A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: The Valuable Vidalia

It’s the state vegetable of Georgia.

“Vidalia onions aren’t just the most famous onions in the world; I think they may be the only famous onions in the world.”
Chef Bobby Flay

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They are so mild, I’ve seen people eat them like apples.

They come from Vidalia, Georgia, and the sweetness is said to be a by-product of the low sulfur in the soil.

Slice them thick, bread them and fry them and they make the most delicious onion rings ever.

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Vidalia Girl,
won’t you tell me why
Sweet Vidalia
You always gotta make me cry

Sammy Kershaw – Vidalia Lyrics | MetroLyrics

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Under My Umbrella

The South may have four seasons but they are probably not the Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter what you are used to.

Much of our weather revolves around Rain.

End of August, September and October – Rain. Muggy and Warm.

November, December, January and February – Rain. Cold and Chilly.

Of course to break it up, there’s the dreaded wilting, steamy, soul-sucking heat of June, July and August. With occasional Rain. After all, it’s hurricane season.

Ah, but there’s also the super-elusive, but mind-blowingly fabulous Spring that’s almost gone before you blink, but worth it all for sheer beauty. It happens for about five days, sometime in March, April or May (depending on latitude) and for that brief time the world explodes in brilliant floral life.

And then it Rains. And washes away the blooms.

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25805_389694722560_6832388_nBut in that one swift, glorious moment, it Rains color.

Lazy days in mid July
Country Sunday mornin’
Dusty haze on summer highways
Sweet magnolia callin’
But now and then I find myself
Thinkin’ of the days
When we were walkin’ in the Alabama Rain
Jim Croce – Alabama Rain Lyrics | MetroLyrics

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Total Immersion

I am in deep.  Way deep.

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Deep in the heart of Dixie.

I am on vacation with my family, far south of Montgomery in Monroeville, “The Literary Capital of Alabama;” for the town’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The play is currently in its 26th season in Monroeville, which was the template for the fictional Maycomb in Harper Lee’s book.

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We are staying in the Best Western, Monroeville.  It is the town’s luxury accommodation, yet we are still in a bit of a “technology-free zone” – I have painfully sporadic internet at the hotel and there seems to be no Sprint signal within miles, so you may not get this post until I’m able to finesse something with Dixie cups and string.

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The entire citizenry of Monroeville has apparently jumped in to create the event, which includes a mint-julep VIP reception, the play itself, which is acted by “The Mockingbird Players,” and divided into two Acts: with the first half set outside the courthouse in a specially built amphitheater and stage, and the final scenes set in the actual city courthouse.

My folks, foster sister Wendy and my husband, David.

My folks, foster-sister Wendy and my husband, David.

Set in Alabama during the Great Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of a young white girl, Scout and her brother Jem, whose father, attorney Atticus Finch, has been appointed to defend a black man framed for a crime he claims he did not commit.

Courthouse set for Part One of

Courthouse set for Part One of “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

The play, like the book I read so many years ago, was touching and poignant, with its message of justice, courage and family.

Enjoying freshly made mint juleps just before the play began.

Enjoying freshly made mint juleps just before the play began.

The event was fabulously produced from start to finish.

Clocktower of the old courthouse

Clocktower of the old courthouse

The cast, crew and Courthouse personnel were kind and welcoming. The food, featuring crispy fried oysters, roast beef, pork tenderloin sandwiches, shrimp, chicken and cheesecake was abundant and delicious. The grounds were beautifully maintained and a riot of brightly colored flowers.

Post play catered dinner and cast party on the courthouse grounds

Post play catered dinner and cast party on the courthouse grounds

The post-event cast party featured live music and a chance to mingle with members of the Mockingbird Players, who are all volunteers from Monroeville and the surrounding counties and are comprised of teachers, business owners, contractors ministers, attorneys, retirees, students, judges, stay-at-home moms and morticians.

Wendy and me with

Wendy and I with “Atticus Finch,” Jeff Brock, by day the District Judge for nearby Conecuh County.

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It was such an incredible experience, made even more special by the presence of my family and the opportunity so spend time with them in a world so far removed from where I live: at the heart of a small town, deep in South of my childhood and memories.

