Southern Women

There is a perfectly good reason why for breakfast I ate a leftover fried chicken breast that was big enough to qualify as an amusement-park ride at Dollywood. Because my wife is a Southern woman.

And this is what we eat in our household sometimes.

These days, the public image of Southerners has become skewed by popular culture. Take entertainment television.

There is a new breed of reality TV shows which often feature Southerners as leading characters. These characters often use corny “downhome” phrases which were actually invented by television script writers who all grew up spending summers in Martha’s Vineyard.

These writers come up with phrases like:

“That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout, son.”

And “Sweet as sugar, baby child.”

And “That is finer than THE frog’s hair.”

This is an affront. Nobody I know says, “THE frog’s hair.” There is no “the” in this well-loved phrase. When misused this way, this phrase seems to imply that there is a proverbial frog traipsing around THE Great American South wearing a little hairstyle like THE Reverend Jerry Falwell and constantly reapplying THE Brylcreem to its little rug.

Anyone will tell you that the expression simply goes: “Finer than frog hair.”

Of course, there are regional variations of this expression.

If you travel below Tennessee, for example, you might hear, “Finer than frog hair split four ways.”

Go to middle Alabama and they will say, “Finer than frog hair split four ways, sifted ten times.”

Travel below Montgomery and they will simply say, “Day-um.”

So Southerners are often portrayed as complete idiots on television. This is sad. Because there was once a time when Jimmy Dean, Buck Owens, Andy Griffith, Dolly Parton, and Porter Wagoner graced the television air waves.

Whereas today, you see young people talking in hammed-up country accents, using the word “y’all” in the wrong place. And this is perhaps the worst offense of all.

Contrary to Hollywood’s opinion, people in these parts do not use the word “y’all” at the end of every single sentence.

There is a recent TV show called “Floribama Shore.” It is filmed about four miles from my house. It takes place on the beaches of the Florida Panhandle, stretching into Alabama. This reality docudrama involves eight young people living together in a big house, coping with the pressures of daily life in a very realistic way by walking around naked and drinking directly from beer kegs.

And the worst part is that some of the Southern cast members begin and end every sentence using the word “y’all.” As in: “Hey, y’all, have any of y’all seen my thong bikini, y’all?”

Just last night, my dogs and I were on the sofa. I was scrolling channels. I landed on a reality show similar to this. On the screen was a girl from Georgia. She wore a ballcap backward, and for a bathing suit she wore a single strand of spaghetti with two Band-Aids.

Here is a verbatim quote:

“Y’all, I’m a Southern belle, and y’all, that means I gotta have sugar in my grits, y’all.”

I don’t want my dogs subjected to this.

First off, I’ve never heard of anyone putting sugar in their grits except for maybe Communist sympathizers and serious diabetics. And secondly, a Southern belle? I’ve never known a Southern belle’s mother to allow her daughter to leave the house wearing anything but attire fit for a Phi Mu pinning ceremony.

And yet these TV shows are becoming increasingly popular. Which is silly.

I’d like to cite a real life example of how Southern women actually talk. I was in a small coffee shop outside Birmingham, yesterday afternoon. Behind me were two middle-aged women having a conversation. It went like this:

“Did you hear about Carolyn?”

“No, I didn’t hear about her.”

“She’s planning a surprise party for Robert.”

“She is?”

“Mmm hmm.”

“Where’s she holding it?”

“The Methodist church rec hall.”

“Oh, good. That means we can drink.”

“I tried to get her to use Guthrie’s for the caterer.”

“Guthrie’s fried chicken?”

“Honey, that special sauce they make, shut your mouth, I could drink a gallon.”

“I can’t eat Guthrie’s anymore, I’ve gotta cut back, I had to go up to XLs on my yoga pants this month.”

“Bless.”

“So, have you heard from any of the Phi Mu alumni sisters lately?”

You will notice that not once during this conversation did anyone commit an illegal usage of the word “y’all.” There is a reason for this. Because that would be completely stupid.

I just think it’s a shame that media-persons view the Southeast as some perpetual keg party where young men and women are always listening to pop country music, eating pork products, and getting brand new tattoos of the Browning Buckmark logo on their hindparts. That’s just offensive, many of us also get tattoos of Dale Junior.

