There are many decisions to make when company comes to see this sweet place, Chester County.
They have to be arranged into the points of importance. If your company likes history, you can tour churches and cemeteries. That offers the host a chance to tell about the famous ancestors and families that rest beneath the soil in Fishing Creek, Old Catholic, Purity and Evergreen. The DeGraffenreid grave is always on the tour, along with the Confederate veterans and the history that follows their names. Cemeteries are the repositories of Southern stories and legends of the people who lived and made this place so historically important even before the American Revolution.
However, there are guests who want to see old Southern homes and hear Southern voices.
One such person said to me in all honesty, "Oh, I don't have to meet them; just let me sit quietly and listen to them talk." She was talking about my friends, whom I thought sounded just like everyone else until I hear the broad a's of Boston and the crisp sounds of the Ohio and Indiana persons. It is not only the sound that is different; it is the remarkable speed with which sentences are uttered. Lightning fast, commas are just little blips in conversation, while in our talk, a comma is a "pure pause." It seems that those pauses are important when telling a long, involved Southern story dealing with names of cousins, double cousins and near nieces and nephews. It can, even to one of us, become confusing when you are dealing with family names, the ones before marriage and the one that develops when the family moved on to other parts of the state and that name or those names became looped together with other family members who don't claim "kin" to the family being talked about. Food is another point of interest to the guests, especially if they are from "up North."
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Something rare has taken place in the cities above the Mason-Dixon Line. They have suddenly become connoisseurs of good food. Now by good food, I mean Southern food. Those folks up there have discovered biscuits cornbread and, last but not least, macaroni and cheese. Of course, in their world of doing it better and faster, they have changed that hallowed name to mac and cheese, which never in my 80-plus years have I ever heard uttered until someone I was talking to came from Syracuse, N.Y., which is even more north than New York City. He asked if I could cook mac and cheese. I said no, since, indeed, we do not trivialize things of grand historical importance with nicknames. He was probably not even listening.
My daughter and her husband have recently returned from a trip to Chicago -- that is the huge city west of Chester. While they were walking, looking at all the wonders of the world, Joe, my son-in-law, saw a sign touting "deep-fried mac and cheese." Well, it is ruined, but at least we know its value down here, and it is treated with respect.
If the guest has never been to South Carolina, the first blessing will be their introduction to "sweet tea," a staple of our social and cultural life. No one who was born in the South can believe there are folks who were brought up without that beverage being served with their meals and at times of joy or terrible sadness. It is a drink with which to toast, to heal and to just make the average soul feel better. When ordering in a restaurant, it is Southern form to announce the desired drink first, and it is always sweet tea. Well, it used to be before the medical profession jumped all over our happiness with these deadly words of triglycerides and cholesterol. So now, some order "unsweetened tea, please." The server knows it is to be iced.
When one thinks about food, we must discuss the Southern system of cafeterias. They are on the wane, but they can still be found in the outlying areas. They always have baked chicken, ham, roast beef, baked spaghetti cut in squares, fish swimming in a yellow buttery sauce and Salisbury steak made from ground beef and called a hamburger if served on one of those round buns. They all follow the same service rules. The first thing you see after picking up your tray and silver are the desserts, and let me tell you, they have a bewitching appeal. Your thinking takes on a new approach. You forget your weight on the scale that morning, and you see yourself as you were 20 years ago. There is nothing to stop you from taking a custard, apple or peach pie -- better still, one baked with red cherries and the lovely syrup oozing from under the crust, which was made with a good pound of lard. It is all right. Your imagined youth makes it possible, and, after all, it is only one lunch. The teas are lined up, the cold, the hot, the sweet and the unsweetened, coffee and ice water. A few pork skins are offered right at the cashier's chair, and you can tell right away who does and who does not know about "cracklins." The rural Southern hand always takes a few.
The last thing that your guests must know about is pound cake, a staple in every home, served for breakfast, as dessert at lunch and as the final touch at dinner. It can be served with whipped cream, fruit, or even a rare and delicious chocolate sauce. It is said to be made from a pound of eggs, a pound of butter, a pound of sugar and a pound of flour, and when you eat a couple of slices, you will have put on a pound of each one of the ingredients. It is a weight builder and maker of deep Southern pride. There are folks in this world that have never tasted pound cake, sweet ice tea and macaroni and cheese. They are known as deprived persons, and we should all pray for them.