“Growing up Southern is a privilege, really. It’s more than where you’re born, it’s an idea and state of mind that seems imparted at birth. Its more than loving fried chicken, sweet tea, football, beer, bourbon and country music. It’s being hospitable, devoted to front porches, magnolias, moon pies and coca-cola, and each other. We don’t become Southern, we’re born that way.” -Anonymous

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: The Redneck Riviera

It’s the land of Jimmy Buffett, boat drinks and billionaires.

Tourists and trailer parks. Sailboats and sand dunes.

College kids tearing it up on Spring Break, families romping in the surf, seniors searching for sunny skies.

20141017_173237_resizedIt’s the paradise in our own backyard.

Family gathering in Florida

Ranging from coastal Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle, the beaches of the Deep South, or the “Redneck Riviera,” as even we (affectionately) refer to it, offer miles of sugar-spun sands and clear turquoise waters on beaches both jam-packed and serenely isolated.

Gulf Shores up through Apalachi-cola
They got beaches of the whitest sand
Nobody cares if gramma’s got a tattoo
Or Bubba’s got a hot wing in his hand

Redneck Riviera is where I wanna be
Down here on the Redneck Riviera by the sea
Tom T. Hall – Redneck Riviera

Every Southerner has “their” spot they visit, year after year.
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Some seek the neon-bright nightlife of Daytona or Panama City Beach.

Some yearn for the European sophistication of Rosemary, Seaside or Alys, some choose the picturesque lifestyle found in waterside communities like Dauphin Island, Pensacola or Pass Christian.

At the Beach (5)Fishing, swimming, surfing, sailing, wining and dining, shopping or simply savoring the sultry breezes.

IMG_2764 Whatever sand spot suits the fancy, it’s our ultimate resort.

Rosemary Oct 2014 (5)“Life’s a Beach.”

– Unknown

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: It’s All in the Quilting

Quilts are such a huge memory from my childhood.  They were bright and cheerful, warm and comforting and always smelled like sunshine from being line-dried in the back yard.

"Postage Stamp" pattern quilt made my my Grandmother, Norma Ferguson Pass and my Great Grandmother, Pearl James McCormick.

“Postage Stamp” pattern quilt made my my Grandmother, Norma Ferguson Pass and my Great-Grandmother, Pearl James McCormick.

My grandmother’s house was small but always overflowed with family and guests during the holidays. Us young’uns (grandkids) always slept on and under a pile of quilt “pallets” on the floor, leaving the real beds to the grown ups.

I have two quilts left as a legacy from my beloved Granny.  One was carefully preserved (read: kept packed away and not given to me until I was 40 and somewhat responsible) and the other I have had since I was 6 or 7 and allowed to “love” all to pieces.

This is my ragged and abused favorite quilt from childhood.  I adored it because it had bright flowers and pink fringe on one side and tiny cars on the other.

This is my ragged and abused favorite quilt from childhood. I adored it because it had bright flowers and pink fringe on one side and tiny cars on the other.

I couldn’t find any pictures of the really beautiful quilts I know that my family owned, but in a moment of inspiration, I emailed my Aunt Shirley Roland Ferguson (who is actually our “famous” family author and ad hoc keeper of lore, legend and passed down goodies.)

My darling Auntie was quick to respond with some lovely photos, but dashed my hazy memories of Granny whipping up artistic quilts in her spare time.

“I don’t think Granny ever did much quilting. Her energies were in cleaning and keeping a pretty home, cooking her fabulous meals and working in the yard.”

A quilt made by Granny Roland

A quilt made by Nell Roland

Aunt Shirley went on to reminisce about her own Mom, Nell Roland.

“My mom was allergic to manual labor I think. Her food was just adequate and she never had leftovers. But she loved being creative with her hands. She and my Granny crocheted doilies and tablecloths in the evenings while they listed to programs on the radio during WWII. My dad worked long hours at a defense job at the Birmingham airport repairing radios in bombers. And mother made all our clothes, stopping through town for material after working all day as a nurse.  She rode three buses to get home.
Aunt Shirley's family quilt

One of Aunt Shirley’s family quilts

As children we played under her quilting frames while she and the church ladies quilted. She tried to teach me but I was impatient. And when she asked my aunt if she would like to learn, Aunt Ina said,”‘Nell, I’d rather try to pick out hickory nuts with a toothpick!'”

