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  • Writer's pictureRobert Adams

Southern Life

Updated: 5 days ago



 I WAS FIRST INTRODUCED TO THE SOUTH in the 1960s as a young teen during spring vacations with my dad. Our trips were mostly centered around golf and tourism. It wasn’t until my son and his family moved to Charleston in 2020 that I rolled up my sleeves and decided it was time to learn more about the history of the South, especially since I now had five family members residing there.


During one of my early visits to North Carolina, I recall sitting in a barber’s chair while my father patiently watched over me during a much-needed haircut. I had difficulty understanding the black barber with his distinct accent. Additionally, he used a straight-edge razor to level off my sideburns which caused me a bit of concern. It was certainly a new experience for me. That evening we learned that the barbershop wasn’t meant for white patrons. We smiled, concluding the proprietor was very nice. Memories and impressions continued throughout my visits to the South over the coming years.


In college, the Southern states continued their allure when a fraternity brother and I were contracted to deliver two custom-fabricated ambulances to a municipality in McGehee Arkansas. Bud LeFave was the town's mayor and was excited to get these emergency vehicles. He nicely invited us to join his family for Sunday dinner after meeting with us to complete the transfer of the vehicles, paperwork, and all.


His family was so gracious. We met his whole clan - aunts, uncles, grandmas, and children. His seven-year-old son was a cute little tyke. My cohort, Dave, and I conversed with the young lad in the family room.


He had a small camera that he used to take photos of us.


I asked him, “Why all the photos?”


He responded. “You ever hear of Show and Tell?”


I remarked that I had. Remembering it from my early grade school days.


He then said, “I’ve never been with damn Yankees before.”


Oh, Lord, out of the mouth of babes is all I could think. Bud moved with the speed of a cheetah, grabbing his son by his shirt collar, and stealthily they disappeared down a hallway. A major faux pas in Southern hospitality had taken place. Bud returned and apologized. We thought it was nothing compared to our angst over Vietnam. It was, however, another lesson in the deep-rooted beliefs and traditions in the South.


Bud also introduced us to the expression, “Why, bless your heart.” I had informed him that Dave and I were on an adventure and would be hitchhiking along the Mississippi heading down to Mobile to pick up a new Volvo at Dave’s uncle’s dealership to deliver it back to Milwaukee. The message in his popular Southern expression was simply that we were clueless - with no offense intended.


We were only with the LeFave family for a few hours, but Bud gave us quite a lesson and forbade us to hitchhike. Instead, he bought us bus tickets for the rest of our trip to the Gulf. He ended his lecture with something close to, “Having long hair and being from Michigan doesn’t work in the backroads of Arkansas and Alabama.” It was 1970.


I’ve read both historical non-fiction and historical fiction about the South. It is a special region with traditions revealing a lifestyle of aristocracy and chivalry profoundly influenced by honored generational beliefs. I have concluded that as an outsider I will never fully understand all the nuances that define being a Southerner. One had to have been born there to “get it” and understand the complexity of their ways.


I’m thrilled that my son and daughter-in-law are prospering in their newfound community in Mount Pleasant just outside of Charleston. They have new friends and neighbors who have moved to South Carolina. Their joy has been in their acceptance by the locals, all sharing the common purpose of raising their children. Let's hope each region's best qualities unite and play their best hand to create an outstanding community and experience.


It sure offers hope that Chicago was sadly missing.


                                               ***


Five recommended books that have helped me better understand the Southern way.




Trouble the Water by Rebecca Bruff


The Hornet’s Nest by Jimmy Carter


The Demon of Unrest by Erik Larson

 

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