It suits me here ... the joys of this Southern life, we polish like old silver. We are good at stories ... we talk of the bad year the cotton didn’t open, and the day my cousin Wanda was Washed in the Blood. We cherish the past ...
... I love the mountain churches along the Georgia Alabama line, love the hard-rock preachers in their Conway Twitty sideburns ... and every old woman’s purse in every pew smells like a fresh stick of Juicy Fruit.
— From Rick Bragg’s Introduction to his new book, “My Southern Journal”
I call her “Mama” unless others are around, and that’s probably a good example of what I’m trying to say here. Mama, now 95 years of age, talks about this country that she loves so much. “Larry, I’m worried about our country, I’m afraid we’re losing it.” And Rick Bragg and I write about the South and how it is, or at least how it used to be and how we wish it was, the good parts. We are mostly writing about memories of the South, not the South in Bragg’s book, but the South that has been homogenized like Pet Milk with the rest of America — the America that Mama and lots of other good Southerners and good Americans are deeply concerned about.
I’m talking about the South that’s more like Indiana, Ohio and Arizona, and in lots of ways like New York and California (go to the new fancy section of Buckhead if you don’t believe me) than it is like the South Bragg writes about and the South I knew as a child, young adult and, frankly, the South I knew 25 years ago.
When we changed the state flag in 2001, I gave a speech on the floor of the state House where I said: “I am a son of the South — as Southern as anyone in this body. In a sea of Southern drawls, mine is one of the thickest and most pronounced ...”
It was then and it is now — my accent that is. I have been told that I talk like I have a mouth full of marbles. I make no apologies for it. My explanation is, if one is needed: I learned to talk in a feed store and a tractor place and not from the TV, like my children and grandchildren did.
Look at what I quoted here from Bragg’s book. In all due respect to my favorite author, I don’t hear folks talking about the bad cotton year or Wanda’s being Washed in the Blood. And, as to churches on the Georgia Alabama line, lots of them have been closed, abandoned or turned into buildings for storing hay.
In fact, I don’t hear folks talking about much of anything they used to talk about — their church, family and the weather. Truth to tell, the young folks don’t talk much about anything, they just text and email. Sometimes the grandchildren won’t even talk to their grandparents.
Bragg and I both are writing mostly about the “memories” of the South — the good parts, the “good old days,” and not about what’s really going on today in Dothan, Birmingham, Montgomery, Oxford, Jackson, Columbia (South Carolina and Alabama), Albany, Tifton, Gainesville (Florida and Georgia), Memphis, Charlotte and Jacksonville.
We’ve carried a big burden in the South for a long time. It was present in 1776, this “burden,” and our Founding Fathers could not deal with it so they swept it under a constitutional rug. We tried to deal with it again in the 1860s and at a cost of 550,000 lives, or so, it was partially handled but it took about 150 years to get to where we are today, that is, the South with Southerners that are now mostly like the other 250 million people in the country.
Some of it is good, this homogenization, but, now, we all talk like Walter Cronkite, except much faster, we all eat the same food, stay in the same motels, ride in the same cars and are fed the same propaganda. I think it’s sad. The South has lost its soul.
I’m worried about the South’s and our country’s future — which comes so much quicker than it used to.
Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.