Every short bio I have contains a word that people seldom use in describing themselves, Southerner. It isn’t a reference to my geographical residence, it is a statement of identity. I’m in love with the South. Her culture, her food, her people, her checkered history, her inspiration, and her heat.
That’s right I said heat.
It’s late July and while many of my friends are becoming wistful for Autumn I revel in these days of scorching sun and sepia tinged skies. These are the days where the best antiperspirants abandon you by 9am and the 90 degree temps last well into the evening but these are the sweltering prerequisites for this amazing culture.
I might well be crazy but I’m of the opinion that heat has played a major role in almost every facet of Southern culture.
- Food – Beyond heat being a determining factor in crop production the dishes themselves would have never been concocted in cold climates. Spicy and bold cuisine from around the world is the product of people living in heat. Cajun, Mexican, Indian, Thai, & Southern home cooking was forged in sweat laden kitchens and outdoor pits. I’m not an anthropologist but I’m confident that fried okra would never have been invented by the fine folks in Greenland.
- Language – We talk funny and we’re okay with that. We abbreviate and slur to our heart’s content. Heck even y’all is in the iPhone auto correct dictionary. Why? It’s simply too darn hot to worry much about consonants down here.
- Oral Tradition – This is a land steeped in storytelling and lore. We are but a few decades removed from a time when you spent the evenings on the porch talking to friends and family, perhaps listening to a St. Louis Cardinals game on the radio, due to it being entirely too hot to stay inside. That need for a summer breeze led to a very social culture of jokesters, writers, and storytellers that weaved the story of the South on hundreds of porches. Our penchant for talking politics, religion, and rain are direct descendants of this tradition.
- Music – Blues, Jazz, Rock’n Roll, & Country music are all born out of this blistering sod. Can you imagine the longing of Son House, the licks of Jelly Roll Morton, the moves of Elvis, or the pickin’ of Flatt & Scruggs ever emanating from anywhere other than this sun soaked land? The heat built this hard scrabble ground and the music poured out of its survivors like the Mississippi River.
- Religion – Dinner on the Grounds & Tent Meetings have disappeared in large part to air conditioning but rest assured when you live in this heat you are much more concerned about not spending eternity in it. #JustSayin’
The other beautiful thing about this heat? It makes Summer evenings so sweet. That magical hour when the temps begin to drop, the air is filled with the sound of locusts, and lightning bugs flicker in the field you are in the midst of one of creation’s astounding miracles.
A short note of History
No mention of South is complete without considering the role of the War of Northern Aggression. Next year will mark 150 years since the beginning of the American Civil War and it still holds sway in these parts. Right or wrong it bred an independent nature that would make the “Come and Take It” boys proud. In our loss we created martyr legends that still draw hushed crowds at their memorials. It’s part of who we are.
From the atrocity of slavery to the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement we’ve had some dark days but every one of them has contributed to this collective mystery of the South that we are still trying to understand. Let’s pause and be grateful that we were also home to brave men like Rev. Martin Luther King.
We are a story of cotton fields, mighty rivers, writers, eccentrics, soldiers, & artists.
As I walk through studios in Memphis, antebellum homes in Vicksburg, and juke joints throughout the Delta this land and her people call to me. That mighty muddy water runs deep.
I told my wife when we got married I could live anywhere in the world as long as it was in the South.
PostScript~ Let me go on record by saying we have more beautiful women down here than anywhere else in the world. Yes beautiful ladies hail from all over the globe we’ve just got a lot more of ‘em. If that ain’t proof God has affinity for the South I don’t what is. Amen. Pass the grits.