15 Terrible Early-90’s Songs Suburban Kids Listened to in The Back of Our Friends’ Moms’ Minivans and Have Tried to Block Out Since

90’s nostalgia has been upon us for awhile, and, much like Ren Faire attendees would rather ignore the fact that the Medieval era would’ve been torturous to endure, those screaming about how much they “LOVE 90’s music!!!” rarely look objectively at the decade. Y’see, kids, kids, pop music went on a strange tangent in those years between the 80’s and the Britney/Christina/boy band invasion of ’98, and thanks to our parents’ determination to follow the stars of yore during their respective descents into Snoozeville (see: Rod Stewart, Elton John), a horrible vanilla phase emerged in the undercurrent of the adult contemporary genre. A huuuge chunk of 90’s musical culture includes this wave of hostile Caucasian Americana-brand mediocrity which permeated suburban life via carpool lane radio and The Weather Channel. It’s in our best interest to remember this dark side so we aren’t doomed to repeat it.

All I’m saying is: Thank God for “The Bodyguard” Soundtrack breaking through to the Mom-pop stations and keeping it interesting. We miss you, Whitney. 

Anyway, a healthy life is about balance, so to offer a counterweight to the glory of 90’s hip hop/rap/alternative/R&B/riot grrrl/grunge, I’ve curated some of the worst pop hits from 1990-95. I’m not going to bash many of the era’s heavy-hitters (Celine, Michael Bolton, Kenny G,) even though they were also responsible for some heavy-duty earsores (looking at you too, Madonna). Instead, let’s explore those subtle-yet-pervasive hits that we’ve all tried very hard to blot out in the years since.

FUN FACT: I’d never seen the videos to any of these songs, because, as the oldest of four kids in a pretty conservative family, I didn’t have any exposure to MTV until after Kurt Cobain was dead. So I first experienced these as I put this post together – a real treat!

As a warm-up, here’s
Aaron Neville’s Cotton Commercial

Ready now? Let’s do this!


How Do You Talk to an Angel – The Heights

I’M COMING IN HOT!!! Yeah, I said it, 90210 fans!! NOW WHAT WHAT NOW?!!?!?
No, but seriously, y’guys. Give this another listen with our now-adult perspectives and tell me it’s a good song with a straight face. If you can, you’re a sociopath, no questions asked.
Also, I’m not going to get into the whole Gin Blossoms/BoDeans/Rembrandts/Spin Doctors soft-altrock thing any further than this. Promise.

All for Love – Sting, Rod Stewart, & Bryan Adams (from “The Three Musketeers” Soundtrack)

Alright, to avenge 90210 Fans, here I am stepping on my own toes because I definitely liked this song and absolutely harmonized the shit out of it together with my BFF just this summer when she visited my place. And it. Is. The. Worst.


Soldier of Love – Donny Osmond


Alright, CONFESSION: I didn’t know Donny Osmond sang this until just now. Again, my pop culture knowledge has a lot of blind spots from that era (Ex: I just watched both “Total Recall” and “Basic Instinct”  for the first time just this week. Yeah, really.) But true to form, he continues to be not at all “rock’n’roll”, no matter how hard he’s working that Jordan Knight-knockoff look.

Good for Me – Amy Grant

Whenever people my age whine that “music these days has just gotten soo baaaad. I miss the good old days when pop music was great!!”, my brain immediately thinks of Amy Grant and Billy Ocean as evidence to the contrary.
You guys, Amy Grant was awful. (BUZZKILL ALERT: There’s a ton of scientific reasoning why everyone believes the music that came out during their adolescent years was the best. It correlates with your pubescent hormones and the imprinting of the feelings the music gave you at that time in your life holding significant value and meaning, exactly like your first love. This is why you’re not as amazed by new music when you’re an adult and why your parents hated what you were listening to when you were a teen. The music wasn’t better; you were just hormonal. Sorry ’bout it.) “Good For Me” is particularly cheesy, although “Baby, Baby” is a close second.

Anything by Jon Secada. Just anything.

There was a span of about a year where this guy was everywhere and honestly, all his tracks sound like clones of each other. In fact, until I went hunting for his videos on YouTube just now, I didn’t realize I know at least 5 songss of his because I was convinced it was just the same two played over and over. Also, I remember always wondering whether or not his music was secular or if he was Trojan-horsing a Jesus message on all of us, which was a super common thing back in those days, as evidenced by…

Michael W. Smith – I Will Be Here For You

Christian crossover artists were all over contemporary charts at the time (see: Amy Grant) and Michael W. Smith was the guy your parents were happy for you to listen to because you’d probably hear his stuff at the “contemporary service” on Sunday, too!

Faithful – Go West


I’m cackling at the idea of any of you curiously clicking this link to give this a first listen because JEE. ZUSS. I forgot how terrible this song was. Oh man. I’m so sorry.

The Heart of the Matter – Don Henley

I really thought this song was called “Forgiveness” until just now when I Googled it to find the video. Who cares. Garbage.

I Want to Be Rich – Calloway

I may’ve learned a little American Sign Language through Girl Scouts and private study and then taught myself how to sign this entire song for fun… just in case you were wondering what my personal brand was during this time in my life.

Would I Lie to You – Charles & Eddie

I keep finding these and thinking “Oh WAAAAOOWW… THIS one has to be the worst…” until I get to the next one on my list, but honestly, this one is Top 3. I don’t usually believe in superlatives, but this song makes me blush and cringe in a way I’m not comfortable with.

Life is a Highway – Tom Cochrane or anybody else who covers it

And to answer the follow-up question: No, none of the covers of this are good, either.

Peter Cetera’s Varied Number-One-Ranked Experiments in Increasingly Mind-Numbing Sounds


Remember that thing I said about our parents aging stars of yore? Yeeeaahh…

Richard Marx – Right Here Waiting

It’s all just starting to sound the same, right?

Right Here Right Now – Jesus Jones

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhnnnnnn……

That Springsteen Song from Jerry Maguire

Maaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugghhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-wuh!!!!

HONORABLE MENTION: I Know – Dionne Farris

Alright, this wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, either. It was a track that was a little more of what the adults would embarrassingly dub “funky”, but was pretty tame and middle-of-the-road by all accounts. I’m including it on this list because it seems to be THE SONG we all heard repeatedly and we all knew and when we sang along to it when it was on the radio at any given moment for about 2 years, our moms didn’t give us a hard time about it. Kind of like Des’ree but without a memorable voice.

…And yes, I DID have that one Des’ree album on cassette. And I DID listen to it when I went for a rollerblading cardio session every day during the summer… when I wasn’t listening to the “Batman Forever” soundtrack.

Never Forget

Things I’m a Hypocrite About: An Ongoing Exposé

Principle: I think chasing trends and fashion is the most wasteful, superficial manifestation of this consumer culture we’ve created.
Hypocrisy: I enthusiastically watch to see what Rihanna is going to stun us with next… And I follow about 50 drag queens on Insta just to admire their selfie creations. (@PhiPhiOhara is doing #365DaysofDrag, a look per day for a year, and it is quite literally amazing.)

Principle: Capital punishment is morally wrong, barbaric, outdated, and terrifyingly flawed. Enough is enough.
Hypocrisy: If someone is convicted of child abuse (especially sexual), that person should be hurled into a shark tank on a celebrity-hosted Pay-Per-View event and we should send all the proceeds directly to the public education system.

