Southern Legitimacy Statement: I have lived in Birmingham, Alabama off and on my entire life, with brief stints in Mississippi, Florida, and New York City. The following essay is, in essence, an extended statement of my Southern legitimacy.
Southern Legitimacy Statement: There is at least one dead mule in my family’s history. My uncles “accidentally” killed the family plow mule with a hammer blow between his eyes, then tried to bury him but rigor mortis set in and his feet stuck up about two feet about the ground when they rolled him in the hole. Being rural Southern Children of the 1940’s guaranteed their resourcefulness and determination and so they buried him anyway. My grandfather discovered him when he went looking for the mule that had run off. My uncles were 10 and 13 at the time of the “incident.” I’m a child of South Carolina’s low country, story telling and black water runs in my veins and family history. I’m a fading Southern Belle who believes and says; ” Here in the South we don’t keep our history in a moldy old book on a dusty old shelf, WE LIVE it EVERYDAY!”
SLS: I got my first name, Margaret, from my paternal grandmother, Margaret Harmon Lupton, who rocked me and sang “Old Mrs. FIddle Faddle jumped out of bed, ran to the window and she stuck out her head, she cried John John the grey goose is gone and he must be on the town-o.” She liked to be called Granny. Granny liked guiltless Metrical (sp?) caramels and kept a big box of them on her coffee table. I could have one. One time I spent the night at her house on Ingraham Street in D.C. and in the morning we had breakfast in her kitchen. Cheerios in cream with lots of sugar. When her Cheerios were gone, she picked up her bowl and drank the sugary cream. Then I picked up my bowl and drank the sugary cream. Granny said, “How rude!” I said, “But you did it.” She said, “It’s my house.”
Generations of men in my family proudly have the middle name Leroy, including myself. And all of us have had home-cooked meals of squirrel or frog legs or venison and never turn down a slice of vinegar pie.
It seemed normal, growing up, that my grandparents had a 45rpm jukebox in their living room with Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys, Elvis and John Lee Hooker on regular rotation. Dancing and carousing five nights a week at the Cain’s Ballroom wasn’t enough for them.
As kids, during the deep, hot, shoeless and shirtless summertime, rather than go in the house for a cool drink from the kitchen faucet, we’d stretch our tongues out under condensation tube on the window air conditioning unit that always dripped a mud hole below it.
And as the evening rolled in, after supper, we’d catch fireflies and dob their green, luminous butts on our ring fingers, make our childlike proposals of forever to cousins—well, at least the brief forever that was until the glow faded into the gloam.
Southern Legitimacy Statement:
On my twenty-second birthday, in the spring of 1979, I had a crawfish boil, my first. Ninety pounds of red mudbugs on a picnic table spread with newspaper, my birthday cake sitting at the end of the table like an afterthought.
I hadn’t been raised in Louisiana, but no one cared about any of that. My friends treated me like I was a local. After we ate we played pool at a bar downtown. Full of crawfish and Dixie beer, I drank shots of peppermint schnapps and flirted with the boy at the next table, telling him yes when he asked if I’d like to go to the city.
We drove uptown, to Tipitinia’s—this in the days when tourists hadn’t yet discovered it was the best place in town—and later, long after midnight, to the Dungeon, just off Bourbon, where I would navigate the steep wooden stairs on my way up to the bar, trying not to fall, drunk with desire for this boy I barely knew.
When the sun came up we took the old Hammond Highway home, driving through the bayous with the car windows open, WRNO cranked up loud, taking our youth and freedom for granted because we didn’t yet know any better.
Southern Legitimacy Statement: I have lived in Miss since I was born. I have run barefoot over its dirt for years. I expect to be planted in Mississippi just like my prized tomatoes. I want this dirt to be my final resting place. Amen.
Southern Legitimacy Statement:
A Carolina girl through and through, I’ve been drunk and burnt to a crisp at Myrtle Beach, yelled “fire in the hole,” when lighting fireworks at Lake Hartwell, rode four wheelers in Union County, snapped beans, shucked corn and ate at my share of meat and threes. I still love a veggie plate with Mac N Cheese from The Diamond. I’ve frequented honky tonks and rock bars from Nashville to Chapel Hill and seen my share of debauchery. I have travelled far and wide, but nothing feels as good as coming home South to my husband and our family of four dogs, four cats and a damn fine porch swing.
