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the south

May 10 2013

Mama said… a lot

by Veronica W

In 1961 the Shirelles, a girls singing group, had a moderately successful hit with the song “Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This.” However most of us knowGlass-5442_fs that mothers have a lot more to say than that. Even when I became an adult, my mother and Inever engaged in cozy, confidential chats. She acknowledged the factI was grown, but she always remained the elder. Dictates became helpful hints, suggestions and “good life counsel,” which she implicitly indicated I would be wise to follow. Being southern by orientation, if not inclination, many of her pearls were couched in folksy sayings,some of which my sisters and I compiled into amemory book. Here are just a few.

  • You can sift and sift and still get the husks. (Translation: It doesn’t pay to be too fussy)
  • Pretty is as pretty does (Translation: Looks aren’t everything)
  • You better save those tears?ou’re going to need them later (Translation: Don’t cry about trivial matters)
  • If it’s on your back, it’s not in the bank (Translation: Don’t dress to impress)
  • Make sure you have walls before you try to paint (Translation: Don’t try to improve a boyfriend who acts worthless)
  • Cow’s going to need his tail come fly time (Translation:Treat everyone well. You never know when you have to ask them for help.)

Susan Sarandon in Anywhere But Here. Doris Roberts in Raymond. Freaky Friday, Steel Magnolias, The Glass Menagerie…the list of mothers andtheir sense (and yes, sometimes non-sense) is almost endless. Sometimes memories of the things our mothers said are foggy or clouded by childhood impressions. However, there may be one or two thingsyou find yourself saying which are, to your amazement, amusement or horror,your mother’s. Perhapsyou knowof a book ormovie full of “momisms.” If so, please share. Remember, Mama said “If you do good, good will follow you.”

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Oct 26 2012

Bless Her Heart

by Veronica W

In the movie Steel Magnolias, two middle aged southern women, Clairee and Truvy, are at a wedding reception, watching one of their peers dance. Her “form fitting” dress shows all her curves and extras, in rolling, gyrating splendor.

Truvy: Clairee, you know I’d rather walk on my lips than criticize  anybody…but…Janice Van Meer…

Clairee: I know…

Truvy: I bet you money she’s paid $500 for that dress and doesn’t even bother to wear a girdle.

Clairee: It’s like two pigs fighting under a blanket.

Truvy: Well, I haven’t left the house without Lycra on these thighs since I was 14.

Clairee: You were brought up right.

This movie remains one of my favorites. It gave me an insight into a type of womanhood which I, growing up in my Yankee environment, would never have experienced otherwise. Although my mother was from Richmond, Virginia, there was little, if any, venom in her and she would have considered the above conversation in questionable taste. Then again, she had spent much of her adult life in the icy north.

There are so many books with southern women as main characters that I will only give you books or authors with whom I am personally familiar.  One of my favorite authors is Anne Rivers Siddons, whose Homeplace and Low Country delve into the lives of women returning to their southern roots.  The Secret Life of Bees, Cold Sassy Tree and Saving Grace are also good choices if you want to explore the hearts and minds of Dixie women. For pure fun, read the Miss Julia series by Ann B. Ross.

One of the most intriguing books I ever read was Kindred by Octavia Butler. In the story, a modern day, young African American woman goes back in time to live on a post civil war plantation. Without much warning, the young woman disappears from her current surroundings and reappears on the plantation. Only extreme, life threatening danger brings her back to her current time. On one such trip her husband, who is white, manages to hold onto her and he goes back with her, which causes all kinds of other problems. The premise is a fascinating one and a lot of insight is given into the relationship between black and white southern women.

For non-fiction fans, Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin’ is an incredible paean to his Alabama mother, who “went eighteen years without a new dress so that her sons could have school clothes and picked other people’s cotton so that her children wouldn’t have to live on welfare.” It is the story of the “steel” that is not always evident beneath the slow, southern cadence or the often slower, rather deliberate movements of southern women. While I confess that much of my reading involves escapist fiction, I was enthralled by this book.

Two middle aged women sit in the crowded waiting room, their soft, honeyed drawls in big contrast to the litany of faults they obviously found in a mutual acquaintance. I unashamedly eavesdrop, my unread book in my hands.

“Poor thing,” one says with a sigh. “She just can’t seem to get her life straight.” Shaking her head, the other lady tacks onto this final assessment, the benediction “Bless her heart.” I smile to myself. Magnolias in full bloom.

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Mar 14 2011

Willie Morris

by Greg H

I picked up Willie Morris’ book New York Days in a local thrift store some months ago and finally got around to reading it, mostly so that I could then free up space on my shelves.  I expected the book to be a writer’s love story about the New York City of Morris’ youth since so many books of that type have been written (I have a Dan Wakefield book of the same kind that has also been waiting patiently for my attention!), but before I began reading I knew only that Willie Morris was a Southern writer who had written My Dog SkipNew York Days, however, has added significantly and pleasantly to my understanding of Morris and his importance as a Southern literary figure.

Morris hailed from Yazoo City, Mississippi, was a Rhodes Scholar and, at age 32, the youngest editor-in-chief at Harper’s magazine, guiding that venerable publication through the most turbulent years of the Sixties and, in the process, making it more relevant than it had been in some time.  He gathered together a staff of excellent young writers, among them David Halberstam, Marshall Frady, and Larry L. King (NOT the elderly guy with the suspenders and talk show) and made Harper’s a magazine in which many of the greatest writers of the day wanted their work to appear.