Principle: It is absolutely none of my business what anyone does in his or her bedroom and I’m sick of it being public discussion.
Hypocrisy: I am disgusted by this grey-walls-in-the-boudoir vogue and will quietly judge it all day long. Call it “classy” all you want; all I see is a resignation to boredom. I didn’t know vanilla came in grey.

Principle: The pendulum swing back to small businesses and DIY lifestyles is exactly what we need to get America back from this ubiquitous, sweeping corporate culture that creates indentured servants out of small-town workers!
Hypocrisy: …But Starbucks is the only place in town that can do a dairy-free/soy-free/low-sugar mocha… And I just want a part-time gig from a company that isn’t on the brink of collapse due to financial issues for a change.

Principle: “Oh, I haven’t seen that commercial; I don’t really watch TV.” is something I catch myself saying a bunch. And believing.
Hypocrisy:  I’ve religiously followed “It’s Always Sunny…”, “Broad City”, “Archer”, “Baskets”, “New Girl”, and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” every season since their respective inceptions via streaming services… oh, and “Snapped”, which terrifies my husband.

Principle: Kids are the worst. My anxiety skyrockets being around more than three of them at once. And why are we even still producing them? Humanity is having a serious overpopulation issue that could easily be curbed if we pumped the brakes on procreation.
Hypocrisy: Have you met my daughter?! SHE’S MADE OF MAGIC AND SUNSHINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Here, let me give you ample opportunity to observe her general awesomeness via varied social media platforms. It won’t get old.

Principle: It’s important that we all express how we feel and stand up for our beliefs no matter what!
Hypocrisy: … Unless you honestly believe God doesn’t want you to share, interact, or coexist with anyone different than you. Then you should shut the fuck up and take a seat.

Principle: Namaste. I recognize that the Divine in you is the Divine in me, too. We are all one, and we are all manifestations of a Higher Power, interacting on a physical plane.
Hypocrisy: This is just something I want to believe but don’t yet. I can only see the Divine in the very few people who are extraordinarily kind, generous, selfless, forgiving, creative, or otherwise inspirational. For the most part, I just see secular, regular, messed up (sometimes REALLY awful) people. That doesn’t mean it’s reality; it’s just what I can observe. I should work on that.

Principle: I genuinely don’t believe in marriage; it’s an antiquated institution that isn’t based on practicality anymore aside from tax benefits. Monogamy isn’t natural and that’s not a terrible thing. Attempting to put rules and arbitrary expectations on human nature just causes way more heartache than anyone deserves. I’m not anti-marriage; I just don’t advocate it if asked (which I’m not, usually)… And I don’t at all get this obsession with weddings in our culture, but that’s another issue…
Hypocrisy: I’ve been married and monogamous for almost 8 years. And, despite a rocky start, the last couple years have been improbably, almost annoyingly ideal. I’ve even considered renewing our vows. ::shrug:: I dunno, guys.

Principle: The sugar-addicted American diet has made us so depressed, obese, and unhealthy that we have become fat little caricatures/laughingstocks to the rest of the world. Eat more vegetables!! Stop eating garbage and then piling on medications to treat the ailments that this Western diet causes! It’s costing us a fortune in insurance costs to tackle everyone’s issues that could easily be treated by consuming less sugar and empty calories. Take control of your health, people!!!!!!
Hypocrisy: I have spent $52 on the boxes of Girl Scout cookies I have singlehandedly consumed from my daughter’s inventory in the last 6 weeks. They’re $4 per box. I have also checked a dozen grocery stores in my area in anticipation of the arrival of Ben & Jerry’s Dairy Free collection. Also, summer is approaching, which I often refer to as “Cheerwine Season”.

Principle: Can we all quit telling each other what to wear and what not to wear already!?!
Hypocrisy: White people shouldn’t wear cornrows. Stop it.

My Most Spectacular Failure: A True Fable

In honor of the LPGA U.S. Open starting today, I thought I’d share the story of the time I singlehandedly cost my high school the 1997 State Championship women’s golf title. It is a doooozy of spectacular proportions and is an ideal parable for both the perils of making expectations about other people and the beauty of perspective.

The public high school where I spent my freshman and sophomore years was brand new at the time and happened to have among us two of the best female players in the state; we just needed a third player to qualify as a team, and because my father made his career developing golf courses and I’d grown up in Pinehurst (the original self-proclaimed “Golf Capital of the World” outside of, you know, Scotland), the organizer was adamant that I’d make a perfect candidate. Said organizer was also my volleyball coach, which was a sport in which I was admittedly pretty awesome, so she straight-up refused to believe me when I said, “I really, really can’t play golf, Coach. Seriously, this is a terrible idea” and, I assume, just thought I was being modest. She was convinced that I could go out there and “hold [my] own” since I’d been raised in a golfing family, and so, after her relentless begging for almost a month, I acquiesced.

I’ll keep this short: The three of us traveled four hours from Myrtle Beach (the other self-proclaimed “Golf Capital of the World”) across the state to the tournament, which was held in even-more-out-in-the-middle-of-Nowheresville, SC. The two girls on the team scored the best in the entire state, and we were an easy choice to take the whole thing, even if I shot an outlandish 120.

I shot 154.

I couldn’t stop laughing; it was too absurd… and then laughing about how unashamed I was about the whole thing.

Alright, wait.
I legitimately had done my best out there because I didn’t want to make a mockery of the thing deliberately. I was raised with manners, for God’s sake. And integrity.
Also, I felt genuinely sorry for the other two girls who were maybe hoping this whole thing would be a beautiful underdog story that would put our sparkling new high school on the map and possibly help them catch the eye of scouts for potential collegiate golf careers. But I’m not sure how they felt about it, really, because they made sure to never speak to me again.

However, the look of shock and horror that slowly crept across Coach’s face as she watched my swiftly-unraveling game was the funniest thing to happen on a golf course short of Bill Murray mumbling about a Cinderella story. I even told a few friends about the catastrophic ridiculousness of my game with a shrug and the honest assessment that, “I DID say it was a bad idea…”

What’s most interesting to me all these years later is this: At the time, I was of the age where I was shamed very, very easily.
Call me “overweight”? I’ll be a wreck of tears and starvation for a month.
Fart in mixed company? Not going to show my face for the next hour.
But grandly, publicly, comically botching a state championship in front of hundreds of people in a sport I absolutely don’t care about? Hilarious.

..and easily dismissed, too. This was something that not only never bothered me, but that I quickly forgot about. Telling people I played golf in a state title tournament is one of those pieces of personal trivia I reserve for games of “Two Truths and a Lie”, and people always assume that that’s the lie.

So there are two lessons here, really:
1) Shame and embarrassment are all relative to what we put value on and our individual perceptions of what “failure” actually means.
2) Don’t make assumptions on a person just because of their lifestyle’s circumstances.

Oh, and 3) I cannot effing play golf. So don’t ask.

NOTE: My sincere apologies to Katie B. and Serena (Selena?), wherever they are, who probably never found this whole thing as hilarious as I, but who never once said anything negative about it to me like total class acts. It would’ve been a real honor to play with you had I actually been playing golf that day.

