck. How else should I carry the wonderful antique furniture to be found at flea markets and garage sales? Sliding a china cabinet into the back of a Cadillac SRX just does not have the same gravitas. My Good Dog would much rather enjoy the ride in the back of a pick-up with his ears flapping in the wind than in the Cadillac. Also, a truck would look much better parked in the lot outside a great Southern cafe.
We have three wonderful grandchildren. Two of them, sadly for me, live in Chicago. It is too far away. It is too cold and the city is too busy and big. I love it when they are here in Charlotte and are sitting with me on the front porch. In my mind I see the three of us on the swing watching for fire flies as we enjoy a round of cake and ice cream. They laugh as I tell them stories about growing up in the South (of Iowa.)
Now, I hope that you enjoy these photos that really explain why I love the South. A picture is worth a thousand words.
…property of Furlow Gatewood in Georgia
Create and be happy!