The women in my family are well-spoken, gentle, decent, thoughtful, and full of social grace. Our ladies can plan a fiftieth anniversary party using nothing but a Civic League cookbook. They care about their children, and usually end up caring for the neighborhood children, too.

These are women who can fix scraped knees and wounded hearts using grease and cornmeal. Their loveliness runs deeper than a wishbone, and their loyalty lasts longer than your headstone will.

They drive their elderly aunts to doctor’s appointments, volunteer to teach Sunday school, stock your fishing cooler with homemade sandwiches, and include a handwritten note reminding you to wear sunscreen.

They know what an onside kick is. They know how to give a pep talk to a bunch of Little Leaguers who can’t seem to score any runs.

They are caring, committed, steadfast, sweet. And somehow, they still find time to prepare four hundred devilled eggs for the funeral at the Methodist church. The same funeral where they had fried chicken last night.

Which is where my leftover chicken breakfast came from. Which was finer than frog hair split four ways, sifted ten times, then strained through a gnat’s backend.

Y’all.

63 comments

  1. Steve - November 16, 2019 7:47 am

    Sadly, these TV shows and Hollywood movies cement false or antiquated stereotypes into the minds of ignorant northern people. I said ignorant, not uneducated. I worked with highly educated (Yale, Princeton, Harvard, MIT, etc.) consultants when I was working on a project in Connecticut. They were good people. But they were ignorant. Most grew up in New York City, they had never visited the South. Their only exposure to the South was from TV and Movies, and they believed them. You can imagine the whispers on the first day “the guy from Alabama” arrived.

    And yes, Southern women are the best. But y’all know that.

    Reply
  2. Marilyn Ward Vance - November 16, 2019 10:30 am

    …and a true Southerner NEVER uses y’all in the singular! It includes ‘your momma and ’em’…..always!

    Reply
  3. Harriet - November 16, 2019 11:41 am

    Perfect!!! I loved this one.

    Reply
  4. Susan - November 16, 2019 12:07 pm

    I worked at a call center. When Northern men called and I answered, they went crazy. I received marriage proposals, offers of roses, candy and lunch. They would try to keep me on the phone as long as possible just to hear me talk. I was called a Georgia peach more times than I could count but I always corrected them with, “I’m from Alabama, Roll Tide.”

    Reply
  5. Nancy - November 16, 2019 12:21 pm

    Often imitated, never duplicated.

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  6. Becky from Birmingham - November 16, 2019 12:59 pm

    But don’t even think about messin’ with our children, friends, or family! That’s when we aren’t so “ well-spoken, gentle, decent, thoughtful, and full of social grace“. We also take care of business. Well, said, Sean. Thanks for taking up for us.

    Reply
  7. AL SMOLKO - November 16, 2019 1:11 pm

    YOU SPOKE THE TRUTH. I AM A TRANSPLANTED YANKEE FOR ABOUT FORTY YEARS AND I LEARNED THESE WONDERFUL THINGS ABOUT SOUTHERN WOMEN WITHIN A FEW MONTHS… PEOPLE JUST HAVE TO PAY MORE ATTENTION WHEN THEY TRAVEL AROUND THIS GREAT COUNTRY OF OURS AND TURN OF THE TROUBLESOME TELEVISION.

    Reply
  8. Hud - November 16, 2019 1:12 pm

    That reminds me of a parting statement: Y’all come back now yah hear. The r in the last word pronounced with a distinct “h” sound. We take our time to better appreciate and understand each other. And a cordial good day to you sur.

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  9. AL SMOLKO - November 16, 2019 1:14 pm

    I APOLOGIZE FOR MY REPREHENSIBLE SPELLING IN MY COMMENT ABOVE. THERE IS A GOOD CHANCE THAT IF THERE ARE MORE THAN TWO LETTERS IN A WORD, I AM LIABLE TO MISSPELL IT.

    Reply
  10. Lynn - November 16, 2019 1:21 pm

    Thank you! Amen!

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  11. Bobbie - November 16, 2019 1:24 pm

    I am still laughing…great way to start the day, y’all, and this from a TRUE Southerner! One of your best!