90’s Songs You Probably Forgot: Pt 1 & 2

So, recently I’ve just started putting up a daily musical greeting as a Facebook status update and the week has been a little brighter as I’ve been delving back into my personal memory archives and pulling out the tunes that embellished an era. At the moment, the theme is mid-90’s r&b and, frankly, I could go on forever but then I’d start looking like one of those white kids they make fun of on StuffWhitePeopleLike.com under the “Black People Music that Black People Don’t Even Like Anymore” category. So I’m sticking to a few that changed things for me and then leaving it at that. I know I’m being mainstream and just scratching the surface; this isn’t an art exhibition after years of in depth research – it’s just me, posting slightly-forgotten videos to the delight of a few friends. Nothing serious.

 

so without further rambling ado, I give you the
SHAMELESS OBSCURE 90’S MUSIC EXPLORATION BY RANDOM CATEGORY Project

This installment is “Decent but forgettable alt-rock songs you’ll never think of right off”

The first section is “Little-Known Chick Rock tracks that weren’t terrible/pretentious.”
————————–
Letters to Cleo “Here and Now”
Love it. I just think it embodies the 1990’s as a girl. Completely

Anouk “Nobody’s Wife”
Say what you want about Alanis, Anouk was just as perfect to scream along to and I sure did. I still do even though the lyrics don’t really apply anymore… but they did for a while. (Also, that video had to cost $10 at most. It’s TERRIBLE.)

 

JoyDrop “Beautiful”
Oh God, I lived for this song (really more in 2000 but it counts) and all the symbolism it had in my deep, tortured adolescent existence.
… anyway.
I liked it. I think it’s powerful and it speaks to every girl and it helped move me forward, even a little.

Luscious Jackson “Naked Eye”
I don’t know any of the words except the chorus but she’s still magic. And I soooo wanted that haaaiir.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIAAx2vAxic
(Embedding disabled)

Jill Sobule “I Kissed a Girl
Everyone was wigging out about Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and I was kinda appalled because that song was SO 15 years ago. Stupid kids thinking they’re all radical and original…

Bif Naked “Moment of Weakness”
It’s obvious she wanted to be Gwen but this song was still pretty great

——————————–

And then this section is “Pop-ish Dude Alt Rock Songs You’re Probably Going to go “AAwww!! I forgot this one!!” About Even if it’s Terrible”

Placebo “Pure Morning”
It’s beautiful. It’s poignant. The video will cover you in chills. I still listen to it when I need to conjure a powerful mood.


(Embedding disabled but you HHAAAVE to watch it. You really do. It’s beautiful.)

Reef “Place Your Hands”
Try not to sing and jump along the second time you listen to it. Try. Also, the jumping and splashy water effects are pretty rad, too.

Spacehog “In the Meantime”
Love. Lovelove. It’s part of the 90’s canon as far as I’m concerned. It moves my heart. It makes me want to dance and love people. I love it. Have I mentioned that?

New Radicals “You Get What You Give
I’m glad they made their money and got out of the game before it stunted them; that’s admirable. I saw them open for the Goo Goo Dolls and they were tons of fun. Highly recommended.

Local H “Down to the Floor”

It’s like they were allllmost sad enough to be Grunge but noooott quite. I think that’s what I liked about them, actually. Also, I’ll take any reason to scream “COPACETIC!!”

White Town “Your Woman”
Nobody had any idea what the song was about and nobody really figured anything out from the video. But it’s still got an amazing sound.


(Embedding disabled)

Tripping Daisy “I Gotta Girl”
I’ll be shocked if anyone can remember this one. Because it’s trippy.

Harvey Danger “Flagpole Sittah”
Remember when everyone thought they were going to be the new hot shit like Supersonic  or Eve 6 (ugh…) or Marcy Playground (why they had a hit was beyond me) and, instead they only got into a preview for some Katie Holmes movie and then they were out?


(Not the actual video but is the actual song)

Barenaked Ladies “Brian Wilson”
Before “stunt” came out, they were actually a fantastically genius college-y band (I normally don’t even like college-y) whose songs were amazing and whose concerts were the funniest damned things I’d ever been to. And LISTEN to that jam session/piano solo at the end. Daaaaaamn. (If you gt a chance, listen to their “Rock Spectacle” album. It’s pretty amazing.)

~ Dishwalla “Counting Blue Cars”
With sounds and lyrics like this I really thought we’d be watching them for a while. Ah well. Lines from this song are still among my favorite lyrics. (Also, this video might be THE MOST 90’s of the ones posted here.)

~Primitive Radio Gods “Standing Outside a Broken Phonebooth with Money in my Hand”
I just wanted to meet the soul brother wailing in the background; screw that wussy lead singer.

~Cowboy Mouth “Jenny Says”

NEVER a more energetic band to watch. Music = meh. Concerts – YYYYYYYYEAAAAAHHH!

~ Soul Coughing “Circles”
I laughed at every one of my friends who bought this terrible album. Because if this was the best song they could pick from the list, that’s bad. Bad bad.

(Not actual video. And not really worth your time.)

~ Whitest Kids You Know “Freak of the Week”

It never “spoke” to me or anything. In fact, I didn’t even really like it. But I thought about it and did the “Awww” thing anyway. So here we are.

~ The Verve Pipe “Freshmen”

Don’t act like you don’t remember. I actually saw them in concert the summer that that song was huge. They had a couple good ones but they all pretty much sounded the same. So it goes…

~ Shawn Mullins “Lullabye”
I’m not going to say I loved it and I always thought the singer was whoa pretentious, but my heart hurt for the girl in the song for some reason and I may just always remember that. Or equate it with that time of my life. Or something.

~ Fastball “The Way”
I’m not a fan but my hubs loved them, so this is for him.

~ Caroline’s Spine “Attention Please”
Anybody remember this? Anybody?
This is not the official vid ’cause I couldn’t find it. They might’ve been that small of a band

~ Sister Hazel “All For You”
This may belong in the “Mediocre 90’s music” category but, if Soul Coughing made this list, then so does this one:

And, finally,

~ The Verve “Bittersweet Symphony”
Because we all know we enjoyed it but it still comes up too much in pretention to be sincerely appreciated.


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Things I Love About Being Southern: Tea and “Honey”

NOTE: I’ve decided that it’s best for me not to preemptively decide my new topics because then they feel like a chore and my writing just sounds forced and incomplete. There are too many things I’m excited to talk about as well, so I don’t want to waste time with mediocre essays. From now on, we’re talking about what I want to talk about when I wanna talk about it, enkay?

This issue includes two separate but equal Southern fine arts.

The Fine Art of Sweet Tea: House Wine of the South

When I studied abroad I met some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met and decided to throw myself a farewell party and cook my friends a Southern feast. I made fried chicken, biscuits (the Paula Deen recipe. Duh), green beans slow-simmered with a ham hock, marinated summer veggies and a few other things that escape my memory at the moment. (I do remember a lot of gawking at the required portions of butter and sugar necessary for these delicacies.) Additionally, I made two giant pitchers of sweetened iced tea, one in regular flavor and the other in peach or raspberry or something. Needless to say, my guests completely ignored the wine on hand in favor of the brewed confection and drained both pitchers within the first half hour.

