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.”
“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.”
“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.