    Reply
  12. Tammy S. - November 16, 2019 1:28 pm

    Definitely no sugar on grits!! Just YUCK!! But one pinch of sugar in each corner and middle of bread over a pat of butter and toasted in the oven. That was the best morning toast along with eggs, grits (butter, little salt and NO sugar) and chocolate gravy. That is, if we were having Mamaw’s biscuits, instead of sugar toast.

    The southern women who raised me were some of the strongest and smartest women I knew!! And all greatly respected because of how they carried themselves. I can only strive to be half the woman each of them were. Some college educated, the others, just naturally smart. And the most genuine and loving people you’d ever meet. Amen, to all you shared about the southern women in your life. I was raised by the same, and so very proud of them all.

    Thanks for setting the record straight on the great southern woman. (And the usage of y’all. *eye-roll to Hollywood)

    Reply
  13. Naomi - November 16, 2019 1:32 pm

    I am a first-generation American. My mother was born in Russia and my father was born in Poland. However, I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, where my mother grew up. My father grew up in New York City. My mother and my grandparents learned English but also spoke Yiddish, a derivative of high German. My mother spoke English with a “Yiddish” accent; my father spoke with a New York accent. My accent was strictly Southern. When I got married, my husband was transferred to St. Louis and I got teased constantly about my accent. People would say, “Where is you all from?” I was very sensitive about being teased and told them that I had better grammar than that.

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  14. Cassie - November 16, 2019 1:45 pm

    I truly enjoyed your commentary Sean. It’s been a while since I’ve heard compliments about any sorority, much less mine. I hope it’s a pendulum and this chaos-loving world will right itself before my daughter is old enough to go through rush.

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  15. purplenannyo@yahoo.com - November 16, 2019 1:46 pm

    Your words touched me this morning. Being raised by a Southern Mama, I appreciate your setting the record straight on these reality shows. We are a kind & gracious bunch & the word Steel Magnolia is a good description.

    Reply
  16. Joni - November 16, 2019 1:51 pm

    A Big Amen!

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  17. Sarah Nash - November 16, 2019 2:07 pm

    Finally!!!!! Someone sees it and gets it right!! Sean, you got this post exactly right!!! Southern women should be highly prized and not parodied as they often are. And we’re making sure our daughters and granddaughters know how to behave also! Thank you for your true portrayal!

    Reply
  18. Teresa Tindle - November 16, 2019 2:07 pm

    Oh Sean, you are finer than frogs hair. I love you, y’all!

    Reply
  19. Jess - November 16, 2019 2:07 pm

    Sean, I agree with you about how Southerners are portrayed on stupid television shows. The rest of the country must think we’re mostly illiterate hicks that haven’t gotten a third grade education. Too bad that has happened, and as you wrote that’s so far from the truth that it hurts. Well it’s unfortunate that so many people are being mislead by those stupid television shows.

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  20. Becca - November 16, 2019 2:26 pm

    Thank you for defending us! I am transplanted from Mississippi but now Alabama to the core! We are Steel Magnolias, defenders of our families, children, grandchildren, friends and the less fortunate. I will take a Southern drawl over Northern speech any day. Love y’all and Roll Tide!

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  21. Cathi Russell - November 16, 2019 2:33 pm

    Amen!

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  22. Melanie - November 16, 2019 2:33 pm

    Had to share this with all 40 or so women in my family (lots and lots of girls in our bloodline ha). Reminds me so much of them. Thank you Sean. Here’s to Southern Women ❤️

    Reply
  23. Susan Gregory - November 16, 2019 2:34 pm

    I’m a southern woman and I approve this message, Y’ALL!!! ; )

    Reply
  24. Beaver Janice Andrews - November 16, 2019 2:45 pm

    I’m so blessed to be a southern woman! Loved meeting you and Jaime last night. Great show!

    Reply
  25. Sharon - November 16, 2019 2:51 pm

    Despite the fact my Mother grew up in New Mexico, I have 275 years of southern womanhood running in my Kentucky veins. Thank you Sean for the support. You nailed southern female character except you forgot the bone deep strength. When one is raised around it, one takes it for granted. My mother raised 6 children, 9 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. She could quell an entire room of rowdies with one pointed finger and one look, and rarely swore. When she lost her temper you had best dug a deep hole and be in it. When she put her foot down, it stayed down. My Texas grandmothers were the same.

