Monday, 21 June 2010
You can have this barbecue sandwich when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands.
If you were to slip a little truth serum into my lemonade and ask me what one adjective best describes me, I'd say "Southern." I'd capitalize it like that, too; maybe even spell it out. And If you slipped truth serum into my vodka, I'd say it like this: "Suth-uhn." Because when I'm drunk -- or surrounded by my family -- I stop trying to hide my accent.
I'm well-traveled, I like to think. I've been a lot of places. I've bought a lot of postcards. And whoo boy, have I taken a beating about my accent. I just go ahead and preemptively apologize for it these days because if I don't, people think it's a joke -- the way I drop the "ing" off of every word and cannot pronounce the long "i" sound. The first time I went to Oregon, one of my dad's coworkers made me the butt of a three-day joke about sweet tea. "Swayt Tay," he kept saying over and over, while everyone laughed and laughed. I was a kid; I didn't know only Southerners drown their iced tea in sugar. I didn't know people pronounce "Sweet Tea" the way it is spelled.
There are a lot of un-Southern things about me, for sure. My political views and religious leanings are a good jumping off point.
But I say "Yes, ma'am" and "No, sir" and even my best friend's parents, whom I've known since I was 13, get a Mr. and Mrs. in front of their first names. I listen to country music in the mornings with the windows down in my little pickup truck while I'm driving my dog to Loretta's or Kurt's or Frank's to get a gravy biscuit. It takes me ten minutes to get through the checkout line at the grocery store because pleasantries are always necessary, even if I'm only buying bread.
And the things I say in every day conversation! "I'm fixin' to do this" and "I couldn't give a lick about that." I love Scout Finch. Have I ever told you that? She's my favorite. I talk just like her.
The best thing about the South, though, besides that everyone is really pretty nice when they're not trying to baptize you or shove you into a Sarah Palin rally, is the barbecue. People in the South take barbecue as seriously as the Bible. And oh, it is delicious. And oh, it is plentiful.
You can't drive far in any direction without landing at a barbecue place of some kind, serving a sauce recipe that's been handed down for four generations.
The best barbecue in all of Georgia lives in my little town. It's called The Smokehouse, and it's only a wooden shack for ordering and a wooden shack for eating, only open three days a week, and people will drive 150 miles one-way on a weekend just to eat a sandwich and a cup of brunswick stew. It takes at least half an hour to get your food on Saturday, and no one ever complains. They just crowd into the shack with the slamming screen door and the one ceiling fan, and talk about how long it took them to get there, how they discovered The Smokehouse in the first place. People shake hands when their order is called, too. Like it was a pleasure to meet you and now we're friends forever. Barbecue Buddies.
The second time I came home from Europe, it was a Friday and I drove straight from the airport to The Smokehouse.
"Where ya been?" April, the order-taker, asked me.
"Just got back from England," I told her. "On my way home from the airport."
"England!" she said, as if I'd told her I'd come straight from Narnia. "Like England with the queen and all? Princess Diana?"
She actually poked her head through the window, to survey me properly, and then whispered, "I hear they're all inbred over there."
I laughed and it ricocheted off the two-by-fours. "That's funny," I told her "because that's what everyone in America thinks about the South."
"Well, the rest of America can all go to hell," she said. "Pardon my French."
"I went to France, too," I grinned.
She said, "I don't even want to talk about that."
Then April pulled her head back in the window. I'd been gone two months. I hadn't ordered. It didn't matter. "Pork sandwich, cup of stew, brownie, sweet tea with extra ice!" she shouted.
"You like it over there in Europe?" she asked, taking the exact change I offered for my meal.
I did like it over there in Europe. I love it over there. I long for it.
"Yeah," I said. "But I missed it here. Y'all can understand what I'm sayin'."
Posted by Heather Anne Hogan at 9:41 am