Are You “Of the South?”

ARKANSAS

By
Richard Mason

Are You “Of the South”?

Most people might think just living in the South makes you a Southerner…but they’d be wrong. You are not a true, dyed-in-the-wool Southerner unless you are “Of the South.” Okay, now let me be real upfront with you. My definition of a Southerner and the South is going to hack off some folks, because just living in the South doesn’t make you a Southerner. I lived in Libya for a couple of years, but I sure didn’t think of myself as a Libyan, and if I had lived there another 50 years I still wouldn’t consider myself a Libyan. I’m a Southern because I am “Of the South”. Here’s my definition of a Southerner.
But first, let me give you a quick overview of what is actually the current landmass called the American South. Nope, it’s not the old Confederacy. Certain sections of the South have lost its identify, and can no longer be called part of the South. Just because a 100 years ago a section of land was populated by true Southerners doesn’t make it part of the South today. If the majority of people who now make up its population aren’t “Of the South”, then that place can no longer be part of the South. Yes, we’ve lost some of the South, but it doesn’t mean that some Southerners don’t live there. It means that migration into an area of the South has changed the Southern nature so much that it no longer can be called part of the South. Examples? Northwest Arkansas, Dallas, Houston, and the south half of Florida. (Those places were marginal to begin with.) New Orleans? Actually, New Orleans fits in another category, but I don’t know what to call it. Southerners love New Orleans. It’s a little wicked, dangerous, and the food is great, but Southerners don’t really think of New Orleans as part of the South. It’s really an appendage attached to the South, and we go there as a relief from the boredom, which is the real South. But back to my definition as to who is a Southerner.
As an example, of who can call themselves a Southerner, and who is “Of the South,” let’s go to a typical Southern back porch and listen in to a friendly conversation between neighbors; Billy Ray Davis and his wife Carol and John Ralf Moniz and his wife Laura Lee. The men work at a manufacturing plant in Fairhope, Alabama.
“Say, John where do y’all go to church” (Billy Ray, who asked the question, gets a point for asking a very Southern question and another point for having a Southern name, but that’s not enough to make him “Of the South”.)
John answers, “Well, I was raised Episcopalian, but Laura was brought up Baptist. Laura is still a Baptist, and I show up when the Episcopalian have a social event. (John is off to a slow start. He loses 2 points for having a very un-southern last name and loses another point for not calling his wife Laura Lee, loses another point for being raised Episcopalian.) Laura picks up a couple of points being Baptist, but so far we don’t have enough info to say any of the four are true Southerners. But the next question will shed a lot more light on who is “Of the South”.
Laura Lee, who, in her spare time, works for the local genealogy society, teaches Sunday School at First Baptist, and sings in the choir, asks, “Billy Ray where’s home?”
“Well, I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”
“What? You can’t be serious, you sound as Southern as anybody I’ve ever been around,” she replied.
“Well, my dad and his family had always lived in and around Birmingham, but after he met and married my mother, who was from Pennsylvania, my dad tried Pennsylvania for a few years. He couldn’t stand the cold winters, so he moved the family back south.” (You might think being born outside the South would kill any chances of being “Of the South” but no; a true Southerner transcends a physical location. Yes, Billy Ray is “Of the South”—barely, but Carol, his wife, isn’t, even though she has lived in the South for 15 years.)
Now, John speaks up, “I’m a transplanted Yankee. I met Laura during a Spring Break trip to Florida. My family has always lived in New Jersey, but I’ve lived over half my life in the South so you might say I’ve become a Southerner.” (No, John you are not an “Of the South” Southerner.)
“Well, I guess I’m the only true Southerner here,” said Laura Lee. “My family has always lived in Georgia, and my middle name, ‘Lee’ is for General Lee, who my great grandfather served under during the War.” (Laura Lee racks up Southern points right and left. Referring to “The War,” named for a Southern Saint, General Lee, and being part of a family who has always lived in Georgia makes her about as southern as you can be. Topping it off, she teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir. Yes, Laura Lee is a true Southerner. She is “Of the South.” and actually fits into a special category called “Ultra-of the South”. She is about as Southern as you can be.)
Before we close, I think it is imperative that we classify residents who live in the South, and don’t qualify as “Of the South” but have lived in the South for a ‘coon’s age, (for you non-southerners that is about 10 years.) I think the first 10 years a person lives in the South is rather like a person without a physical identity. He or she sure can’t be called a Southerner, but after 10 years or so living in the South that person has picked up enough Southern habits to fit into another category, Southern-Lite. However, “Of the South” can only be bestowed on his or her children’s children. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.
But, if now, you understand, that unless you are “Of the South” you are not a full-fledged Southerner, take heart; remember, you live in the South, so enjoy your life in the best part of the good old USA. You might have been born an American, but you’re “Of the South” by the grace of God. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.

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