My mother called sweet tea the “house wine of the South” and I can honestly never remember a time when there wasn’t an old milk jug full of it in our home. As in almost all Southern households, it is the first thing offered to guests (my mom would even give it out in to-go cups to Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on her door as a consolation prize of sorts for not being able to convert her) and is present in at least one meal every day. To say that sweet tea is a staple is a bit misleading; in truth, it is an essential part of the Southern lifestyle.

Before I go any further, let’s get two things straight right here and now:

1) Sweet tea is not cold tea with some sugar stirred in. This is a form of blasphemy in the South.  You can always tell a Yankee who’s trying to dip their toe in Southern culture by their habit of stirring Sweet ‘N Low into a cold glass of unsweetened tea. (bleuck!) Every self-respecting Southerner knows that any sweet tea worth drinking has the sugar (or Splenda. See? We can keep up with the times!) boiled in just before you steep the tea and remove the pot from the heat. The fusion is what gives sweet tea that smooth, sweet taste that doesn’t bite or have a grainy texture like undissolved raw sugar tends to.

2) The sweet tea you get at loud, crowded seafood houses or independent pancake houses in the South is NOT what we drink on a regular basis. This is Karo syrup with water and dye mixed in and is so sweet that most Southerners can’t even finish a glass of it without copious amounts of lemon juice and a few extra cups of ice.

Sweet tea is a time-honored tradition that seeps into every orifice of Southern culture. Many women spend time perfecting their recipe and are filled with more joy and pride when complimented on their unique brew than they are when receiving praise for their tangible possessions, household, sartorial choices, childrens’ intelligence, etc. And, although you’d think that sweet tea is more or less the same, women will INSIST on telling you their “secret” to the perfect pitcher the very second you show your approval of their artistic expression.

However, if a hostess chooses to serve a flavored tea (usually raspberry or peach, although I have seen currant, orange and blackberry) at a gathering it is considered a bit of a novelty and each guest will take a small glass of it to sample, not unlike what is done at a wine tasting. Guests all inherently know that it is important for everyone to try the “special” tea before going in for seconds or even a full glass, although all these rules are negated if the hostess admits to using a prefab tea mix. (This is only permitted without judgment if the hostess has a full-time job, more than one child or is over the age of 65.) Additionally, there will ALWAYS be a pitcher of regular sweet tea on the table as per the norm, because a flavored tea or special brew is regarded as a casual cocktail, whereas sweet tea is a simple accompaniment to a meal. Much like the Japanese regard rice, a Southern party (particularly those held during the summer) is considered incomplete or an outright failure if there is not sweet tea somewhere on the spread, even if nobody drinks it. However, this is not something a Southerner would ever admit out loud and is usually not something that is even discussed. But when there is no sweet tea at an afternoon or evening gathering in the South, each guest will leave with a dull ache in their stomach and the feeling that something just isn’t quite right, although they probably couldn’t put their finger on what it was exactly.

Finding one’s personal sweet tea preference is the equivalent to finding one’s True Self in the South, often becoming a spiritual journey that takes years of soul-searching and meditation through dozens of phases and evolution. What your signature sweet tea tastes like says a lot about you as a person. Maybe you like yours watered down with more lemon, maybe you boil your sugar for exactly 2.5 minutes before steeping the tea, maybe you prefer using 7 Lipton family-size teabags for every quart you make… it all directly defines who you are and how you feel about life.

Me personally? I’m a bit off the map, really. I like to brew African rooibos with some cinnamon and Splenda, let it cool in a covered pot overnight and then put it in the fridge the next morning. It’s both warm and cool at the same time and tastes like a hug. That’s my sweet tea.

The Fine Art of Implementing the Word “Honey”

Before it was adopted by drag queens snappin-in-a-“z”-formation and domestic, suburban housewives, the term “Honey” was a term of endearment coined in the South.

The CARDINAL RULE for using the term “Honey” is that you are never, under any circumstances, permitted to address someone in this fashion who is 10 or more years older than yourself especially if the person with whom you are speaking is a relative. It will be taken as an incredibly disrespectful gesture and can have you branded as “rude”, a label that does not wear off with time in the South. This is the sort of event that can cause a chain reaction within your family that can lead to things like being written out of a will. I’m not exaggerating. I can think of maaaaybe 2 circumstances in which this sort of language would be okay but they are all extremely subjective situations and are not intended to be navigated by a novice. To be safe, just stick to the rule.

Also, the only people who are socially allowed to use the term “honey child/chile” are those of African-American descent. Everyone else looks ridiculous saying this, unless they are being ironic, which they will never do in the presence of an African-American.

These days, “honey” has a vast array of uses and an enormous variety of social connotations, so those who are unfamiliar with the intricate politics of the word must be very careful when talking to a Southerner, lest they come across as an arrogant, patronizing Yankee.

There are few words that have the power to be condescending, comforting, humorous, self-depreciating, friendly or reassuring – depending on the implementation – like the word “Honey”. Allow me to give a few basic examples:

“What can I get for you, honey?” ~ In this case, the word “honey” is meant to put the speaker’s target at ease. This type of phrase can most often be heard in the presence of grandmothers or matronly waitresses at local diners. The connotation establishes the speaker as an emotional or physical caretaker and is very very seldomly used by a male figure.

“Oh, honey, you’re telling me.” ~ In this case, the speaker is attempting to show empathy and express a sense of camaraderie with the person he or she is addressing. This immediately gives the conversation a tone of understanding and mutual respect with a playful, familiar atmosphere. This version of the term can be seen in a conversation with a gas station clerk as easily as it can between old friends. In both, the intent is identical.

Ohh, hooonney…” ~ If this sentence is not immediately followed with “I’m so sorry”, then the apology is automatically implied. Using the term “honey” as a means to comfort someone is acceptable so long as the misery of the other person is not your fault. If you are the cause for someone else’s unhappiness, calling them “honey” will only belittle them and act as an underhanded power play. (This is often used in long-term relationships as a way to say “I’m sorry, but I’m still in charge here.”) The comfort-mode “honey” can be used with many different people, from acquaintances to close friends to children to complete strangers, again, so long as that person is NOT 10+ years older than yourself.

“Oooh, honey!” ~ This exclamation is a means to congratulate someone and offer them encouragement. It can be heard prefacing such statements as “Look at you all dressed up/climbing the corporate ladder/landing yourself a good-lookin’ man/driving that fancy car.” (This is when the term “honey child” is most likely to come into play.)

“Oh, honey, no.” ~ This particular usage is a backhanded way of insulting someone’s intelligence. By masking his or her disapproval as caring sympathy, the speaker creates a tone that allows him or her to insult someone else’s choices without deeply offending them. (ex: “Oh, honey. No. That dress looks like you let your cat play with it for an hour before you put it on.”)

“Oh, honey, I wouldn’t @#$! with me if you knew what was good for you.” ~ This is the implementation of “honey” that is meant to be both ironic and condescending. By calling an opponent “honey”, the speaker is making light of a situation, inferring that he or she is superior to the other person and able to take on such an inferior foe without much effort or emotional investment. Although “honey” is usually used to show affection, this ironic use leans more toward the “honey” that signifies pity. The practice of “honey” in this snide connotation can be used with close acquaintances, complete strangers, younger family members and annoying little brats but is never used in arguments between close friends unless the friendship is close to inevitable demise. (It’s hard to recover from this sort of demeaning remark when used in a legitimate argument.)

