- Cullman, Alabama


April 16, 2013

Southern Style: My shoes might have been somewhere else but my heart has always been in Dixie

CULLMAN — My shoes might have been somewhere else but my heart has always been in Dixie

I’ve always been proud to say that I’m from the Heart of Dixie. I’ve also been known to say I’ve never strayed far from it, either. Maybe a few times on vacation, and that wasn’t by choice.

I spent a couple of years divided between living in Texas and Mississippi, short visits to Florida and Georgia, and an occasional trip to Kentucky, but those were few and far between. My shoes might have been somewhere else, but my heart has always been in Dixie.

There was never really anything that tempted me to go elsewhere. For some, travel to exotic places is exciting, something to talk about over cocktails, but for me it was always a form of punishment, well, almost. I love the beach, but I’ve seen it several times, and that’s enough.

When the economy took a nosedive, “stay-cation” became the new catchphrase for people who aren’t traveling far from home. I don’t mind staying home, I’ve never been bored a day in my life, and I’ve always found enough to do to keep me from having wanderlust. I think I may very well be a minority of one, but the Heart of Dixie has always been sufficient to keep me occupied and amused.

I mean, where else can you get fried dill pickles, the best barbecue in the world, and hear great music from people just sitting around pickin’ and telling the funniest stories you’ve ever heard?

Where else can you find people who are willing to drop everything and run over to console you in a crisis, or have everyone you know praying for you in times of need? Sure, people pray for each other all over the place, but do most of them bake a cake while they are praying, pick up your kids from school and offer to mow your lawn?

The Heart of Dixie means more than just it’s location on a map. It’s also a state of mind. When I worked in Tennessee at an automotive plant with several thousand people who were not raised here, I got a big dose of just how special this place really is.

The transplants, mostly good folks who had been plunked down into another culture with little preparation or knowledge of its customs, had some adjusting to do. They didn’t appreciate our slower pace of life at the time, but I have noticed that the biggest majority of them decided to retire here, so what does that tell you?

I’ve seen women pitch a hissy fit about having to wait at the doctor’s office and I once heard a woman cuss a blue streak about the repair man not being able to work on her lawn mower the minute she walked into his shop. I sort of wondered if she though he had just been waiting for her all day long and now, because of her patronage, he could thankfully go to work.

They expected to be able to sit down in the barber chair the instant they walked into the door. Now, what is a good barber without a line of customers? The funniest stories I’ve ever heard came from people sitting around at the barber or beauty shop. That’s where most of my relatives go for entertainment.

The following is a list of complaints we Southerners heard at work on a daily basis for years while they were ‘adapting’ to our Southern ways … bread molds too fast down here, no one can build a decent house down here, they talk funny, it’s too hot, they can’t drive in the snow and they close the schools in bad weather, they marry their cousins, they don’t have a strong work ethic, they can’t give directions.

All this from people who talk funny, can’t understand directions, eat weird food, wear shorts in the winter, think they can drive on ice and don’t even know their cousins. Sometimes it was funny, but one guy smarted off to the wrong good ol’ Southern boy in jail one Saturday night in Columbia and left there minus his nose.

So, having been certain all my life that we live in a special place I went  looking for some information about how we came to call this part of the world the Heart of Dixie because of something my friend Dot had said. What she said was, “Right down there at the intersection of Highways 69, 278, and U.S. 31 is the official Heart of Dixie.”

Then I came across this little snippet… “The Heart of Dixie” was a phrase developed in the 1940s and 1950s by the Alabama Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber sought a more distinctive slogan for their state and promoted that “Alabama is geographically the Heart of Dixie.” In 1951, with backing from the Alabama Chamber of Commerce, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill to add “Heart of Dixie” to automobile license plates.

That really made it official.

According to her calculations, if you take any map and measure from the top of Virginia down to bottom of Louisiana, and then measure from Mississippi River to coast of North Carolina, Cullman is the exact center!

(Some people surmise that these calculations don’t count Florida because everyone knows they are displaced Yankees, bless their hearts).

Be that as it may, I think that Cullman should be recognized as the center of the True South, don’t you?

So as far as I’m concerned…the Heart of Dixie is also the heart of the universe. Mine, anyway. I’m all for promoting and sharing the South with other folks, as long as they don’t try to change us. Remember the old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Well, when visiting the South, I think it’s only right that folks respect our traditions, manners and rules of conduct, like “Yes, Ma’am” and “Thank you kindly,” and “Please pass the peas.”

After all, they’ve worked for us since before Sherman discovered matches.


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