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  26. Pat Settle - November 16, 2019 2:59 pm

    As a Southern woman who taught public school for over 40 years I want to thank you for your kind words! This essay was one of my favorites.
    Also, I thought I would share a story with you. As a lifelong South Carolinian, we moved our young family of 4 to McLean, Va in 1984. I had 11 years as a public school teacher and a Master’s degree! Attempting to acclimate myself to the area I took mass transit with my 4 and 1 year old to the Smithsonian! Returning home by bus from the metro station a conversation took place between a woman on the bus and me. She told me that if I wanted a teaching job in Northern Virginia that I would have to lose my upstate SC accent! WOW, I was shocked! However, I proved her wrong and eventually became Social Studies Chair at Yorktown High in N Arlington, Va.
    Again, thank you and y’all have a nice day!

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  27. Linda Moon - November 16, 2019 3:07 pm

    I am happy to be one…a Southern Woman, that is. Should I admit that I put sugar in my grits? No, I won’t. I have a picture of five Southern Women friends that is sitting on my desk, from a road trip we took together. They are all just as you described: committed, steadfast, and sweet. Several years ago,prior to my cat adoption, one of them married, and the wedding was at my house. And the rest of us Southern Women friends were her bridesmaids! Jamie Dietrich is one of the sweetest Southern Women I’ve ever met. And if there’s a need for a Southern wedding or party, she would be welcome at my house IF I can vacuum and dust up all the white cat fur from my two furry Southern Cats!!

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  28. Shelton A. - November 16, 2019 3:30 pm

    LOL!! Also sad but true.

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  29. Bill - November 16, 2019 3:58 pm

    Sean, you nailed it! Our wonderful Southern women are a huge part of what makes us Southern, and makes the South such a great place to live. Northeners/Yankees are incredibly ignorant of the South even today, and are seemingly proud of their ignorance! I have very mixed feelings when one demonstrates extreme ignorance. Should I correct them, in which case they may choose to locate in the South, or should I allow such ignorance to remain uncorrected and hope they will STAY up North! I usually choose the latter. One last point. When the North vs. South debate gets heated, I can usually shut it down by pointing out the following truth: There are FAR more folks moving from the North to the South, than those moving from the South to the North. Just figure that out; it is not Rocket Science!

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  30. Anne Chandler - November 16, 2019 4:05 pm

    Agreed! Fake Southern accents make my skin crawl! Thanks for another great article.

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  31. Wanda L Smith - November 16, 2019 4:26 pm

    From the depth of my Southern Woman’s heart which by the way was raised by two wonderful Southern women, I thank you for the beautiful prose this morning. We certainly do not have a monopoly on love but I will declare that we do have a special way of distributing it–Take care and Bless your Heart!

    Reply
  32. Rick Clark - November 16, 2019 4:30 pm

    Good words, love your southern wisdom.

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  33. Dee Thompson - November 16, 2019 4:58 pm

    This may be my favorite column of yours, ever! Thank you. I have been a southern woman for 57 years, and I come from a long line of strong, beautiful, sassy southern ladies. Some years ago, after I moved to Atlanta from Knoxville, I took some non-credit courses at Emory. They mailed out paper course catalogs – that’s how old I am! LOL I found a class in the course catalog several years running called How To Lose Your Southern Accent. The course description made me want to vomit. It basically said “If you talk with a southern accent people will think you’re a moron.” I was always tempted to take the class and purposely fail to lose my accent, then on the final day of class reveal I have a master’s degree, was an honors student, and have a genius level IQ, just to see the expressions on their ignorant faces. I never did fool with the class, but as I grew older I realized that the southern accent is our delightful secret weapon. Yankees always think we’re stupid but then we defeat them because they have underestimated us – that’s basically the plot of every Matlock episode ever made. / Hollywood trivializes us and it infuriates me. I wrote a book called Ghosts in the Garden City, which is a celebration of southern women [old and young, black and white] and I hope one day it will be made into a movie. It shows what real steel magnolias are, thanks be to God. [The book is available on Amazon, btw]

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  34. Ginny - November 16, 2019 5:05 pm

    I’ve got to tell you-I’m from Memphis and my moms from Woodland Mills Tn and she used to put sugar and butter on my grits and my rice. So I’m southern and it is done:). Love your writing!!
    Ginny

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  35. Christy Taylor - November 16, 2019 5:44 pm

    It’s ridiculous to say this, but this might be my favorite post! I know tomorrow I will want to leave this exact comment!!! With no exaggeration I laughed the entire time I was reading this post! Keep it up Sean! You are a fine example of a true Southerner.