Southern Legitimacy Statement: Nicole Yurcaba hails from a long line of Ukrainian immigrants, coal miners and West Virginia mountain folk. She combines her love of farming, hunting and fishing with her passion for writing and teaching. When not playing cowgirl on a cattle farm in eastern West Virginia, she teaches English at a local community college. She lets her belt buckles do the talkin’ and her cowboy boots do the walkin’….
Southern Legitimacy Statement: An “Okie from Muskogee” I am one of very few women who have been crowned both Miss Azalea Festival and Miss Indian Summer. I was convinced for years that Colonel Sanders was my grandfather since my grandmother worked so many hours at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I tagged along curling up under her desk with my Snoopy dog that she bought me with S&H Green Stamp books. I’m still stunned there are people in the world who don’t know about paper shell pecans. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve watched your grandma fry potatoes, okra, pork chops, and chicken in a cast iron skillet in bacon fat that’s been out on the counter all day.
Alan Samry’s leg was hacked off when he was nine. He has not walked a straight line since. He was a journalist hack in the north until 2005. He moved south, got educated, and is now a reference librarian by day and literary hack by night. When people finish reading his writing, be it fiction, nonfiction or satire, the most common response is “oh, bless your heart.” Perhaps crossing the Mason-Dixon Line has permanently dismantled his puritanical and linear thinking. He keeps submitting in the hope that one day someone will understand him, the way his wife Susan does. She says Alan’s a lovable nincompoop with an overdeveloped right side of the brain with a dimwitted, but gen-u-ine, “I’m not from here” appreciation of the south.
Southern Legitimacy Statement
Honeysuckles, Chopped Pork BBQ and Muscadine Wine
I remember walking from my grand mama’s house with my brother. We’d walkthrough the lane that was in truth a two way, one way street. I mean the signs said one way but cars went both ways and nobody seemed to mind because everybody in Starkville, Mississippi knew that the one way was a two way. The lane contained the most magical delights almost year round. There were pecan trees, peach trees, pear trees, and a long row of sugary sweet honeysuckle vines; and that was just on one side of the road. We never seemed to mind it was all on somebody else’s property. I am sure they didn’t mind sharing with all the kids who walked that lane.
My Uncle Johnny barbequed pork almost year round, no matter the season, in every type of weather. He cooked whole hogs for other folk’s barbeques and party’s. He owned a little farm, with a cinder block smoke pit in the rear. He would slow cook the hogs for long hours then once the meat cooled he would chop it up, adding grand mamma’s secret vinegar and tomato based spicy sauce. The kids made sure to hang around near enough to be unofficial, official tasters. As much as we tasted it was a wonder there was enough hog left to serve at the party. That chopped barbeque served on white bread with homemade potato salad and collard greens was always a show stopper. Add a little sweet tea, or an ice cold Budweiser, and you were in it to win it!
My other Uncle, on my Momma side liked to brew his own “shine”. That’s moonshine to everyone above the Mason-Dixon line. He was a bit of a local legend in his day known for his jovial nature and quality of his shine. He even measured a man’s worth in increments of shine. For example, if he said a man wasn’t “worth a fifty cent shot” then you knew that person to be of low character. And who are better judges of character than shine drinking Baptist in Mississippi? My favorite was his muscadine flavored wine. He’d pay his nieces and nephews to collect ripe muscadines by the brown paper bag full; two dollars a bag, good money back in the day. He’d throw the bags in the back of his old Chevy truck and disappear off to his secret place to brew his wine. We children would always be allowed a good nip during funerals, weddings, holidays, are whenever somebody left a jug unattended and in our reach. It was always sweet going down with just the right amount of burn in the throat.
Now you tell me; ain’t I southern enough?
I was born and raised in the South, left it and have now come back. I occasionally eat grits, hate football and am an occasional Catholic. My family has disowned me.
Southern Legitimacy Statement:
Growing up, we never thought about being southern, probably because nobody ever called us that. Truth be told, everybody we knew was southern and since we never ventured outside the south, there was really no point in mentioning it.
Come to think of it, nobody ever called us children either, or kids, or god-forbid, young ones. We were young’uns and we were of the “seen and not heard” variety.
We were told what to do – “you just go right back and lick that calf over again,” and what not to do – “you better know better.”
We were told what to eat – “you’ll eat what’s on your plate or go hungry” – and what not to eat – “spit that out right now.”
We were told what to say – “yes sir and thank you ma’am,” – and what not to say, “are you sassing me?”
And in moments of frustration and warning, they were all rolled up into one of two admonitions. At home, it was “you better act like you’ve got some damn sense.” And before going out in public, it was “you better act like somebody” with the emphasis always on that second syllable.
