Lake Norman & Mooresville

In defense of Southern culture

For years, my husband was a Civil War re-enactor, and when we met, he tried to recruit me into the "hobby" - as he called it.

I even bought a pattern and fabric for a period dress, although I secretly hoped I would not have to go through with making it, let alone wearing it for three days straight on an open field in rural Virginia.

I couldn't quite shake the image of Carol Burnett as Scarlett O'Hara, wearing a curtain with the rod still attached and strapped across her shoulders.

"I saw it in the window and I just had to have it," was the classic line from the sketch.

How could I take the hobby seriously?

The truth is, I don't take my culture seriously all the time, but I will defend it.

Long is the list of negative stereotypes about Southerners.

Of course, we'll kick your butt if we hear you bring up any of those alleged shortcomings.

And when we're done, instead of saying something rude, we'll shake our heads and say, "Bless your heart."

It's been several months since I began writing this column, and I've never taken the time to explain what it's really about.

The inspiration for this column came from an experience I had in my book club that ended up being the topic for my first Southern Accent.

Some ladies in the club tried, and enjoyed, a new Southern dish that they had never heard of: sausage balls. I had been eating sausage balls all my life, and it struck me as funny, if a little sad, that these relative newcomers had never heard of them.

With so many non-natives living in this state, and especially reading this publication, it occurred to me that I could provide a window into Southern culture and, I hope, foster some appreciation for it beyond what Paula Deen has done, bless her heart.

Now that doesn't mean I won't talk about food; it is integral to Southern culture.

But I also want the column to express that Southerners, and especially North Carolinians, are not an amalgam of caricatures.

I get tired of new acquaintances, as Southern comedian Jeff Foxworthy said, automatically deducting IQ points upon hearing my Southern accent.

Still, when one is native to a culture, one takes for granted the norms of behavior that, to outsiders, become stereotypes.

How was I to know that everyone didn't eat sausage balls at wedding receptions? Or that the culture of honor - insisting on proper conduct of others in a polite, dignified way - wasn't universal?

If there's any stereotype that I would choose to uphold, it's the culture of honor.

It's not unique to the South, nor has it always been ascribed the purest of motives, but it still means that, basically, Southerners are going to defend their own.

That's where I can take my husband's "hobby" seriously. He re-enacted Civil War battles for many reasons: to preserve history, to foster fraternity among his troops, to dress in heavy wool in midsummer and eat hardtack.

The battles, and the war, were complex, and I think that, deep down, the men who take part in their re-creation want to demonstrate that complexity.

Likewise, Southern culture is complex, and it can't be described by a few stereotypes.

Maybe we're a little stouter than the rest of the country, but that's because we rallied behind Scarlett when she said, "As God as my witness, I'll never be hungry again." We've got the sausage balls to back that up.