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: Kinfolks

“Who are her people?”

A totally legitimate question in the South, where who you are related to is almost as important as who you are.

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I’m kin to a big ol’ bunch of fruitcakes.

“Being Southern isn’t talking with an accent…or rocking on a porch while drinking sweet tea, or knowing how to tell a good story. It’s how you’re brought up — with Southerners, family (blood kin or not) is sacred; you respect others and are polite nearly to a fault; you always know your place but are fierce about your beliefs. And food along with college football — is darn near a religion.”
Jan Norris

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Idiomatic for the People

fighting computer issues so re-posting a favorite:

I never thought much of it until I moved away from Alabama and was surrounded by people from all over the world, but heck…

We Southerners can talk kinda funny.

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Not just the accent, since that’s normal for me, and I actually prefer it most of the time, because it sounds like “home.”   I’m talking about the phrases we say in everyday life, that make perfect sense to us, but might sound a little nutty to people who aren’t “from round these parts.”

I hauled together a few phrases, that in the interest of transparency, I will attest to have actually heard someone say out loud (at some point in my life.)  I’ll try to explain the best I can, although some of it’s not really translatable, so I’ll have to trust to your open-mindedness.

As I was most recently telling you about hushpuppies, let’s go ahead and start with the dogs:

“Let sleeping dogs lie.” – Leave it alone.

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“That dog won’t hunt.” – This is not a valid concept.

“Don’t got a dog in that hunt.” – this is one I actually use quite a bit.  Note, you must improperly conjugate the infinitive.  No one cares about the dogs you have, just the one you don’t got.  Basically this means that you don’t have any stake in a particular situation and would prefer to be uninvolved.  “I’m sorry, but I don’t got a dog in that hunt.”

“Where my dawgs at?” – Said most frequently by good ol’ boys and University of Georgia grads.  “Pardon me, might you recently have seen any of my associates?”

“Who let the dawgs out?” – Again a reference to UGA – It’s chanted at football games, followed by  “Goooooo Dawgs! Sic’ em! Woof, Woof, Woof!”  This is a pledge of allegience bred so deeply into Georgia graduates that you will actually see grown women in ballgowns at charity functions “get down and get their dawg on” while in “polite company.”

“Barking up the wrong tree.” – totally going in the wrong direction or you have the wrong idea.

Additional animal-related sayings include:

“Go hog wild!” – Whoo, whoo!  Par – tay!!

Playin’ possum – feigning sleep.

-2“I ain’t seen you in a coon’s age!” – A very long time.

Off like a herd of turtles – getting off to a very slow start, moving slowly.

Full as a tick! – Stuffed full of food, couldn’t eat another bite.

“Duck fit.” – another one I use a lot.  “He’s havin’ a duck fit since I mocked him in my blog.”  Basically, a really serious “hissy fit.”

“Drunker n Cooter Brown with a skunk in his pocket.” Indicating extreme intoxication.  Cooter Brown is an infamous character in Southern legend, who supposedly lived right on the Mason-Dixon line during the Civil War. To avoid the draft on either side, Cooter decided to stay drunk throughout the entire war, making him ineligible for battle.  Most people just say, “Drunker n Cooter Brown,” but my Evil Twin, Doug, adds the “with a skunk in his pocket.”  I have absolutely no idea what that means, but it sounds good, so I say it too.

A few more random sayings for your education and amusement.

“He don’t know his as* from a hole in the ground.” – just not a bright fella.

“The porch light’s on, but no one’s home.” NASA is most likely not recruiting in his neighborhood.

“He lives so far up a dirt road that he thinks asphalt is something wrong with your butt.” – not necessarily a gentleman of worldliness and sophistication.

“My teeth are floatin’.”  “I must relieve myself, in the worst way. Please direct me to the facilities.”

“Sweatin’ like a whore in church.” – A situation of great discomfort.

“Don’t get’cher panties in a knot.” – Please don’t have a duck fit.

“Those pants are so tight I could see her religion.” – A fashion faux pas – typically an ill-judged instance of “camel toe.”

“Twenty pounds of sh*t in a five pound sack.”  Very tight, or tightly packed, frequently referring to snugly fitting clothes.

“Happier’n a tornado in a trailer park.” – exuberantly joyous.

“Fine as frog hair split three ways and sandpapered down the middle.”  This is one of my Daddy’s sayings. “I’m very well, thank you.  And you?”

“He doesn’t know whether to check his as* or scratch his watch.” – Great confusion. Someone uncertain of their situation.

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“Beaten senseless with an ugly stick.” Describing an unattractive person.  Can be further emphasized as “Beaten senseless with an ugly stick and left for dead,” or “He fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.”

“I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.”  Things parents say to their children.

I could keep on going til the rains come, but with work n’ all, I’m busier n’ a cat coverin’ crap on a marble floor.

I’d best get on the stick and wrap this rascal up.

Tootle loo, y’all.

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