Sunday, September 9, 2012

Southern Hospitality?

I recently read an article on that listed the most diverse cities in America.  The top 5 are all within an hour’s drive of my current home, which, as you know, is about 25 miles south of San Francisco. And diverse it is.  You wouldn't know it by my church (Menlo Park Presbyterian) but the vast majority of the citizens in this area are Asian and Hispanic.  And I have learned all manner of things about other cultures that I never knew.  Like how there are differences between northern and southern Chinese and not just in relation to height.  And how even though you have no way of distinguishing from which South and Central American country someone hails but woe be unto you if you mistakenly insinuate they are from the wrong one.  And to all you politically correct people out there, I have been assured in more than one dialect that there is no place called Hispania, so the catch all ‘Hispanic’ is not any more popular than my Daddy’s designation of “brown people”.
              This discussion of differences and accents and all reminded me of the previous post and some of the more colorful language that my, and to my horror, Honey Boo-Boo’s, family use more often than we should.  I refuse to watch that show, but grudgingly admit I have heard or used every sentence printed in those publications found by the gum, batteries and candy bars at your local grocery emporiums.  I know they recently were quoted as saying 'beautimous'.  I hope against hope that they do not use the term that I am loathe to admit I used at work recently.
Several of my managers and I were discussing something and I meant to use the term ‘tiny’ but instead, in a rare moment of letting my guard down, probably due to my mild Diet Snapple Peach Iced Tea addiction, I let fly a term that my family uses when referring to someone short of stature.  We say ‘tee-niney’, instead of tiny.   There is no way to recover from that phrase, dear friends.  You can’t simply un-say it.  You just have to “stop that train” so to speak, and redirect the conversation.  And while I was able to steer the discourse in another direction, I feel quite sure there were tongues just a wagging when I stepped out of the room.
            Recently, my new management trainee stopped by to talk and asked me about my colorful language. (Hi Susan!)  It seems that due to my dress, accent and sometimes folksy vernacular, she finds me intriguing, “like something out of Tennessee Williams”.   As she is from the Midwest, she isn’t used to Southerners outside of their native habitat or, really, inside their native habitat.  She moved here from Michigan to start her new job, not expecting to be getting such a big dose of Mississippi right here in the land of the, apparently, multi-culti heathen. 
             I have visited Michigan only once but I am a big fan due to Michigan being one of the most competitive Miss America states.  They have had five winners including the lady who was the catalyst for the social platforms that are now required for all contestants.  Kaye Lani Rae Rafko was an Oncology Nurse when she hula-danced her way to victory in 1988 and spent her year as Miss America touring the country speaking about AIDS and hospice care.  I got to meet her in 2011 in Las Vegas.  I know another Michiganian (I looked it up) named Jason Morgan, from when I lived in DC.  He will one day be President.  You heard it here first.
            And I know precisely where each of these Michiganders (also acceptable) live(d) on “the mitten”.  If you don’t know what that means, you have never met someone from Michigan as they will hold their hand up as if they are stopping you in the name of love and show you where they reside.  If you look at a map, go ahead I’ll wait, you can see that the regular part of Michigan looks like a mitten; a giant Mrs. Field’s cookie cake of a mitten (What?  I’m hungry), but a mitten nonetheless. 
            The other part of Michigan, called, I believe, the Upper Peninsula is part of their state although no one seems to know how or why.  It may have been stolen from Canada or Wisconsin.  I am imagining a frontier politician desperate for re-election, sizing up a “vacant lot” across the water and paddling over to stake claim for Michigan and using the votes of the indigenous peoples of Canada (who were kind and quiet and fond of socialized medicine and crappy music) to remain in the Senate or House or whichever one wastes taxpayer dollars.
            And I said all that to say this:  it’s no wonder Flint, MI (which is on the peninsula according to Michael Moore and it’s up to your political leanings whether or not you believe him) died a slow, tragic death as some towns do when the main employer (car factory) closes its doors.  There was nowhere to go for fun except Wisconsin and how many times can one wear a hat made of cheese before the reality of shame seeps into your unconscious?  That’s actually a bad example as I have seen these Cheeseheads (and who would voluntarily call themselves such?) each and every year in the stands at football games in the snow, bare-chested whether they should be or not.
             That just doesn’t seem to happen as regularly in the South.  Of course I’m talking about towns dying, not people who are inappropriately semi-nude in public.  The resilience of Southern towns is admirable.  These hamlets, most of which are too small to warrant inclusion on most maps, can weather any storm, literal or figurative.  They will survive when there is nothing left except a store, a church and three houses.  There may only be 5 people and two cows but they retain their identity and always with a sign.  Even if that sign states your simultaneous entrance and exit. 
             Transylvania, LA is where my Mother’s people are from.  Yes I know I just ended that sentence in a preposition.  That one, too.  Based on my last visit there in the late 1990s, there was a gas station, what used to be a cotton gin, a tiny elementary school and some houses.  But they still have a post office and a bait shop and I dare you to suggest they are too tiny to be considered a town.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.
                Cities up north lose one store and the rest of the town is immediately shuttered, all citizens fleeing as if from a natural disaster.  In the South, you close the one factory in town, someone will immediately open a business making t-shirts proclaiming “Tater Junction – Useta be the home of the Sand Road Sawmill” and selling them to Yankees who are lost on vacation trying to find the Mississippi River.  Of course those Yankees and the citizens of Tater Junction and surrounding communities will be in need of all and sundry, well, sundries.  So they will add purveyors of drinks, food and other accoutrement (like pecan logs and pralines) and the next thing you know the Sand Road Sawmill is a flourishing mini mall full of items that would have previously been donated to the White Elephant Sale at the Tater Junction Baptist Church, but are now advertised as antiquities of Southern heritage.  The manager of this antique mall is also the agent/MeeMaw of noted regional artist Lee Ellen Battenfield, who is in reality an 11-year old who placed 3rd in watercolors at the 4-H Crafts Fair. 
                You may be asking yourself, why someone would stay in a place like that?  My answer is there is only so far most Southerners will move before they plant their feet and say, “That’s it.  We’re home.”  As someone who was informed by his parents (when he asked why they were re-locating to Mississippi) “because we said so”, I can attest to the fact that Southerners are not leaving God’s Country and that particular designation stops not too far north of Mississippi and not much further west than Dallas.  Most of Tennessee we will take; Kentucky, we’re not so sure about.  And the only thing West Virginia is good for is keeping Mississippi from being last place in education rankings.  I know, I know, that’s just downright Un-Christian.  Not untrue, but definitely un-Christian.
             And as my Mother always said, “When you start acting like that, you know it’s time to just hush and go to bed.”  And with that, I bid you good night.  Well, good night in the sense that I’m stopping this post; I’ve had more than a tee-niney bit of Snapple and shall be up way past the time decent people have called it a day.

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