I am rather fond of introductions. I like to look at introductions as a way to carve my initials on the tree of someone’s heart.
I learned early on of the formal, Southern way of introduction – elders first, always full name and title, smiling and nodding while taking small, polite sips of sweet tea.
Except that I always seemed to somehow get that sprig of fresh-cut mint stuck between my teeth.
Thus, the sweaty palms with present-day introductions. That, and the fact that I still struggle with the question, “Who am I?”
I am a Southern Writer. (And mother. And wife. And daughter. And employee. And teacher. And artist. And chicken keeper. And church member. And freelance journalist. And friend …)
Oh, fiddle dee dee! Why, all this talk about who I am just about makes me hanker for a lacy fan and a gallon of tea!
I turned to my children for help. I explained the situation. Told them the ‘writer’ part was not in question since I obviously put pencil to paper. But in the interest of journalistic integrity, I needed to be accurate. The conversation went something like this:
Me: But what about the “Southern” part?
Hanson: [Male child. Eldest.] We’re not from the South.
Me: [Head whips around so fast papers flutter to the ground.] What?!?
Hanson: We’re not South, Mom. We’re a border state.
Me: Oh, sweet precious child, whatever do you mean? [Add a slow drawl; bat eyelashes]
Hanson: We’re not North or South. We are a border state, see? But I want to be Northern because they were against the slaves.
Anna: [Female. Middle child. ] There were people from the South who were also against slavery!
(I stepped closer to my daughter and pressed my imaginary rustling crinoline up next to her imaginary hoop skirt. Southern Solidarity.)
Hanson: [Short reply. Honest. Northern.] Well, good luck with that introduction.
What began as simple sweaty palms had turned into a deluge of doubt. The original question morphed from “Who am I?” into “What am I?” And heaven help us all if I start asking “Where am I?” Despite my advanced age, I stuck out my bottom lip into a full-fledged pout. “I am, too, Southern!”
I like my sweet tea made of two parts pure cane sugar and one part sun-brewed tea. I’ll occasionally slip a ‘ya’ll’ into my dialogue. No matter where I’ve lived (Indiana, New Mexico, Kentucky), I have always referred to the porch as a veranda – including that temporary concrete block we pushed up to the back door that one time. I favor tall-ceilinged, hardwood-floored, old farmhouses to ‘citified’ living. And one of my favorite restaurants is Cracker Barrel at the I-75 Corbin exit!
The more that I tried to justify my Southern-ness, the more I realized that I was just talking about my heart’s home.
Bred, born, and raised in the heart of the Bluegrass. I learned to coax a bluegill onto a hook with a night crawler and a cane pole. I learned that sweet feed, and tack rooms, and fresh-turned dirt were the best smells ever. I learned how to ride a horse like a lady, and then muck stalls like a farm hand. Then I learned that I could go from country to cultured in the space of twenty minutes. I learned that Momma’s homemade bread and vegetables from our own garden beat out all those fancy restaurants, even though I had been schooled in the proper order of fork use. I learned that honesty and integrity were the keys to being known as good people. I learned to read, and write, and laugh until I cried in this state.
And none of those things make me Southern.
But they sure do make me Kentucky.
So, come. I just mixed up some sweet tea still warm from the sun, and I’ve saved you a seat on my humble veranda - this time, complete with a white porch swing I put together and painted, and a rocking chair my Daddy made a few years back.
Come, ‘set’ a while with me.
I’d like to introduce myself….