A Southern Raisin’
by Gary Wright
Southerners have mastered picking, choosing and rationalizing
better than their own mother’s fried chicken recipe. — Maggie Young
Looking back on my life, I realize that my southern raisin’ was an extraordinary occurrence granted to a select few of us who happened to be favored by God and allowed us to be born in the South. It was to experience the warm sunrise across a misty lake in early spring; to witness a golden sunset through the barren trees in a crisp winter. In the summer, we were consumed with visiting Grandma and helping her shell peas; traipsing barefoot across a freshly plowed field heading toward a fishing hole; playing in the hot sun every day until our hair became tow-headed—ah, a Southern raisin’.
The summers were longer in the South of my childhood, the evenings went on until midnight, and the food tasted better. Summer in the South was where we smelled the blended sweet aromas of honeysuckle and wisteria, where lightning bugs were called fireflies, and they were collected in a bottle for storing up light. It was a place where an imaginary childhood realm still existed close enough to dream about, but once childhood was over, it was too far away ever to be reached again.
The South of my youth was the place where we ate grits with a pat of butter and a dash of Louisiana hot sauce. It was a place where we knew what hominy was and how to make grits out of it, and we eventually learned to love succotash. An appreciation of the fine taste of Sunday chicken fried in real lard came as second nature. It was a place where we ate fried okra, a sautéed, slimy, green vegetable — about the most delicious food in the world.
We grew up appreciating the resonated sound of the Dobro guitar, and, sometime in mid-youth, we learned to kiss. Almost everyone in the South either lived on a farm or knew someone who did. Either way, we learned to run a trot line and the difference between a fox squirrel and a gray squirrel. We learned when hunting season was and where the Game Warden was not. Girls learned how to crochet in Home Ec. and boys, learned how to whittle.
Our southern raisin’ allowed us to skin our knees and skin our hearts. It taught us how to survive in the deep woods and on the mean streets. We learned to call all adults ‘Ma’am’ or ‘Sir,’ even when we didn’t like them. It was where a fight consisted of bare knuckles, not weapons, and when we were ‘whupped’ we stayed down and learned a lesson. We didn’t even consider seeking revenge with a gun. We sorted out the issue of loving the Lord and hating the Devil in Sunday school because we likely slept during preaching.
We paid attention in class, loved our country, stood and placed our hand over our hearts for the National Anthem, said a blessing at each meal, and ate what was put in front of us without belly-aching. The South caused us to live life like each day was the last and made us respect the military and join up if we were needed. Folks donated to ‘Toys For Tots’ every Christmas and dropped all their loose change into Salvation Army pots each time they went into Wal-Mart. Our southern raisin’ taught us to pull up sagging pants; call out bullies when they were picking on victims; call home if we were going to be late, and never be mean to any animal.
We learned the verses of the National Anthem, Amazing Grace, and Hank Williams’ ‘Honky Tonkin’ with equal fervor and determination. We worked after school and saved our money to buy our first cars, and purchases were made on layaway, if necessary. People never asked for a handout but were never too proud to accept help if needed.
‘Love’ was a word never used lightly, ‘hate’ was a word we were scolded for uttering, while ‘like’ was a word we bandied about with most everybody. ‘Ugly’ was not so much a description of how someone looked, but rather a description of how someone acted. ‘Dope’ was used to describe someone who was goofy.
We learned the pledge of allegiance at school, the Ten Commandments at church, and Miranda rights only from TV crime dramas. Women were placed on a pedestal, guns were mounted in the back of a pick-up truck for killing snakes and such, and ‘work’ was not considered a four-letter word.
The southern raisin’ we once enjoyed may sadly be a thing of the past, a place we once inhabited, but from which we wandered far away. The opening narration of Margaret Mitchell’s beloved novel, Gone with the Wind summed it up perfectly, when Ben Hecht wrote, “Look for it no more . . . for it is gone with the wind.”