And wouldn’t you know it? We learned to listen before we speak, to do things right the first time, to heed our consciences, to be grateful, and careful, and polite, and respectful.
Mostly though we learned that if you act like you’ve got some damn sense, southern or not, you’ll grow up to be somebody.
Southern Legitimacy Statement:
The colonel passed my fancy computer-generated laser-target print-out across the table to his colleague, a retired Marine and veteran of three wars, who glanced over at me, his gaze shifting slowly from tolerance, to curiosity, to something resembling respect.
“Where’d you learn to shoot, son?”
“I’m fifty years old, sir, and I was raised in the South.”
SLS: I’ve said it before, but it fits just as well today. Maybe now with more urgency, because she who tended my DAR status has left us, so perhaps it ends with me?
Here’s what I know: I am here now. I’m here because William Wallace cried for freedom, British savaged Highland clans, and pushed Presbyterians into the sea. I’m here because Huguenots sailed, and Kid-the-Pirate swung dead from the bow of his ship in Charleston Harbor; but not before poaching and stealing, and damp hot nights with her… And I am here – entrenched in the glorious, bitter, fruitful, confounding Bible belt – for such a time as this.
SLS. Although I live and teach in Oak Park, IL, I was born and raised in Covington, Kentucky, the Gateway to the South. My ancestors moved to Kentucky just after it was made the 15th state, coming from Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Although we lived just a stone’s throw from Cincinnati, a Yankee town, we proudly aligned ourselves with the South and its heritage.
Southern Legitimacy Statement:
I do solemnly swear, that I am a child of the low-country, spanish moss ways, though transplanted among the concrete jungle known as New York City (please dear friends, do not hold this against me). That I was born and raised in the traditions of superstition and folklore, of witches, ghosts, and of food that comes from bottom barrel hunger, for necessity is the ruler of invention. That even as I had unfortunately shed my accent and so many of my mannerisms, for fear of being found out as southern, that I have seen the error of my ways, and there is no other place I can call home. I am from the tribe of y’all and might could, of women who have ruled the roost while segregated to backrooms. I am 3,000 miles from the shores of where I came from, and never more than now, closer to home.
Southern Legitimacy Statement:
When we discussed the vocabulary word “paradox” this week in my English class, my students said, “Why, that’s you, Mayfield – an educated redneck!” I guess my twang – and the deer head in my office – are dead giveaways. My colleagues eat salads, talk of fashion and pampered pets, and decorate their offices with pottery and plants. As they gab and giggle, I nibble on squirrel and dumplins and read my Mules and More magazine. “What are you doing this weekend?” one asks, and I say, “Riding my mule.” Their eyes grow large, they gather their plates and utensils, and they flee the area for more civilized settings. I smile and stretch out. “Finally.”
Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in 1934 in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama in a house that didn’t have indoor plumbing. I was only seven-years-old when we moved to Mobile, AL. Except for a few months in Fla. and a few weeks in Saint Louis, I have always lived in Alabama. I always loved to write, even when I was a kid. I was married for eleven years and divorced, married for 32 years and widowed. I am quite well and happy.
I used to say I was from the South, but not “of” it. I think I just had to find the right kind of Southerness.
southern legitimacy statement: I was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, but never learned to be a cute or sweet purdy girl, so I moved to England where surliness is appreciated.
Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in Alabama, grew up in Georgia, went to school in Mississippi, lived in Nashville and do my fishing in South Carolina. I’ve spent a lot of time on the grounds Faulkner’s Rowan Oak and on the highway around Larry Browns farm. I currently live a street over from Carson McCullers’ house. I don’t know how much more legitimate I can be than that.
Southern Legitimacy Statement: I’ve lived in the South my whole life. I haven’t wanted to. I’ve wanted to live in more exotic places like Paris or London or even in the United States, places like San Francisco or New York. But I don’t want to move. I just fantasize about it. I grew up in Georgia, lived in Tennessee for 15 years, and then moved back to Georgia.
Recasting the throw-aways and detritus, the overheard and misspelled, the artist has fashioned a large expository drama that serves as fragmented window into our collective Zeitgeist. Sex, love, death, politics, aesthetics and the muddled semiotics of our age all find a place in this body of work and beckon the viewer to read, decipher and unravel. The pieces in The Letters resonate with an enigmatic poetic presence. The result is a significant body of work by an important American artist…
Tim Bullard, 1999 … reporting at its finest. We’re sorry that we can no longer find the original photos accompanying the piece.