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  36. Mindy Fernandes - November 16, 2019 5:48 pm

    ❤️

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  37. Alex Locke - November 16, 2019 5:57 pm

    At least there’s no sugar on your grits! I ground my teeth when I heard that! When I was just a kid my Granny (a Baptist Preacher’s wife who’s family hailed from South Alabama since before the White Man showed up, as she told it) used to say “Y’know who puts sugar on their grits? YANKEES, that’s who!”

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  38. Ginny - November 16, 2019 6:28 pm

    Hmmm. They were close to the Kentucky border, so maybe a little Yankee slipped in as one commenter said.

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  39. Ann - November 16, 2019 6:40 pm

    Amen.
    Y’all.

    Reply
  40. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - November 16, 2019 6:51 pm

    You are so right Sean! We do not talk like that.

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  41. Linda Vaughan - November 16, 2019 7:25 pm

    Amen!

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  42. Barbara Ross - November 16, 2019 7:44 pm

    Ummm. Having been born in Arkansas and having lived in West Texas and Tennessee, as well as a looong 40-year stint in So Cal in between, I think I need to point out that Jimmy Dean is from the Texas Panhandle. And my Tennessee hairdresser always said that my hair was “as fine as frog fur”. And I really enjoy reading y’all’s posts each day. 😃

    Reply
  43. G. Ian Goodson - November 16, 2019 8:29 pm

    Here in England , as opposed to the UK, we have a similar problem just the other way round. It’s the North that is misrepresented and the South that looks down us. It’s the North that is hardy and the South that is effete.

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  44. Velma Leming - November 16, 2019 9:01 pm

    Thank you for explaining how real southern women talk and act

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  45. Kristin - November 17, 2019 2:46 am

    Preach. ❤️

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  46. Dorothy Johnson - November 17, 2019 3:21 am

    You always make me smile, Sean! I love cold chicken for breakfast.

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  47. Joretta Parker - November 17, 2019 7:29 am

    Sean I loved this. I am a transplant of fifteen years and am appalled at the way Southerners are depicted on TV and in the movies. Thank you for setting them straight. Ya’ll have a blessed day!

    Reply
  48. Jeanne Butler - November 17, 2019 10:29 pm

    I love the South. Wish I had been born there instead of awful Delaware. Y’all LOL

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  49. Sam Hunneman - November 18, 2019 2:53 am

    Oh man, Sean. I’ve been wrapped up in other ridiculousness lately and not reading your blog for a bit. What an excellent one to come back!
    In Maine, we’re not much for grits. We do, however, (if we’re of a certain age) eat Cream of Wheat, a hot cereal. And if you’re new to Navy mess in Florida, you may not realize that big pot of white stuff is grits until you fill a bowl and pour on the milk and sugar.

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  50. Larry Hataway - November 18, 2019 4:18 am

    Hey Sean I am as bout as southern as you can get. Born and raised in Coovington county city of Opp, except my folks is from Coffee I got red dirt in my veins and my momma who has folks killed by Creek Indians buried in Coffee Cty put suga in my grits till I was 18 then I started eating them like a grown man. I got friends in Bristol Fl who ate suga in their grits to.

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  51. Lee Turner - November 18, 2019 1:54 pm

    On the Southern (Alabama) note, these are some things my Mother insisted on regarding nice ladies.
    Nice ladies always:

    Wear a slip and appropriate underclothes. Keeps your sweat from getting on your nice clothes and what if you were in an accident, your underclothes would be a direct reflection on your Mother’s reputation.
    Fat women should always wear a girdle – so when you walk down the aisle at church you won’t attract attention/interrupt worship.
    Neckline up/hemline down.
    No bikinis (maybe a 2-piece). Maintain some mystery about yourself.
    Always carry a handkerchief and piece of gum.
    Keep purse organized so you won’t fumble and lose things.
    Walk at a reasonable graceful pace, so you will not stumble.
    Learn to listen.
    Practice Patience.
    Apologize when you are wrong.
    Lose gracefully.
    Always call your mother-in-law “Mrs”. rather than her first name – a matter of respect.
    Let your husband tote the baby – you carry the diaper bag. He walks in front. Allow him pride.
    Never dispute the word of your husband in public/never correct. Wait till you get home.
    Give your husband or date time to open the door for you – don’t jerk it open.
    Don’t get ahead of your husband or date when going in a building – allow him to open the door. Just hold back a bit.
    Most men will be gentlemen, if you allow them and if you act like a lady.
    Most importantly – whatever you do is a direct reflection on your upbringing and your family and will ultimately determine your status in Southern Society.
    Say Yes Sir to your daddy, Yes Ma’am to your mother – respect positions of authority even if your do not respect the person.

