A couple weeks ago, one of my posts was a spoof on Summer Camp. Following that post, I had not expected to undergo a mild case of nostalgia after remembering various aspects of my actual summer camp experience during my youth. I was surprised at the flood of memories that came to mind! In predictable fashion, a whimsical poem began to draw certain images and test how they’d work themselves into verse.
One of those images, the Elephant Rocks shown above, pretty much demanded to be included, so being the pushover I am when my brain is so insistent, I worked the mental image of elephant rocks into what I was writing. With that impossible phrase included, the poem took on its own style.
A word to those who question the existence of both boondocks and elephant rocks, please be assured I didn’t make up these things. Boondocks may describe numerous places (especially in the South, especially in states with a generally rural landscape as Missouri has), but the boondocks description definitely fit the location of the summer camp I attended in childhood. Further, the camp I attended (located in the southeastern part of Missouri) was within close proximity of both the Johnson Shut-Ins State Park and the Elephant Rocks State Park.
Today in Savannah, Georgia, a parade and street fair were celebrated to honor the memory of writer Flannery O’Connor. If you’ve read much of this blog, you’ll be familiar with posts I’ve written about her. I’m often reminded of O’Connor when I come across Pulitzer Prize winner (for editorial writing) Paul Greenberg‘s occasional discussions of the South.
An editorial writer for our state’s newspaper, Greenberg’s cogitations on the South are (for me) always thought-provoking. Last Sunday, he asked the question: Where does the South begin? This column has some similarities to a previous column he wrote back in 2009: Where does the South end? (Disregard the title at that link; the column is the correct one.)
In my view, Greenberg’s awareness of the South is something of a throwback. Because our culture has become relatively homogeneous, regional differences seem less regional than in the past. Furthermore, lots of people (who once would have willingly identified as Southern) have scrapped the description, considering it tainted and out of favor.
Besides Greenberg’s columns, I’ve read and heard numerous discussions attempting to define the South. Professor John Shelton Reed provides an interesting overview, The South: Where Is It? What Is It? He links to informative charts to build his case, and his overview is well worth the read.
Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, I always thought of myself as Southern. Though the Missouri Compromise (1820) prohibited slavery above the southernmost border of Missouri (for states that formed west of Missouri), my state entered the Union as a slave state. But Missouri’s history as a slave state is not why I considered myself a Southerner. There was another quality − a je nais se quoi, if you will − that defined my Southern state of mind … before I was even aware of it!
Greenberg admits his reluctance to cede Bentonville, AR (to the north of where I sit right now) its Southernness. He prefers the label midwestern, a term I’ve often deplored. But he does offer: “If you think it’s a step down [being called a midwestern], you must be a Southerner.” Indeed.
Additionally, Mr. Greenberg, with all due respect, please don’t describe the northwestern corner of your state (now mine, nearly forty years) as somehow “Oklahoman.” If midwestern is a step down, well, you should be able to understand how utterly inappropriate Oklahoman would be.
I’m not as old as Greenberg, but I also remember singularly Southern culinary delicacies including Moon Pies, Grapette Soda, and RC (spoken as one word, AhrCee) for a hot summer’s day thirst quencher. But memories don’t necessarily make a person Southern.
My daughters, one born in Texas and the other born in Iowa (but both mostly raised in northwest Arkansas) are Southerners. The younger one is married to a member of the Kappa Alpha Order, an organization Reed states is a “college fraternity with an explicitly Confederate heritage.” Reed’s observation notwithstanding, I think it would be wrong to read into that comment any kind of racist or hate-filled underpinnings; we simply honor our heritage. We don’t deny its warts and shortcomings, we choose to rise above them.
Reed uses the words of Josiah Royce in formulating a working definition of the South. He suggests specific things and I summarize them here: the South is a geographic and social domain with a unified consciousness and pride in certain ideals and customs and a sense of distinctness apart from other regions in the country. I think that sums it up fairly well.
I also like Reed’s concluding comments: “… the South exists in people’s heads and in their conversations. From this point of view, the South will exist for as long as people think and talk about it, and as for its boundaries well, the South begins wherever people agree that it does.”
Mr. Greenberg will, no doubt, continue to think about … and write about … the South. It has penetrated his soul, just as it has mine. It is part of the culture in which I grew up. It’s part of that mystery through manners about which Flannery O’Connor wrote. O’Connor called her home region the “Christ-haunted South.” Yes, the South is a place where there is still a belief in the soul … it’s fading, but more slowly than in other parts of the country.
If all other definitions fail you, the South is where kudzu grows.
Watching television the other night, I heard a few excerpts from President Obama’s speech, given in Austin TX at a Democrat National Committee (DNC) Finance Event. Transcript of the entire speech may be viewed at the White House website here.
Toward the end of his speech, President Obama leveled complaints against his opposition; most specifically, he singled out the group Americans for Prosperity suggesting their members might be … cue the red flag … controlled by foreign interests or … cue more red flags … one of the “bigs” (oil, banks, insurance) boogie men.
He blamed a recent Supreme Court decision for allowing such organizations to proliferate. (Of course, he failed to mention this Supreme Court ruling is applicable to organizations on both sides of the political divide.) In concluding his remarks, President Obama identified what he called “the bottom line” by saying: “… right now the choice is between whether we go back to those policies that got us into this mess, or we continue with the policies that are getting us out of this mess.”Continue reading “I Agree With President Obama!”→