This terrific reflection comes to us from Ginger M:
I’ve never had a problem producing evidence that I am a Southerner. I was born and raised in southeast Tennessee around the corner from the site of a Civil War battle. As a little girl, my elderly babysitter told me “not to sass” her and Moonpies were served during snack time at Vacation Bible School. In second grade, I dressed up as Scarlett O’Hara for Halloween, hat and parasol included. In high school, if it wasn’t football season, you could usually find me on Friday nights at a place called the Mountain Opry listening to bluegrass music (this had more to do with a boy than love of bluegrass music, but still). The hot line in my high school cafeteria served fried okra, cornbread and macaroni and cheese every single day, and my favorite food then and now is pimento cheese. I went to college in Nashville and met a guy from Alabama, and we are now raising our kids down the street from the house that he grew up in. My father-in-law has enough guns to arm a small militia. If you were to follow me around for a day, you might hear me say things such as, “Fixin’ to”, “Like Sherman through Georgia” and “If it ain’t ticks, it’s fleas”. Not to mention, I have a dog and a daughter named for characters in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Like many a self-respecting Southern woman, I have loved the magazine Garden and Gun since the first issue hit stands several years ago, so it was only natural that when the editors put out a book I would pick up a copy. The Southerner’s Handbook is filled with topical essays about Southern life and culture penned by the magazine’s editors and contributors. It’s a beautiful product and remarkably exhaustive–uncomfortably so!
As I sat on a plane reading the book this past weekend, I found myself placing imaginary checkmarks next to the subjects I felt like I had mastered or about which I felt intimately familiar. For each subject or chapter I checked, there were many more I did not. For instance, I’ve never liked sweet tea, I’ve never fried a chicken or made homemade biscuits and I’ve never set foot in New Orleans for Mardi Gras or Louisville for the Derby. I am a rambling and awkward storyteller and despite the fact that my own father grew up in small town Mississippi and has been a high school English teacher for forty years, I have not read a single word of Faulkner. My husband would sooner chew glass than wear white bucks or train a bird dog.
No doubt the talented people behind Garden and Gun had not set out to publish an elaborate scorecard. But I had turned it into one anyway. Sad to say, when my own Southern-ness is measured against the 200 proof Southern-ness in The Southerner’s Handbook, I am found lacking. My identity as a Southerner is demolished, buried beneath the mountain of evidence that I am not Southern enough, and there are not enough “y’alls” or years in Alabama to restore it. The death of one’s Southern identity may seem trivial. But each of us have an identity we fear losing, and for each of us there is a proverbial handbook that can lay us low by revealing us for the frauds that we are. But in each shattered identity is a shard of eventual joy, as by His grace, we are drawn toward the one identity in which we can find rest…. ‘Bless our hearts.