    That’s all

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  52. Mary - November 18, 2019 5:06 pm

    Thanks, Sean. You seem to appreciate the finer things of life. Just to be clear there are only 3 things that should EVAHHH be added to grits: Salt, butter and sharp cheddar cheese!

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  53. Lou Ann Patton, - November 18, 2019 5:11 pm

    Sean,
    I have grown to love reading your daily posts. As I read your “finer than frog hair,” I’m reminded of an older southern gentleman who drove a school bus for the district in which I taught. Each time someone would address him, “Good morning Mr. Walls, how are you?” He would respond, “Well, I’m finer than fiddle dust.” Pretty soon, many of us started to refer to him as “Fiddle Dust.” “The bus is late today. Reckon what happened to Fiddle Dust?” He always had a smile on, happy to be hauling children, even the bad ones….well frankly he was finer than Fiddle Dust.

    Each day Sean, you make us laugh, tear up, recollect fondly upon our own Southern experiences. You make me prouder of the finer points of wisdom, a.k.a. dumb stuff I say to my kids, that sounds just like my mama. I’m hoping one day, they will cherish it as well. I hope they think I’m finer than frogs hair, split down the middle, or whatever you said.

    Lou Ann Patton

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  54. Michael Matthews - November 18, 2019 6:42 pm

    Sean, as I sit here in the ICU of a Pensacola hospital waiting. My mother in law suffered a major brain aneurysm last night. It’s not good. Reading this post it reminds me so much of her a true family matriarch. At a young 80 years of age she is strong and in charge and oh very opinionated. Each Thursday rain shine sleet or snow was “paint and body day” she has a massage, her hair done, and nails both fingers and toes and dressed to the nines. A true southern lady, she loves you reads your post daily. We got to see a show in downtown Milton Florida one evening she loved it. We all watch her lay in her bed unconscious and most likely unaware of our presence but we still talk to her tell he we love her that’s all we can do. As I look and ponder this life we live and the older I get it makes you realize how short and precious life is, thank you for your words. Oh and I can’t remember if she ever used the term y’all. Say a prayer for lady Hilda that’s what her husband always referrers to her as. Thanks Sean

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  55. Gigi - November 20, 2019 4:33 pm

    And the congregation said AMEN!

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  56. Janis - December 12, 2019 4:46 am

    <3 to Hilda and her loving family.

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  57. Carolyn Clark - December 12, 2019 5:08 am

    AMEN Y’all!!

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  58. Susie G. - December 12, 2019 7:44 am

    Your description of the Georgia girl’s bathing suit is almost verbatim my late Father’s description of such attire. I knew I liked you, but now that you have shown the same wisdom and descriptive finesse as Daddy, you have moved to a whole new level. Finer than frog hair you are!

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  59. Robin G - December 12, 2019 9:11 am

    Wow. Calling Northern women “ignorant ” really helps your cause eh?

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  60. Alesia - December 12, 2019 12:41 pm

    I’m a very proud Alabama Southern Girl!! And I would like to Thank You for settin things straight this morning.

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  61. Carolyn Molyneux - December 12, 2019 2:31 pm

    Sean, glad you set these people straight. Nobody but a Yankee would put sugar in grits. They would also not say the phrase “kiss my grits”. Over and over and over again. Nobody would say that.

    Reply
  62. Martha - December 12, 2019 8:55 pm

    Yes, exactly. Ignorance is tolerable as long as understanding, comprehension & and respect are included, otherwise, it becomes “in”tolerable.

    Reply
  63. Debo - December 18, 2019 6:12 am

    Momma nem

    Reply

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