As editor-in-chief, Morris moved among Manhattan’s elite, becoming good friends with James Jones, Truman Capote and George Plimpton; but he also saw the underside of fame.  He recounts how he once stopped in a nondescript bar and thought he recognized the woman who was bar tending from somewhere. She allowed that he probably did.  He later found out that his server has been Veronica Lake, once one of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars.

Willie Morris experienced great success and great disappointment during his tenure in New York but he remained a transplant from Yazoo City and, when he left New York, the South again became his home as well as the focus of his work.   He died of a heart attack in 1999 but not before he has written much that celebrated and explicated the South that he knew.  His friend and colleague  Larry L. King honored him with his book In Search of Willie Morris: The Mercurial Life of a Legendary Writer and Editor. This book and several others by Willie Morris are available through the Library.

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Oct 18 2010

Go forth into Autumn’s glory

by Patricia D

We’re slooooowly coming into my favorite time of year.  I love the particular shade of blue the sky gets right now and the way the air seems somehow sharper, even here in the city where we are still suffering through some code orange days.   I once had occasion to fly over the Appalachian mountains at the height of the season’s turning and was enchanted by the unending colors undulating below.  While nothing can compare with Spring in the South I truly believe that Autumn is the best time of year for basking in nature’s glow.  It’s also the time of year for every little town to have a festival.  Where I come from it’s apple butter, bratwurst and pumpkins.  In this part of the world (http://www.southfest.com) it seems to be, among other things, apples, marble and beer.  North or South these wonderful events always have a parade, a festival queen,  bouncy fings (as we say at my house) and face painting for the kids, crafts fairs and food vendors.  This is when I can count on getting a corn dog and indulge my taste for fresh fried pork rinds.  Yep, for me, this time of year is way better than Christmas.

I worried about moving this far South because I thought I would be robbed of  a decent season change.  Though I still haven’t adjusted to thinking about yard work in late February  I can be content with the Autumn colors and when that’s not enough I can run away to the mountains.  The Georgia Department of Natural Resources currently has the Leaf Watch going, with tips for the best trails for color and even a webcam on Black Rock Mountain.  I check out a Georgia Park Pass, grab a few books out of the collection, including a few to explain the color change to the Back Seat Club and we’re on our way, perhaps stopping at a roadside stand for fresh cider and a peck of apples.

Afoot and Afield in Atlanta by Marcus Woolf

Nature Adventures in The North Georgia Mountains by Mary Ellen Hammond

Hiking Georgia by Donald W. Pfitzer

Hiking Trails of the Great Smoky Mountains by Kenneth Wise

Investigating Why Leaves Change Color by Ellen Rene

Autumn Leaves by Ken Robbins

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I miss lilacs.  Against the advice of every book I read when I first started gardening in the South I defiantly planted a lilac bush and nursed it through three years of misery before it finally gave up on me.   Mother Nature’s compensation for depriving me of that scent, comfortingly sweet in the soft night air, heady and almost too heavy in the midday sun,  is magnolias with their bright lemon scent and those show off camellias that bloom when I still don’t expect to see flowers.  Though I miss the Spring riot of peonies I could never keep a gardenia alive back home and roses and rosemary are so much less finicky here.  It is difficult to feel cheated when planting pansies in the fall, cheerful, bright and hinting at the intoxication of Spring in the South, but I still manage to feel put upon when I find myself cutting the grass in December.

Naturally I have a battered copy of Don Hasting’s Month-by-Month Gardening in the South but here are a few other titles in the collection you may find helpful.

Bulletproof Flowers of the South by Jim Wilson,  Gardening in the Humid South by E.N. O’Rourke,  Questions and Answers by Deep South Gardeners by Nellie Neal, Gardening with Native Plants of the South by Sally Wasowski and Commonsense Vegetable Gardening for the South by William D. Adams

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Oct 5 2009

Remembering the Past

by Amanda L

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I have always been intrigued by the way people lived back in the “olden” days since I read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In fact, when I go away for vacation, often it is to an area in the Southeast that offers a look into the “pioneer days”.

If you were around in the 1970’s, you might remember the Foxfire books. There have been twelve volumes that detail all kinds of things that people used to do to survive or live in the past, specifically in the Appalachian range. The books cover subjects from making lye soap to ghost stories, to making jams and jellies.  As a youngster, I remember reading these books. I was fascinated with how they used to do things. (I even talked my mom into making candles and lye soap one time.)  The library has quite a few of these volumes as well as other books about the Appalachian lifestyle.

If  you would like to see live demonstrations on how people in the Southern Appalachian lived, you do not have to drive far to visit a demonstration museum. The Foxfire organization has a demonstration museum located in Rabun County. For more information about the museum and heritage center visit their website.

On a side note, I recently discovered that they have made the Little House on the Prairie books into a musical. It is a traveling show but, unfortunately, the closest it is coming to Atlanta is to Nashville at the end of October.

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This month kicks off TrailFest ’09 on the Southern Literary Trail. The Trail is a loose association of 18 southern towns in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi that celebrate famous writers and playwrights from the twentieth century and the hometowns that inspired them. Georgia trail sites include Atlanta’s own Joel Chandler Harris and Margaret Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor, Lillian Smith, Erskine Caldwell, Carson McCullers and Alice Walker. In Mississippi, they’re celebrating the Eudora Welty Centennial this year, a very big deal indeed; although I’m disappointed that there’s no field trip to the post office. I once got to wait in a hallway at the Algonquin Hotel with Ms. Welty when our magnetic cardkeys wouldn’t work. It turned out a lot of things in that hotel room didn’t work, but it was all worth it because I got to chat with Eudora Welty.

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