Another of Granny Roland's quilts

Another of Granny Roland’s quilts

Reading Aunt Shirley’s words, I  drifted back a moment in time, to my earliest memories of my Granny’s quilts, a long-ago Christmas eve.  I was maybe 4-years old or so, tucked into a pallet next to my parent’s bed, snuggled like a bug in a mountain of rugs, fighting sleep, straining so hard to hear above the talk and laughter of the adults in the next room, the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof that my older cousins swore meant Santa was on his way.

And just like the brightly hued quilts I once cuddled around my younger body, I happily gather my Aunt’s words around me now while I write, for a moment enveloped, once again, in my Granny’s love.

“Blankets wrap you in warmth, quilts wrap you in love.”
– unknown

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Pretty is as Pretty Does

Things Southern Mamas say to their little girls:

“I’m gonna jerk a knot on you.”
“Just wait ’til I tell your Daddy what you’ve done.”
“Get that hair out of your eyes.”
“Wipe that look off of your face.”
“Missy, we don’t talk that way.”
“Don’t make me come over there.”
“Get ‘cher tail over here right this minute.”
“You are getting mighty big for your britches.”
“You are walkin’ a fine line, young lady.”
“Stand up straight.”
“Pretty is as pretty does.”
“Hush your mouth.”
“You think you’re real cute, don’t you?”
“I brought you in to this world, and I can take you out of it.”
“Sister, you sass me again and I’ll knock you into next week.”
“If you keep making that face, it’s gonna freeze that way.”
“Don’t you act ugly now.”
“Clean that plate. There are children starving in Africa.”
“Go out in that yard right now and pick me a switch.”
“If you eat your bread crusts, it will make your hair curly.”
“You’d be so pretty if you just smiled.”

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“Whuppins were like kid taxes we paid with our behinds.”
― Terris McMahan Grimes, Smelling Herself: A Novel

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Okra

Okra (US /ˈoʊkrə/ or UK /ˈɒkrə/; Abelmoschus esculentus Moench), known in many English-speaking countries as ladies’ fingers, bhindi, bamia, ochro or gumbo, is a flowering plant in the mallow family.

It is valued for its edible green seed pods. The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of West African, Ethiopian, and South Asian origins. The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions around the world. – Wikipedia

Okra.

When served up boiled, it is the despair of Southern children everywhere.

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So few people eat okra (more radishes are grown in this country) that it never even makes it onto the lists of Top 10 hated foods.
-Julia Reed

Oh, it does in the South.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Boiled, it has the consistency of seedy, hairy slugs.  Eating boiled okra will make you mean.

However…
should you slice it, dip it in egg and milk, roll it in cornmeal (with just a ‘tech  of flour) and fry it up all crispy in high temped peanut oil…

it transcends the ordinary,

and becomes something truly, heavenly glorious.

“I hate milk. Coats your throat as bad as okra. Something just downright disgusting about it.”
Marsha Norman, ‘night, Mother

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Just Plain Nuts

If you’re going to go crazy, you should most definitely do it below the Mason-Dixon line.

For one thing, we value a certain amount of colorful lunacy in our relatives.

We’ve all got an Old Aunt Bidey with a “bit of the second sight.” Or an Old Uncle Beau, who still hides when the door bell rings because he thinks the “Revenuers” are after him.

It provides for much more interesting holiday dinners.

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Plus, most Southerners tend to find a slight air of insanity attractive.

“Tall, dark and dangerous,” has fluttered many a belle’s heart and further terrified scores of Mamas (“and tell me, who are his people?”), maybe remembering an illicit tumble or two under a camellia bush in their own youth.  The more mysterious, off-balance, irresponsible, flighty and unpredictable?  All the more wildly desirable.

Maybe it goes back to Revolutionary and Civil War times when dashing pirates slipped through treacherous blockades at the stake of their very lives to smuggle in the bits of luxury needed to satisfy the sophisticated Southern palate: satins, silks, furs and cases of wine, whiskey and brandy.