Honestly, I could go on and on with examples, although the differences in the utilization of the word will become very situation-specific and are likely to confuse readers who are completely foreign to this practice. However, I think the above examples cover most of the general effects “honey” is capable of.

All this being said, I strongly believe that, unlike learning a foreign language, a novice to the practice of using “honey” in everyday speech should spend a copious amount of time observing the art of implementing this term. Because of the delicacy of the term’s social implications, a potential user should be sure he or she knows all the subtle nuances of the language before engaging in participation.

Things I Love About Being Southern: 3rd Installment

Welcome back! I know I promised you four topics for this edition but I just got ‘to ramblin’ and these were all I had time/room for. You’ll get your other two topics next time. Promise.

Gospel vs. WASPel* Music

Lemme just put this one to rest up front: White people suck at gospel music.
There. I said it.

I don’t care how successful Elvis’s gospel albums were. I don’t care how beautiful Anne Murray or Alan Jackson sang “The Old Rugged Cross.” White people gospel (Or WASPel, as I like to call it.) is boring.

White people suck at worship music in general, when it comes right down to it. Traditional hymns are the most depressing, slow-tempoed, brooding melodies you’ve ever heard, sung with reluctance by old people who are just singing it -and insisting that everyone else sing it – because they did when they were kids. Even the “upbeat” tunes like “He Lives!” are sung in apathetic monotone in every traditional church across the South. There is no joy. There is no inner reflection. Frankly, there’s not really even any worship going on when you get right down to it. Even if you go to these contemporary church services, there are a handful of white people clapping on the 1-and-3-counts while singing along to a seemingly endless soft-rock ditty that’s just dripping with sentiment (Usually the lyrics sound like they were written by a 13 year old girl with a crush on her older brother’s best friend.) while everyone else stands awkwardly by, mouthing along with the words and thinking about where they’re going to have lunch. It’s the same “Schmeh”-attitude-singing that came from the last generation, just with some guy playing the drums instead of the organ. If anything, I think we’re boring God to tears as much as we’re boring ourselves. 95% of what white people crank out and call “gospel” is a grave insult to the entire genre, considering gospel’s incredible roots and what it stands for today.

Gospel in it’s truest form is the single most amazing phenomenon to come out of the South, in my humble – yet loudly proclaimed – opinion. As you may or may not know, original gospel music was borne of African slaves, both in their native country during the occupation of the missionaries and then later, working on plantations in the deep South. These beautiful people, in the midst of horrific living conditions that included being beaten, sexually assaulted, imprisoned, and having their children stripped from them while working tirelessly in sweltering heat, developed the roots of gospel music which, unlike the white people’s worship songs, wasn’t melancholy or forlorn but, instead, was raucous, joyful, hopeful and damn fun to sing along to.

There’s nothing in the world more inspiring and invigorating than a Sunday morning at a predominantly African-American church. The joy of the message and the music paired with the symbolic, historic integrity it stands for is enough to strike awe into the heart of even the most devout non-believer. Tight harmonies and simple melodies of this centuries-old tradition invite participation with reckless abandon, enabling church-goers to lose themselves in the excitement of such an incredibly rejuvenating experience. (Which is probably why these churches don’t get out until way after the white folks have eaten, gone home, gotten out of their church clothes and taken a nap.) The sounds facilitate joy, perpetuate hope and invite the loud, unabashed praise that I think God really appreciates the most and that gives a sense of fulfillment and recharged energy for anyone who dares to join in. There’s a sense of community in the songs – everyone admitting that we’re flawed but are working to be better every day, all of us singing praises and gratitude for our gifts and our lives, no matter how miserable things may be in our current situations… There’s the understanding that God is loving and caring, walking along beside us, expecting us to serve him by serving others and rejoicing with us – things that are rarely celebrated in the music of white churches with any form of enthusiasm.

I think the main difference between African-American gospel and white-people gospel is the pure emotion found in the former. Singers and performers of African-American gospel don’t hold back from clapping along or singing out or dancing or yelling out praises as the emotions wash over them. Meanwhile, I can’t remember ever seeing anyone so much as crack a smile while singing in the Caucasian churches I’ve been to. If people are comfortable being boring, that’s one thing, but there’s this overwhelming feeling of inhibition and preoccupation with the rampant solemnity in tradition, even though the creed specifically states “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” As Eddie Izzard noted, it seems so ridiculous to listen to white people sing “Hallelujiah” when they look like they’re on the brink of crying themselves to sleep.

I like the joyful noises and the “Amen!”s screamed back at the minister and the ever-accelerating tempos of gospel music as the crowd reaches a frenzy. I like the feeling of being part of something and actually giving back to a worship service as much as I’m taking away from it. I like the idea that people together create a synergy as opposed to congregating to have one person create a holy atmosphere. I like a whole crowd of people seeing each other as real, flawed people and singing about an other-worldly hope and divinity that pushes us forward.

That’s what Gospel music is about. And, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the closest thing to Heaven that exists in the South, aside from peach cobbler a la mode.

See white people do it wrong:

Country Roads

I’m not a John Denver fan at all, but the man was a marketing genius when he penned “Country Roads”, as discussing the song’s subject matter is a surefire means to tweak at the hearts of anyone who’s lived outside the metropolitan South. (And, no, “metropolitan South” isn’t an oxymoron.)

Now, this is not to say that country roads are all magical, wondrous vistas filled with beauty and flawless romanticism. There’s a lot of crap going on on the side of most country roads, like run-down trailer parks and abandoned gas stations with boarded up windows and overgrown parking lots. But even the idiosyncrasies are what make taking the “scenic route” worthwhile. As weird as it sounds, I really like looking at century-old tobacco barns and houses that are still standing although long-abandoned as I feel like they add a great deal of character to an area, and tell a story of progress and hope. (I know. I can hyper-romanticize a can of tuna if you’d let me.)

However, a lot of these unique country attributes demand that travelers adhere to the Southern rules of the road, of course. For example, in the summertime, you have to be careful around sharp turns and coming over hills so you don’t rear-end a slow-moving tractor or the occasional herd of cows being transferred to another pasture. You must drive slowly in densely-wooded areas at night in case you come across a deer, a possum or a hunting dog (although, if you’re like me, you’ll want to load the hunting dog into your car and take it to an animal rescue shelter – no animal deserves to be spray-painted and sent out to work at night.) In fact, you should really drive as slowly as possible at all times while in the country as there’s always the threat of running across chickens, dogs, children, horses, funerals, schoolbuses, churches being let out, early-morning farmer’s market patrons or old people cruising around for their “Sunday afternoon drive” (which is apt to happen any afternoon of the week). But, if you remember nothing else, for the love of God, don’t honk at anyone’s driving mistakes when you’re out in the country; Southerners take a reprimanding carhorn as a personal offense and you’re liable to get an entire town to turn against you if you hold down your horn for longer than 1 second – especially if you’re in the “downtown” district, which may be no larger than a blinking stoplight and a Quickie Mart.

