- Cullman, Alabama


January 26, 2014

Loretta Gillespie: The South’s Next Generation

CULLMAN — Sometimes I worry that the old ways and traditions of the South will become watered down, and maybe even lost, as the generations move through time in what has become a fast-paced, digital environment. Often kids of the next generation stay plugged in to something, tuning out true experiences and opting for iTunes instead of listening to Grandpa reminiscing on the front porch.

However, I’ve recently had reason to hope that this isn’t always the case. My young cousin, Erin Grace Brown, 16, gave me some insights as to what her views of the South are in the year 2014.

“I love living in the South because of Sunday dinners,” she said. Erin comes from a big extended family with a background in farming. Her grandmother is an excellent country cook, whose recipes were handed down to her from her mother, who was the ultimate Southern cook.

“You can fry anything in the South and nobody will complain about how unhealthy it is,” Erin laughed.

Erin has grown up visiting her grandparents who live just down the road from the cemetery, where most of our ancestors are buried. “I love the fact that we still pull over to the side of the road for funerals, just out of respect for the family and the person who has passed,” said Erin, who has been known to shed a tear at Luke Bryan’s “The Car In Front of Me,” which tells the story of a man’s life, ending with his riding in a car behind the hearse.

It may not be possible to pull over for a funeral procession in a large city, but in some rural areas, it is still a common sight, although some counties have discontinued the practice.

Other things that Erin loves about living in the South are the many historic homes and the crazy weather we have sometimes, which just makes for a break in the monotony of following the same ol’ routine day in and day out.

Erin also loves how Southerners love their football. It’s almost a requirement, and I’m surprised that it’s not on job applications in these parts, as in “What was your last address?” and “What is your football affiliation?”

Erin has been brought up knowing that “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir” are the correct responses to just about everything any grownup says, from “Would you please pass the peas?” to “Get in the house and do the dishes!”  

Erin knows about farming and what it means to America to have people like some of her family members who are still willing to take the time and make the effort to raise corn, cotton, soy beans and cattle. Farmers feed America. It’s important that teenagers like Erin know these things.

Nowadays, I’m sure that there are teens who take for granted that beef comes from Wal-Mart. Even though Erin enjoys seeing lots of familiar faces in Wal-Mart, she would much rather be at the beach, or riding down a dirt road, something else that is getting rare, even in our rural area.

She loves drinking sweet tea on the front porch, listening to bluegrass and old country music in the summertime.

She was wearing boots long before it became a fashion statement, and she can often be found hunting or fishing with her Dad, who is still her hero.

She loves trucks and John Deere tractors, cowboys and cornbread, Friday night bonfires and the Iron Bowl. But she also loves reading and Harper Lee is one of her favorite authors. She knows the scent of magnolia blossoms and still puts peanuts in her Coke.

She eats fried green tomatoes in season, and blackeye peas on New Year’s Eve, which is the mark of any true Southerner. She enjoys an occasional Moon Pie and a cold RC cola. She loves the Piggly Wiggly, like a lot of us do.

Erin still holds doors for her elders, and notices others who do the same, again, a sign of respect. She loves the fact that people still throw up their hands at drivers going down the road, “Whether we know them or not,” she laughed.

She appreciates our Southern drawls, our love of Jesus, gardens where roses bloom and hearing her grandmother call out, “Y’all come in for dinner,” which is, of course, in the middle of the day.

She wonders where the custom of taking food when people pass away comes from, or bowing our heads for a few seconds when we talk about someone who has died. Pulling over probably started because of the ruts in rural roads. If you stayed in the ruts you could make it through the mud all the way to town, but if you met another car, wagon or buggy, somebody had to pull over.

Bringing food derives from the fact that at one time people used to come long distances to attend funerals. In buggies and wagons and on horseback or on trains, they came to pay their respect to a friend or family member. Often it took a day or longer to get to the bereaved family, who might not have enough food on hand for crowds. Therefore, neighbors and family members cooked day and night in preparation for feeding the visitors.

Bowing our heads when a departed friend or family member is mentioned is another sign of respect, akin to putting our hands over our hearts when we say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.

Thank goodness that this young girl, and hopefully many more of her generation, will carry on the traditions of our Southern ancestors! If not, they will be lost forever.

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