Southern Tapas


Who Are Your People?

     We want to know. When we meet you, we want to know. Who are your people? Are you kin to the Greenwood McDowells or the ones from Ware Shoals? Didn’t your daddy used to work in the mills in Pendleton?

     It’s not that we’re nosy. We just want to establish some bona fides. Historically,
we have been messed with by folks who seemed to be well-meaning, but turned out to be after our land or our sisters and daughters. So we’re a bit cautious and we’d
really like to know if we can trust you unsupervised on our property. If we are
related, or we at least know or know of your family and its reputation in these
parts, we at least can start out on firm footing.

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     We might ask about your church. “Are you churched?” we’ll inquire. Or we might ask where you go to church. I was asked that at my last job interview. When I told the owner of the business that I went to a Methodist church, he said, “Well, that’s pretty good, I guess.” He dug further into the question until he excavated the fact that he knew someone who once went to my church, and it put him at ease. Had I said that I attended any Baptist church, he would have relaxed without further inquiry.  For him, that’s almost the same as being kinfolk.

     Okay, we actually are a little nosy. We just don’t want you to think badly of us for it.


     Having grown up in two families who spoke with soft Southern drawls, I experienced a substantial cultural jolt when, at age 10, I was moved for a brief time to New Jersey. At my new school there, I was instructed by my new teacher to stand up and tell where I was from and what I liked to do. After I did it, one kid leaned over
toward my desk and said “Boy, you sure do talk funny.” But his accent made it sound
like he was speaking in tongues. At recess, a cute girl said to me, “I just love the way you talk.” Okay, funny accent or not, things were definitely looking up.

     Southerners are convinced that anybody who remotely sounds like they may be from another part of the country has a New York accent. Long Island, Newark,
Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Seattle, Phoenix…they all sound the same to us.
Thus was born the phrase “You ain’t from around here, are you?”

     I knew a man once who was named Bill. He was a native of Miami, Fla. I met him at a local watering hole, where there were several other regulars who were named Bill. So we gave them nicknames to distinguish them one from the other. There was Big Bill, who was very small, and there was Little Bill, who looked like an entire NBA starting five. There was Three Dollar Bill, and Banker Bill, and Bozo Bill, who was a professional clown.  But the Bill from Miami was called New York Bill because of the way he talked.

     Those of us blessed with a Southern heritage, though, can tell a mountain accent
from a Piedmont one, or an Eastern NC one from a coastal one. Southerners believe
that all our accents are musical, and I believe that my mother and her sisters all sounded like what honeysuckle smells like. It is our cultural calling card.

Sweet Tea

     My wife’s aunt lives in New Jersey, and she knows I am the cook in our house in
North Carolina. So, she asked me if I could teach her to make tea like the sweet tea
at McDonalds. I gave her a recipe, and when I said “Add a cup of sugar,” she
said, “Are you sure? That sounds like a lot of sugar.” I suggested that she could
add it to suit her own taste. She asked if I thought Sweet’N’Low might work just as
well. Sure, I said, that would be fine. She then indicated that maybe some mint
would be good. Yep, I said. And did I think floating some fresh cut strawberries in
it would brighten it up? You bet, I said. Perhaps, she proposed, a green tea would
be healthier. All those antioxidants and what-not. I said it was a great idea. What
about a squeeze of fresh lemon, just for some zing? Some zing sounds good to me, I said.

     Later that summer, at a family gathering, she made her tea and served it with the
caveat that it wasn’t exactly like the sweet tea at McDonalds, but that it was
pretty close. Everybody bobbed their heads and agreed that yes, it was very similar,
and weren’t those McDonalds people clever to make it just like the old traditional
southern recipes? I agreed that it was very clever. “Jule” they said, “from now on,
you’ve just got to stop keeping these little southern secrets from us.”

     “Yes” I replied. “From now on. Now, would y’all like to have my grandmother’s recipe for barbecue sauce?”

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1 Comment

  1. paulabunnymelton

    Fabulous article! Love the site! I am just not certain my ‘style’ of writing is what they are looking for! I may be a bit too polarizing. Well …. as we say in the South, “It never hurts to ask, does it?”

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