I have discovered that Southern readers like Southern stories, but we are not alone in our pleasure of reading about things from below the Mason-Dixon. Folks from "up there" like them, too. It can be difficult to write about all the things that are dear to the Southern heart. Sometimes, outsiders do not understand things that we treasure, but they cannot be censured for something they have never known.
How could anyone appreciate biscuits if they have never heard of a dough bowl? How could anyone be really centered in life if their culture has not been enhanced by sweet iced tea?
Somehow, something marvelous has happened in the past few years: People are moving South. Southern books, Southern songs and Southern food are all the rage. Folks in the North are eating turnip greens in little cafes with down-home sounding names. The famous "writer fellow" from Mississippi, John Grisham, who sets all of his stories in the South, is one of the most popular mystery writers today. Yet, as popular as the stories are, there is something missing -- major elements are rarely mentioned.
How could you write about the South and not talk about food? The cuisine culture of our land is one of our greatest assets. Where do they think barbecue started, in Brooklyn, N.Y.? My friends, it was born in a Carolina fire pit.
When I was in California, I had wonderful food, but when it came to dessert, I was desolate. A small dish of diced fruit was the call of the day. Good Lord, I needed pound cake, banana pudding and whipped cream, made from the eggs and milk my mama whipped together and then cooked till it was thick and creamy. Speaking of pudding, the great cooks of Chester County were not content to just have that. They have added sour cream, confectioner's sugar and a little real cream, and then the diced fruit. When that dessert is placed in front of a Chester Countian, he lives.
There are other Southern things that must be noted. Certainly, a man sitting on a creek bank fishing for dinner is a constant in every small Southern town. Do they mention hog slaughtering and cracklin' cornbread or the hymns that all of us know and many times still hum? Remember that they were the hosannas that filled our days from infancy to old age.
I want everyone to know about the man who picked cotton till his hands bled, so he could send his children to college. I want to write about the woman who got up at 5 in the morning to make 25 biscuits for breakfast and then repeated that marvelous feat at dinnertime. I want to tell you about the music of the South and remind you that the blues were born in a Southern home played by a Southerner who had no idea his sad tale would add a new dimension to the world of music.
I want all the citizens to respect the hounds called Black and Tans, Blue Ticks, Plot and Black Mouth Curs, which are used to hunt bear, deer, wildcats, rabbits, raccoons and anything else that moves. After the hunt, that same dog steps in and works a herd of cattle or protects a man and his family. I want everyone to know that the poor old mule that sometimes was almost worked to death now costs a substantial amount of money and is greatly respected for his and his daddy's good looks. The one old cow that the family always had for milk and butter has now grown into herds. Should we forget those marvelous white chickens and the proud Rhode Island reds? No, it is a different story today, but the 4-H'ers kept them alive and learned how to raise quality hens and flamboyant roosters.
Probably the best memory of almost every Southern child was the Sunday trip to grandmother's house. Wonderful food, brought by mothers, aunts and cousins, all set on a blinding white tablecloth in a cool, darkened dining room. These are the things that I want recognized -- the little things that formed a great history and have helped us develop a pride that is boundless. Now they are writing books about us and coming here to make movies.
You have to be a true South Carolinian to understand the heart of our famous dirt. We have three kinds: red clay, blackjack and sandy, and each of those three has merit. However, it would be hard to find anything that can top the genuine ability of our red clay. It is different, and you have to be from here to really understand it.
So, every once in a while, I start thinking about how simply grand it is to live in this gentle world. How nice it is to sit at the Front Porch Restaurant and watch people come in the door and greet everyone with hugs and kisses. How it touches our hearts to see a family after the food is served, hold hands and together send a great thanks to the heaven. It is one of the ways our Southernness is displayed, and it makes us proud.
It is grand to be a woman here, too; we are appreciated. Or maybe it is just those Southern men who make us feel like we are. But that, too, is the way of the South, and no one else, no matter his place of birth, can master their social dash.