For my entire life, minus a little over 2 years when I was very young, I have lived in the South. I love the South. Then again, I don’t really know anything else. Six years ago I moved from a “metropolitan” Southern town to a quaint Southern small town. Small enough that everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows everybody else’s business. Small enough that impromptu parades led by firetrucks and ambulances still take place when the local high school wins a state championship. Small enough that folks are suspicous of you if they don’t know who your parents or grandparents are. Small enough that it is still “ruled” by a couple of leading families. The matriarch of one of those families is in my church. Lucky me. She doesn’t like me much. Not so lucky me.
This weekend I read a mystery novel by an author who, although she’s apparently been around quite awhile, I just discovered – Nevada Barr, and her Anna Pigeon series. I read Deep South this weekend. It was an interesting read, especially in the way that it gave a newcomer’s reaction to living in the South. We must truly be a strange people if her observations are anywhere close to accurate. And I believe they are!
In the novel, Anna Pigeon describes the South to her sister in this way: “It is a country of deep-fried kindness and cotton-mouthed hostilities.” I read the sentence, then re-read it a couple of times. Oh-my-gosh, is that not a great way to describe it?! (You other Southerners out there – feel free to chime in here!)
In the South, and particularly in rural and small towns, the kindness is indeed deep-fried. It pleases the palate, but so help me, it’ll kill you if you aren’t careful. And as for the cotton-mouthed hostilities, Southerner have more ways to tell you to kiss their tails with such graciousness that good manners makes you want to say, “Thank you.” But like the bite of the cotton-mouth snake, the venom is painful. If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you wish that it would.
Folks, in my six years in this small Southern town, I’ve had so much deep-fried kindness sent my way that I have to watch my step to keep my feet from sliding out from under me. And yes, I suffered the cotton-mouthed hostility of none other that our dear old matriarch. God, it was painful, but I lived through it. Even though I received the bite about two years ago, I can sometimes swear that a bit of the venom is still in my system. Maybe it’s just phantom pain. Maybe it’s just the abiding fear that the cotton mouth is just waiting for an opportunity to strike again. Anyway, I think I’ll survive. There’s plenty of deep-fried antidote available.