And then again, maybe it’s just Nature’s way of weeding out the swampy end of the gene pool.

Famous last words of a Good Old Boy, “Hey y’all, watch this!”

Regardless, we love, admire and respect our nutty people in the south.  (You may keep your own.)

They are part of the vibrancy and character of who we are.  They are strong and richly colored threads in the tapestry of our tradition. They are our aunts and uncles.  They are our brothers and sisters.

They are almost always our exes.

“I’m saying that this is the South.  And we’re proud of our crazy people.  We don’t hide them up in the attic.  We bring ’em right down to the living room and show ’em off.   See Phyllis, no one in the South ever asks if you have crazy people in your family.  They just ask what side they’re on.” – Julia Sugarbaker, “Designing Women”

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Ma’am Shaming

Yesterday, was my birthday.

Becoming a year older has brought to my attention, once again, that I have crossed the bridge of age, that arc of time connecting the bright and verdant shores of “Miss,” to the cracked, barren desert of “Ma’am.”

Because politeness is so important in the South, a formal direct address, based on age and status is dictated for every female. “Thank you, Miss;” or perhaps, “Excuse me, young lady;” are phrases every Southern girl hears growing up.

Then comes that wretched day for every woman, usually sometime in your thirties (or even forties, if you are genetically blessed.)  You fight against it as diligently and as long as possible: facials, exercise, dieting, bright colors, a sexy hairstyle, skillful cosmetics.

Regardless of how good you think you still look, whether or not “age is just a number,” without a heed to being married, single or even a mom.

It happens in one brief soul-searing, come-to-Jesus-with-your mirror moment and you are forever changed.

Of course, it’s typically from some young, handsome college boy.  You may have even lightly toyed with the idea of flirting with him.  He looks at you, radiant in his youth, correct in his upbringing, the flower of southern manhood.

“Yes, ma’am.” he smiles at you, proud to be properly polite to an older woman.

Oh, the agony. The humiliation. The shame. The loss of hope, joy, vitality.

You have been called out. It’s all over. Youth has fled. Embrace your inner crone.

You have been ma’am shamed. 

I am well in body, although completely rumpled up in spirit. Thank you, ma’am. — Lucy Maud Montgomery M

A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Lightnin’ Bugs

You might know them as fireflies.

They are the pixy dust dazzling the dreams of children.

Then in the darkness I heard the whir of tiny wings and suddenly a splendid yellow light streaked from my hand. Like a statue in the darkness I stood watching as our lightning bug’s flashes became lost among the soft, yellow callings of ten thousand other lightning bugs.

Jim Conrad, Walks with Red Dog

They bejewel the soft summer evenings with shimmers of magic.

Every Southern kid I know has caught them in jars and smuggled them into the house, hoping against hope that they’d turn into fairies overnight.

Sadly, they have most likely have woken to a jar of dead or dying bugs.

Or at least, I always did. Maybe I lacked the appropriate incantation.

Believe it or not, lightning bugs are actually a type of beetle, known as Lampyridae. The males spark a seductive message and a ready female responds with a return flash, signaling her desire to connect. Just as fascinating, each species has a different light pattern, a sort of Morse code, they use to keep their luminous message unique to their own kind.

And you’d want to be especially careful about dating the wrong type of bug, as some fireflies are cannibalistic. The female of that persuasion flashes out a little, “Hey boys, why don’t ‘cha come up and see me sometime,” aimed at fireflies of a different ilk and when the unsuspecting male comes a callin’, pants down and ready for love, she gobbles him up.

Humans, of course, are far more deadly to the tiny bugs, and not just because of the millions of children chasing after them once the sun goes down.

Along with toxic pesticides and urban sprawl encroaching their forests, fields and streams; light pollution from buildings and cars corrupts their delicate language of light, obstructing their ability to call to their mates to procreate.

Scientists fear that one day they will twinkle out of existence entirely.

Stealing away far too much of the magic of nature and our childhoods.

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.”
― Robert Frost, The Poetry of Robert Frost

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