It isn’t hard to get to a “country road” from anywhere in The South, although it’s significantly more difficult to get to one that’s particularly enjoyable. This has a lot to do with subjectivity, however, as every Southerner has his or her idea of what really makes an ideal country passage. For the redneck off-roading set, the muddy, unpaven routes or the hilly, rocky enlarged mountain trails are the most beautiful aspects of Southern terrain, perfect for flinging chunks of mud and scaling jagged, pointy boulders in a wild, testosterone-injected variation of a four-wheel-drive SUV. For the farm families, it’s long, straight roads constructed of curved dust that line miles and miles of flat, treeless fields.

I prefer a variety of Southern journeys, in all honesty. When I get into the Lowcountry, I love finding myself on narrow landbridges tunneling through quiet, forgotten swamps, shaded by a canopy of Spanish moss dangling from cypress. In the North Carolina Piedmont, I’ll load my daughter into her carseat and let the gentle waves of country hills lull her to sleep while I smile at the endless display quaint, storybook farms and houses that look like something out of old model train sets.

Of all the Southern country roads, however, the ones I love the most are the ones in the Appalachian. When making my ascent, I’ll roll down my windows to inhale the deep musk of rhododendron and fern. Even on the interstate, there’s a serenity that seems to settle on every traveler and compels them to gaze out over the endless landscape of ancient mounds that fade gradually into a blue haze. I’ll even roll my windows down when I’m riding through the mountains in the snow, listening to the hushed settling of acceptance as the trees get reacquainted with the rare bite of frost. But in the summertime, I love to hang my head out the window like a dog, watching the sun cut green columns through the blankets of leaves and feeling the humidity pool on my hairline, where the smell will stay for days if I’ll let it. I love reaching the fields in the valleys where the brooks topple over worn stones and cows lumber about on great hills where it looks like they should go sliding off any minute. I’ll honk and wave at farmers on tractors or kids tubing down the river or old folks shelling peas at their roadside produce stands. (Assuming I’ve already stopped for a bushel of apples.) I really get into my mountain roads and always insist on stopping at least once every 30 minutes to take in an overlook or mosey around a tiny village, usually to the chagrin of whomever I’m carrying as a passenger.

But, usually, by the end of the trip, anyone in the car is a convert to the simple majesty and elegance of the Great Country Road. Unless said passenger is my husband, who has seen “The Hills Have Eyes” and is terrified of anything other than interstates. Poor guy.

This concludes the Third Installment of the “Things I Love About Being Southern” series. Join me next time when we will discuss:

Festivals

Gullah Culture

The Fine Art and Usage of the Word “Honey”

Things I Love About Being Southern: 2nd Installment

Roadside Produce

In the South we pride ourselves on our produce, in case you haven’t noticed. In the summertime my mom used to make weeks and weeks worth of meals that consisted of just local, handpicked veggies. Steamed corn on the cob dripping with butter… boiled lima beans with my Gran’s chow chow on top … slices of huge, juicy tomatoes so big they could’ve doubled for a plate… Mmmmm… And, sure, you can get these things relatively locally at your grocery store (boooooo!) or at the always-bustling farmer’s market (the best part of waking up early on a Saturday) but everyone knows that the very best produce is the stuff you see in the back of a pickup truck or a trailer or a small shack on the side of the road.

Now, you have to be careful with what you choose to purchase from these entrepreneurs as not everything is safe. When purchasing from a mobile produce stand [read: Billy Bob’s pickup truck] it’s best to stick to the tougher, less volatile foods like watermelons, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, peanuts and maaaaybe zucchini. Believe it or not, a good tip to judging the quality of a mobile merchant’s produce is whether or not that person is present. I know this sounds strange but the best produce can be found at an unmanned stand with a coffee tin that reads “Honor System”. Because the farmer believes in the goodness of humanity and trusts you to do the right thing, you, in turn, trust him to deliver a quality product. And you will never ever be wrong about that. If you visit a mobile stand where the farmer is standing by, he has the option of changing the prices on you or pressuring you to buy more or breathing down your neck to make you uncomfortable so you buy a mediocre product in your haste to get away.

For the most part, produce sold in little rickety shanties with peeling paint and faded, misspelled signs is always safe. Clearly the stand has been there long enough to garner decent business over many years and obviously the local farmers have trusted the stand owner to sell their goods and be fair with the commissions, so you really feel like you’re a part of the community. The other thing about these places is that, unbeknownst to the throngs of tourists who happen to spot it while making a detour from the interstate, these are the pride and joy of many clusters of little farms because they are able to keep their produce local and give back to their small towns while building a reputation for themselves. If you hang out at one long enough, you’ll get it.

Oh! And one very important note about Southern culture regarding roadside produce: If you are on the way to a relative or friend’s home, it is extremely good manners to stop off at one of these stands and buy them a bag of fresh peaches,  tomatoes or sweet potatoes (and sometimes corn on the cob if you’re well-established with your host.)

I tried to explain this to an Australian friend who was visiting the States and allowing me to be her tour guide around the South. She seemed confused, “So, if I’m going to a friend’s house and I stop at the Wal-Mart grocery and get her some corn that would be weird and unfitting but if you buy a heap of corn from a toothless man on the side of the road that’s good manners?”

Exactly. Not only is it good manners but it will elicit a reaction of elated surprise and the inevitable refrain of “Gosh, these are beeaaautiful!” and you will be the highest valued guest of any that week.

Unless someone brings a fresh produce pie.

How we Deal with “Cold” Weather

In the South it gets cold for a total of 10 days every year. When I say “cold” I mean “lower than 40 degrees”. During these ten days, Southerners will become completely consumed with this obvious crisis and will discuss it amongst themselves incessantly as if having cold weather during the winter was completely unpredictable. It is not uncommon for two Southern strangers to stop and gab about how cold it is for twenty minutes in the dairy isle of the Piggly Wiggly or gas station cashiers holding up lines of patrons. Excitedly, they will compare notes and firsthand accounts as to how this insufferable weather has affected their daily lives with stories about how their car took 15 whole minutes to warm up or how the pond in their backyard had a ring of ice around it that almost extended to the middle. Southern mothers of all ages will call their children on a daily basis make sure that nobody has caught pneumonia in these gales of 38 degree (F) winds.

FUN FACT: Because we rarely get snow, we have reappropriated the fun Yankee word “toboggan” (which means “sled”) to now mean “knit cap.” If you didn’t know better, one could easily suppose we were running around reminding each other to put sleds on our heads and the heads of our children forpity’ssake.

The regularity of snow varies between specific regions of the South, of course. If in West Virginia or Virginia, one can expect snowfall to start in mid-December and continue weekly until mid-February. In North Carolina, one can tentatively expect one or two snows every year (which are mostly ice storms anyway), while South Carolina gets 2 or 3 inches every 2 or 3 years. If you’re in Georgia and Alabama, you’ll probably only see a local snow 3 or 4 times every twenty years and, if you see snow in Florida or Louisiana it is time to start packing your bags and saying your prayers because the apocalypse is nigh.

Although to an outsider the Southern Snow Reaction may appear as mere pandemonium, there are, in fact, three phases to the event of a Southern snow. These phases still stand regardless of the amount of snow, although the elapsed time of each phase in a community is directly proportionate to the inches of snow the area receives.

