The Old South Rises Still

The Old South still rises, though not to battle. It rises now like Brigadoon—mysteriously—but with its own lowland accent. If you seek it, you won’t find that spirit in the New South’s cities or even along the interstates of today’s South. But that old South still tarries in the small towns, still lingers along the gravel-and-tar back roads of the open countryside, still calls with a voice as sweet as the air around a fencerow bent low by honeysuckle.

It’s an attitude and it’s a way of life. Even if you don’t see it directly, look for its effects. For it carries weight, swaying the will gracefully, the way summer breezes gently bend branches of the silver maples and honey locusts—those shade-tree parasols meant for houses with big front porches. It’s a mind-set, aging to perfection like a cured ham. But this smoky spirit has escaped the smokehouse, for it hangs in the air and hovers in the highest branches of those ancient oaks lining the edges of country lawns—old-growth trees that define the border between a modest yard and the wilds of nature beyond. Those trees, out at the edge of the range of the night’s porch lights, wrap their limbs around you in the starry night, folding you into a cocoon of comfort, giving you that warm feeling of security, as if your mother just tucked you in to bed. Time slows and almost stops.

That frame of mind has cast a spell, settling on everything, clinging like the evening dew in the cooldown that you count on to follow the summer sunset, casting a contagious mix of drowsy desire and sticky inertia. You start to see that it’s fermenting plans for this lazy summer night that doesn’t match what you had in mind. But you don’t care.

“What’s yer hurry? Don’t go yet. Set fer a spell.”

Such a friendly request is made harder to ignore by a belly full of fried chicken, fluffy biscuits, okra fried golden brown in cornmeal, garden-ripe tomatoes and steaming blackberry cobbler. Linger long enough—maybe through a sweating glass or two of icy sweet tea—and someone is likely to offer to cut a watermelon.

“Red meat or yeller?”

It would be rude to decline. So you don’t.

“Let’s try a yellow.”

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