Southern stereotypes such as hillbilly, hick, racist, Bubba, and redneck are often given more credibility than they rightfully deserve. These labels are devastating for many Southerners who spend their lives trying to disprove the misconceptions that so many Americans have about people in the South. However, most Southerners laugh at such stereotypes and feel sorry for people who have so little real knowledge of the true South; if tags are needed, they point to proud, independent, and defiant as being more appropriate and accurate. Southerners are who they are and believe what they believe despite what anyone thinks or believes about them. Once their mind is set, they are not easy to sway, they are defiant before any man or government who threatens their freedom of choice or independence, and they are quick to defend family, honor, and the Southern way of life.
Southerners are proud of their Southern heritage, and they are more than willing to share their beliefs and opinions about any and everything. They gladly welcome visitors with open arms as long as the visitors have the good sense not to overstay their welcome. If a non-Southerner wants to learn about the South, any Southerner worth his NRA and Good Sam Club memberships will be happy to teach him all he needs to know. Southerners have nothing to hide if people will just ask and not always assume that the negatives they hear about the South are true.
Recently, to my surprise three gentlemen from New York and New Jersey contacted me about making such a fact finding visit to the South. The three close friends said they had discussed taking a trip to the South for years, but due to work and family commitments, they had never traveled farther south than Williamsburg, Virginia. However, after recently retiring, they had by chance read and shared one of my blogs with its “Southern flavor” (their words) and decided it was time to take their long overdue road trip to the Deep South. I was flattered my blog had made it as far as New York and New Jersey, and I was honored the three gentlemen had taken time to read it, so it was easy for them to convince me to help them coordinate their visit. I am glad I did; it was an experience I will not soon forget.
I met with Mr. Douglas Smeelie and Mr. Albert Dungworth of New York City, and Mr. Sylvester Dwyer of Newark, New Jersey on a hot, humid afternoon in mid-July on my back porch in Petal, Mississippi. They were all too familiar with Southern stereotypes, but to their credit, they wished to learn about Mississippi and its people for themselves. As the first stop of their visit, I arranged a meeting between them and three Southern gentlemen, Dr. Earl Jubilee Wilson, Mr. Doody Dale McGregor, and Mr. Ray Leroy Jenkins.
Under the cooling influence of sweet ice tea and lemonade, the seven of us met around my patio table where shade and the only cooling breeze were provided by a large pool umbrella and an oscillating fan. My wife always the definitive host was livid; to her it was barbaric to subject our guests to the harsh Mississippi sun in mid-July. However, these men had traveled a great distance to learn about our state and culture and to deprive them of the experience of sweltering in the Mississippi heat and humidity would have been inexcusable. Later, all three men from the North admitted that the heat and humidity of that first day in Mississippi gave them an appreciation for the Southern romance with sweet ice tea and lemonade.
After the customary introductions and appropriate time for small talk and boastful crowing, we settled into the business of the meeting – a simple question and answer about the South. Prior to the meeting I had reminded my friends that they were to be on their best behavior. In turn, I had assured the visitors that regardless of what happened during the meeting my friends were good people with good intentions. Still, as an added safe guard in case the session spiraled out of control, I chose to act as moderator of the gathering.
There were only three rules for the session: (1) questions must not get personal, (2) answers must be truthful, and (3) since I was recording the session, a copy of the recording would be available to the police if the meeting turned sour. Everyone agreed to the stipulations without complaint and shook hands. What ensued was two hours of question and answer dialogue about the South and its people. The dialogue may have continued even longer if Mr. Smeelie had not passed out from the heat. After we dragged him into my air-conditioned kitchen and vigorously poured two glasses of ice cold sweet tea down his throat, he recovered nicely with as far as we could tell no ill effects. I believe the highlight of Mr. Smeelie’s day was discovering that Mississippi did indeed have electricity and air-conditioning.
Once Mr. Smeelie had recovered sufficiently, I made copies of the recording for everyone, and Doody Dale drove the three visitors back to their motel to freshen up for dinner later that evening. My wife and I met our visitors that night at the Purple Parrot where we had a wonderful meal and laid out the plans for the rest of the visit. To my surprise and relief, the three men marveled throughout the meal over the success of the discourse they had with my friends that afternoon. Mr. Dungworth made the comment that he was not always sure how honest my friends were being, but that there had been no doubt as to their passion and belief in what they said. Later, when I returned home, I listened to the recording, and like Mr. Dungworth, I marveled at the passion in the voices of my friends as well as laughed loudly as they playfully jousted with our Northern visitors.
Partial Transcript of Questions Directed to Southern Gentlemen
(The Back Porch Summit)
[Moderator’s Note: After the initial introductions and socializing, I called for everyone’s attention to begin the session. Now I must admit I had thought from the beginning that the format for the meeting was a little too formal, but the three gentlemen from the North insisted they had brainstormed questions they wanted to ask, and they felt a straight question and answer format would be best suited for their purpose. I asked the nature of the questions, but all they would say was the questions were simply intended to clear up misconceptions about the South they had heard over the years. However, as soon as Albert Dungworth asked the first question, I knew I had made a mistake by not insisting on seeing the questions before the meeting.]
Mr. Dungworth: When will Southerners stop believing the South will rise again?
[Moderator’s Note: This was not a difficult question, but by the tone of Albert Dungworth’s voice, his words came across as an adversarial and disrespectful jab at the South. The mood around the table grew very uneasy. Finally Doody Dale blurted . . . .]
Doody Dale: NEVER! Actually the South has risen; it’s just the best kept secret in America. If you don’t believe it, try to invade us and see what happens!
[Moderator’s Note: With the mention of an invasion, a heated debate ensued on who would win the war if the North and South were to go at each other today. After forty minutes, I had to step in and insist they move on to the next question.]