PHASE ONE: Because we don’t get much of snow that actually sticks to the roads, we don’t spend our tax dollars on fleets of snow-removal equipment. With this in mind, any weatherman in the South has the power to incite riots simply by mentioning there is a 60% or more chance of snow on a following day. This news stimulates nerve receptors in the Southern mind that forces said Southerner to drop his or her immediate activity, grab his/her keys and coat and drive in a blind panic to the local supermarket. Within the hour, the dairy and bread aisles will be completely cleared of any inventory, leaving the empty-handed to walk around wondering if powdered milk is really all that awful anyway. Unfortunately, 86% of these predictions turn out to be false alarms which inevitably leave thousands of Southerners with a gallon of milk in the fridge that they now have no use for because they rarely drink it at all.

PHASE TWO: There are a lot of times to be terrified of gleeful Southerners, like if you’re in traffic when the “Hot Doughnuts Now” light flickers on at the Krispy Kreme. But there is no single event that blankets the South with a deliriously giddy, childlike glee as the arrival of snow. Other than in the parking lot after the victory of a local university’s football championship game, there is no other time that Southerners are entitled to publicly lose their minds like they do when snow flurries begin. Even if the snow lasts 20 minutes and never sticks to anything, a Southerner’s entire day will be monopolized with an obsession for snow. It will be all anyone can talk about as if the rest of the world has completely ground to a halt because of frozen precipitation. And, if this snow sticks to the ground, then all hope of a productive Southern society is lost for the next few days. Even if it’s the second or third snow of the year, Southerners of all ages will frolic outdoors all day, crafting makeshift sleds (because we rarely have them), allowing ourselves to be dragged behind pickup trucks, stripping down to our skivvies and making snow angels, etc.

PHASE THREE: This is the part that always lasts the longest. After the roads have been cleared and everyone goes back to work the topic of conversation for the next week will be about the snow and everyone’s experience of the sacred event. They will compare this recent snow with snows in their pasts, arguing over which year had more or the worst ice or the most power outages. They will talk about ice-related tragedies that struck various trees in their neighborhoods. They will post pictures of themselves in the snow on Facebook or send it to family members with hour-by-hour accounts of the event, citing scientific data for emphasis. And just when you think it really should be over, someone will mention on Monday morning that the news is predicting a 65% chance of snow on Thursday night and the whole cycle will begin again.

Bluegrass Jam Sessions

I don’t listen to bluegrass music. I don’t have a single bluegrass CD, I don’t know the names of any well-known bluegrass artists and I don’t know any traditional bluegrass songs by name. However, I could spend entire weekends at bluegrass jams if given the chance.

Bluegrass jams can be well-organized and can happen at convention centers or colleges, but they seem to lack the comfortable genuineness (that’s a word! Look it up!) that really makes the experience worthwhile. Witnessing firsthand a slap-dash gathering of bluegrass musicians in a small, off-the-beaten-path location (that’s usually rundown and has no amenities to speak of) is easily one of the most invigorating experiences a person could have. There’s something so magical about clapping along with a rogue group of old men and women who play continuously for hours on end, smoothly transitioning into one song after the other as if they’ve practiced this line-up for months. The music will literally last for five or more hours with the musicians and singers joining in or taking breaks as needed and the atmosphere welcomes anyone who wants to chime in, which is how I’ve been known to take 5-minute spoon solos. (A friend welds together antique spoons and gives them a thumb loop and a leather wrist strap, perfect for the professional spoonplayer.)

I literally could ramble about synergy and magic and not caring about the genre of the music but feeling like you’re connecting with people and history and all that for a few pages but, honestly, it’s one of those things you really have to see for yourself. And if you find a bluegrass fest being held at a small Southern community center, go ahead and visit; if you make a good impression, the old-timers will tell you how to get to the afterparty.

Front-Porch Sittin’

Southern porches are where magic lives. These are where stories are passed down through generations and where kids learn to whittle and weave sweetgrass baskets and catch fireflies in small jars. Southern porches are where women test drive sweet tea recipes until they find the perfect combination. They’re where friends come together to trade gossip and catch up on what’s happening in their community. Southern porches perpetuate the ideal spirit of the South.

Porch-sitting is an obvious Southern tradition that harkens back to the days when we actually labored to make the food we ate and the clothes we wore. After long, hard days in the sun or in the kitchen, Southerners would go outside to sit on the porch and enjoy the gradual decline in temperature. These days, the tradition continues in millions of Southern households every night, and, ultimately, the rules haven’t changed.

The Southern Front Porch is the preferred porch for evening-sitting as it is where the reclining parties can observe traffic. I realize how ridiculous that sounds but this, also, harkens back to when people sat on their front porches to watch and see who passed by their homes on horse-drawn carriages and carts. The porch sitters could get their news from the people traveling home after work and invite them to come sit for a glass of tea or a bottle of beer or a mason jar full of whiskey (depending on the era.) These days the tradition is the same in that, when a neighbor sees a family sitting on a front porch it is a welcome invitation to come and at least strike up a casual conversation. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Unless you’ve been to talk to a group of porch-sitters more than 5 times, you must not take a seat before being invited to do so!!)

Porch-sitting activity varies from day to day. One day the men of the family may be sharing beers, playing chess and talking sports while the next day a gaggle of Southern women may be crocheting and catching up on gossip. Small household tasks that are easily translatable to the front porch include (but are not limited to) shelling peas, shucking corn, plaiting hair, folding clothes fresh from the clothesline and rolling cigarettes for the week. Any leisure activity like cross-stitching, reading, finishing crossword puzzles, etc. are to be done ONLY if you are the only one on the porch or if you’ve just stepped onto the porch where the other person/people are engaged in private leisure activity.

Frankly, I don’t think a house or apartment is worth living in unless it has an outdoor porch from which to observe the sun setting. A wrap-around porch with Kennedy-style rockers are ideal but any Southerner can grit their teeth and make do with a deck or concrete patio if needed. Besides, it’s never about the condition of the physical porch so much as it is the events that take place there.


This concludes the Second Installment in the Things I Love About Being Southern” series. Join me next time when I will discuss:

Gospel vs. WASPel* Music

Festivals

Gullah Culture

Country Roads

*WASPel is a copyrighted catchphrase, property of The Suburban Bohemian. If you should choose to incorporate this cool new word into your vernacular, you must report the reaction of your listeners to me as I’m still in the trial phases.

Things I Love about Being Southern: First Installment

It’s a huge misconception that I hate the South just because I hate the rampant redneck/white trash (synonymous) population that screams their religious agendas into the political realm while living off welfare checks and, thus, misrepresent the majority of us who have brains and don’t act like idiots in public. The truth is that I adore being Southern. I’ve been Southern my whole life and, while I’m extremely well-traveled in the US and know scores of people from across the country, I’d have to say that I’m very proud to have originated from North Carolina (to be specific, although VA would’ve been acceptable, too.)

And there are a number of things about the South that I do hate. Like grits and Civil War reenactments and chicken bog and high schools having pageants in addition to Homecoming Court and May Court and Sweetheart Court (I’d never actually heard of that until I moved to SC) and chicken bog and hearing Skynyrd every time I go to a bar and John Deere couture and chicken bog and dishonesty disguised as manners… But there are at least a dozen things I like for each one that I hate.

I’d like to take you on a magical journey through the things I love the most about being Southern. If I can dispel a few stereotypes along the way, that’d be great but really I just want to make sure these things are celebrated in a public forum at least once. I’m going to need to make a number of installments of these as my list is quite extensive. This is the first of many.

In no particular order. Except the first one.

1) The Great Unifying Rule: There is one subtle undercurrent of inherent knowledge that lives in the hearts of every Southerner, young and old, Republican and Demmer and allows all of us to live in harmony together with the hope of a common ground and peace and understanding. And that is the unspoken but omnipresent Hatred of Yankees. Now, this has nothing to do with old Confederately-biased principles at all. In fact, the majority of us really don’t give a crap about that and do not believe the South will rise again, nor do we feel the need to make that happen. Many of us (if not most of us) have Yankee friends that we’ll talk about much like racists say “I have black friends!” or homophobes say “I have gay friends!” in order to justify their generalized hatred of a type of person and so it’s not really a hatred of Yankees as specific people so much as it is a hatred of them as a collective unit. The ones who choose to retire in our beautiful neighborhoods and then proceed to bitch about how we don’t have lacrosse/decent pizza/hockey etc. They’re the ones who constantly talk about how our food is nothing compared to that in [insert city of origin here] and how our schools just don’t compete and how our politics are all backward and how it’s too damned hot all the time and the humidity is unbearable. They’re the ones who pitch fits in restaurants/retail stores/airports/etc. because one of the staff looked at them the wrong way and they’re the ones who sue people left and right without any regard as to how these things effect the idea of community that Southerners pride ourselves on. They’re exhausting and, more times than I can count, I’ve found myself looking at a complete Southern stranger in the midst of a public Yankee tirade and exchanging the nonverbal “Why don’t they just go back where they came from if they hate it here so much?” mantra we’ve heard since birth.

FUN FACT: Expressing one’s hatred of Yankees is the ONLY TIME it is socially acceptable for a Gentile woman to curse in public.

But there’s a certain sense of pride in loathing Yankees together. It’s the one thing we can all agree on. It’s the one thing that breaks down barriers between generations and races, creeds and heritages. It’s the one tradition that is seamlessly passed on from generation to generation with a laughing understanding of the idea that tolerating these rude, arrogant people can allow us to feel a bit better about ourselves. And, knowing how incredibly petty that is of us, we’re proud to share that common bond as a means to identify ourselves as Southerners.

The Rest of the List:

Please note that, while many of these things have a lot to do with small-town Americana across the nation, I feel strongly that these are the definitive traits of this region.

Food On Sundays

I feel like I could write an entire book on this subject alone but let me at least break it down to the Need-To-Know Facts.

On Sunday, Southern people get up and go to church. (Not all of us but the older generations certainly did. In throngs.) Sure, they heard a sermon and there was that adorable performance of the children’s choir belting out “This Little Light of Mine” but what every single person is thinking of is food during the entire 11:00 service. This tradition usually starts with the early-morning run to a locally-owned doughnut shop. If one’s town doesn’t have one of these always-kitschy-and-outdated gems (or a Krispy Kreme) then everyone will congregate at the town’s Bojangles. This will be justified as every patron intends to bring enough biscuits or doughnuts for everyone in his/her Sunday school class unless he or she has a child at home sick, in which case this person will bring home breakfast for the rest of the family after scarfing an extra serving in the car.

That is Phase One.

Phase Two is the most important meal of the whole entire week. Write that down. There are varying levels of Phase Two, starting with those families/old people who cop out and go to places like Ruby Tuesday’s after the service. Those people are cheaters, unless they’re going to the “country club”, in which case they’re in the clear and probably the envy of 60% of the women over 50 at their church. The other two categories are the most important culinary institutions in our entire Southern history -the first being The Sunday Dinner and the second being Dinner On The Grounds.

Now, both of these events require hours of planning and husbands being shoved out of kitchens so the womenfolk can focus on their craft but the difference is primarily location.

The Sunday Dinner will always take place in the home of the family’s matriarch, preferably the Grandmother if she is still capable/alive and then the oldest married daughter if that doesn’t pan out. This woman will go to “early church” and come home to begin making The Biggest Meal You’ve Ever Seen in Your Life that will include no less than 4 entrees, 9 side dishes and 4 pies/cakes all made from scratch. This meal is served at precisely 1 p.m. (which is why ministers make it a point to ramble no longer than 12:15 at the very latest, especially if he/she has a tee-time or it is NASCAR season) and nobody is excused from the table until a sufficient dent has made in every dish and every person is incapacitated from overindulgence. The men will be released to the den to watch football/NASCAR/golf/etc. and the women will begrudgingly help with the piles of dishes and leftovers. These leftovers will be consumed from this point until the following Friday.

Dinner On the Grounds, however, is an event that serves as the highlight of many churchgoers’ entire seasons and is never to be taken lightly. Much like Easter or Christmas, these events are often one of few church services that some people attend at all.

FUN FACT: Depending on the region, these are also known as “Covered Dishes” (short for “covered dish dinners) and, when I was younger, I was told by many of my Protestant elders that one could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven without a fresh covered dish in hand.

Anyway. Once (soooometimes twice, if there’s a church holiday) every spring, summer and early-autumn, everyone brings gargantuan portions of their finest dish to the church where they are placed upon football-field-length tables outside for everyone to share. As a rule there will always be no less than two massive bowls of ambrosia salad (always green), 8 boxes of take-out fried chicken (usually from those shunned Easter-and-Christmas-only patrons), 3 red velvet cakes and 27 bowls of potato salad. The rest of the fare is mostly traditional, including green beans simmered with a ham hock, homemade mac and cheese casserole and corn on the cob but there will always be one or two rogue eccentrics that everyone will lean over, squint at and take a teaspoon-sized “No Thank You” serving of. (It’s good manners.)

The Pièce de Résistance of the meal, however, is the highly-anticipated arrival of the Bucket of Homemade Ice Cream. While this legendary highlight of the event could make an appearance at any DotG occasion, it is usually reserved for mid-summer Dinners when the maker has access to fresh fruit – usually peach, sometimes strawberry. The presence of this dish, however, is the turmoil it creates in picnic attendees. Because the bucket of ice cream is always placed at the very end of the buffet with the other desserts, it’s unexpected introduction incites panic in the hearts of diners, as well as an immediate regret of everything he or she spent the last fifteen minutes methodically choosing and placing on his or her two overloaded plates. The next five minutes are spent hurling all these carefully-prepared meal items into one’s maw as quickly as possible, so as to beat everyone to the Hallowed Bucket, in which there will never be any more than 10 servings of half-melted sugar milk.

Phase Three involves complaining about the self-induced discomfort from the day’s gluttonous activity and then wondering what’s left over for a light dinner at 7:30.

The Black Eagle Over The Doorway After extensive research and years of asking around, I still don’t know where this tradition started or what it means other than as a form of patriotism. In older houses (usually rural) these are hung over doorways and garages with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. I think it probably has something to do with the Illuminati.

This concludes the end of the First Installment. Join me next time when I will discuss:

Roadside Produce

How We Deal with “Cold” Weather

Bluegrass Jam Sessions

Front-Porch Sitting