Mr. Dwyer: Why are Southerners so caught up in their 2nd amendment rights?
[Moderator’s Note: I moaned inwardly when I heard this question. I thought this might be the question that blew the lid off the meeting. Hoping to diffuse the situation, I called on Ray Leroy to answer the question since he was probably the least volatile of my friends. To my relief, he answered the question in a fashion that that would make any Southerner proud.]
Ray Leroy: There are basically four reasons why Southerners embrace the 2nd Amendment: (1) Southerners love God, Jesus, family, and the Southern way of life, and they will not hesitate to take up arms to defend what they believe and love; (2) Southerners believe what is mine is mine, and others best leave it alone; (3) Southerners believe in law and order, and reserve the right to protect themselves and their families when necessary to preserve law and order; and (4) Southerners believe in the Constitution of the United States of America.
[Moderator’s Note: Doody Dale actually stood and saluted the small American flag I had hanging on my porch, and to my relief my three guests from the North hoisted their glasses of sweet tea and lemonade as a toast to Ray Leroy’s answer.]
Mr. Smeelie: Why is the South so racist?
[Moderator’s Note: Just as I thought the winds of war were behind us, Douglas Smeelie tossed a bomb of a question into the simmering keg of dynamite. I had hoped we might address this question later in the visit, but it didn’t happen that way. I held my breath as Dr. Earl responded.]
Dr. Earl: When it comes to racism, the South is no different than any other region of the country. Racism has little regard for the color of a man’s skin, his status, or his class. It is an adult plague that is forced upon our children who in turn become adults forcing it upon their children. It begins at home – it begins with mamas, daddies, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who, out of ignorance, feed it to the children. Racism is cultivated, massaged, nurtured, and molded not only in the homes across the South but across our nation. Racism is not a Southern thing; it is a people thing.
[Moderator’s Note: Wow! I could have kissed the good doctor! The other five men nodded their approval as well, and then Mr. Smeelie leaned over and whispered into Mr. Dungworth’s ear. Again, I held my breath.]
Mr. Dungworth: What is so great about grits?
[Moderator’s Note: Although asked in an accusing sarcastic voice, I couldn’t help but feel relieved as well as amused. Ray Leroy was once again up to the challenge and deadpanned. . . .]
Ray Leroy: That’s easy. Eat hominy or Cream of Wheat and you will know.
[Moderator’s Note: Finally, the tension began to relax as a couple of chuckles were heard around the table. From this point on, it was the Yanks and the Rebs firing and counter firing.]
Mr. Smeelie: Why do Southerners say “Bless your heart?”
Doody Dale: Bless your heart, Northerners will never understand.
Mr. Dwyer: Why do all Southerners drive pickup trucks?
Dr. Earl: All Southerners don’t drive pickup trucks, just the appointed ones. The appointed ones drive pickups to haul off all the bull continually shoveled on the South by Yankees, the government, and idiots – Bless their hearts.
[Moderator’s Note: All six men were now sitting on the edge of their chairs anxious to add their two-cents to the discussion. By the amused looks on their faces they seemed to be having a good time.]
Mr. Smeelie: Why do Southerners think their cooking is better than other regions of the country?
Ray Leroy: Biscuits, gravy, grits, cornbread, turnip greens, and fried chicken – nuff said!
Mr. Dungworth: Are your mama and daddy related?
[Moderator’s Note: I just about choked. With this question, Dr. Earl’s face turned blood red and he quickly turned away shaking. I just knew he was fighting back anger, and that Mr. Dungworth may have crossed the line. When Doody Dale McGregor jumped up, I expected fists to start flying.]
Doody Dale: Sir, another reason Southerners believe in the 2nd amendment is due to questions like that . . . .
[Moderator’s Note: I do believe Doody Dale would have cold-cocked Albert Dungworth if Dr. Earl had not stepped up and placed a calming hand on his shoulder . . . . ]
Dr. Earl: Yes, they are, (laughing) which gives us the same blood line as Northerners, so I believe that makes Southerners and Northerners either brothers or cousins.
[Moderator’s Note: Puzzled looks appeared on every face, and then the tension melted. Led by Dr. Earl, the men started chuckling and then burst into outright laughter. Eventually, Doody Dale started smiling and sat down much to Mr. Dungworth’s and my relief.]
Mr. Smeelie: Why would anyone want to live in the South?
[Moderator’s Note: I thought at first Douglas Smeelie had thrown new coals on the ebbing fire, but to my amazement, Dr. Earl, still laughing, came to the rescue once again.]
Dr. Earl: To keep the Yankees out of paradise.
[Moderator’s Note: I couldn’t have said it better!]
Mr. Dywer: What is the biggest difference between a Northerner and a Southerner?
[Moderator’s Note: By the time Sylvester Dywer asked this question, all six men were at ease with one another and neither the questions nor the answers offended anyone.]
Dr. Earl: The biggest difference between Northerners and Southerners lies in how they handle stress. When Northerners suffer from stress they find relief in coffee, pills, and psychiatrists, but when Southerners suffer from stress, they chill out with sweet ice tea, rocking chairs, and porch swings.
[Moderator’s Note: For the next hour, the Yanks and Rebs hurled good natured insults and barbs at each other until Douglas Smeelie of New York passed out from the July heat and humidity. After recovering in my air conditioned kitchen, he fretted miserably for the rest of the afternoon at being the cause of prematurely breaking up a good time.]
End Partial Transcript
Overall, I was pleased with our back porch summit. There were no killings or even “ass-kicking,” so all in all, it was a successful start to the visit from the North. The next morning the seven of us crowded into my Honda Odyssey, and began our road trip across Mississippi. I prayed the trip would prove as successful as the back porch summit, but to be honest, I was not wagering any money on it.
©Jack Linton, November 24, 2014