Category: Essays / Memoirs

Cynthia Ezell : Mountain Laurel

Southern Legitimacy Statement

In my house, Saturday nights meant fried chicken and mashed potatoes and Buck Owens on the little black and white that sat in the corner by the fireplace. Like a proper southern man, Daddy grew all our vegetables, raised beef cattle and filled the freezer with venison. My mother taught me how to make hot biscuits and red-eye gravy when I was in elementary school. Our neighbors sometimes called the police when our rabbit hounds got a bit stirred up and bellowed all night. I never knew there were people who did not put sugar in their iced tea, didn’t eat cornbread with their white beans, and didn’t say y’all when addressing more than one person until I went to college. I never wanted to go anywhere else. Why would I? The South has Emmy Lou Harris, the Mississippi River, Flannery O’Connor, flaming red azaleas, catfish and stone-ground corn grits.

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Tracei Willis “Cornbread Musing and All Such As That”

Southern Legitimacy Statement
I learned many a lesson at the hands of the women in my life, from my mama to both my grandmamas, to my aunties on both my mama and my daddy’s side, but there was one critical lesson I never actually mastered to anyone’s satisfaction, not even my own children–making a decent pan of cornbread. For as far back as I can remember, there has always been some well meaning relative in my life trying to explain the do’s and don’ts of cornbread making to me. Pull up a chair, sit awhile, and listen to some of my kinfolk explain the Holy Southern Art of Cooking Cornbread.

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Reno Gwaltney “Trigger Foods”

Southern Legitimacy Statement
I live in Bergamo, a lovely medieval city in northern Italy. No big deal, considering that 130,000 other residents here are doing the very same thing right now. The only difference is that while most of them were born here, I grew up on some prime North Carolina swampland that only a reptile or the U.S. Marine Corps could call home.

Twenty-eight years of expatriate life and an intense love/hate relationship with Italy have indeed made a foreigner of me in both of my homelands. Perhaps the essays I have written about my life here in Italy as a gay Southern Wasp-turned-Buddhist and my childhood in the American South are an attempt to unite the two worlds.

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Crab Promise by Kerri Dieffenwierth

southern legitimacy statement: I’m a native Floridian who likes to honk at cows and eat collard greens with vinegar. I’ve seen a swaybacked horse suck watermelon and I’ve seen a nasty canal gator eat the family pet. I don’t mind summer, as long as there’s ice in my sweet tea and a box fan near my bed. I eat grits for breakfast with real butter. I live near the Gulf of Mexico and never tire of the smell of a salty breeze. I do not fear Hurricanes like I should, although I do fear skin cancer.

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Down Hacksaw by Lacey Jean Frye

SLS: Okay, so this story takes place on the outskirts of Missouri, BUT my large extended family all eat at Nana’s house at Thanksgiving. No matter what! And no one gets to bring COOKIES & GOOP because Aunt Shelly always makes it. And new in-laws never know what sidedish to bring becuase us mother-women have all of them accounted for, some already appear in multiple forms. And Nana’s sister, your Great Aunt Bev always ALWAYS brings a watergate salad to.die.for.

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River Sin by Shelle Stormoe

SLS: I was born in Arkansas, and I’ll probably die there too. These days, I teach at an Arkansas university, in a small town on the edge of the Ozarks. Some day, I’ll move for good to Newton County, still as deep as the backwoods get, and revert to a life governed by seasons instead of clocks.

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Ode to Parents in “The” Fall by Theresa Lacey

Southern Legitimacy Statement
Both my parents hail from the South. When they married, my mother’s family called it a “mixed” marriage because she was from Alabama, and he was a Texan. Almost a different country, as far as they were concerned. I was born in the middle of a blizzard in Fairbanks, Alaska, the daughter of a father who was in the Army Air Corps. Alaska was then just a territory, but by virtue of my parents being southerners, and military people, I was born a Southerner. A misplaced Southerner, but a bona fide one. When my grandfather died on his farm in Alabama, we moved to the farm to help grandmother, who wanted to keep to her farming ways. It was there I learned how to make grits, how to hitch up a mule, how to pick cotton and dig potatoes. I was never very good at milking the cows, so my morning chore was gathering the eggs–and I was afraid of the pecking hens, but too afraid of my father’s wrath, NOT to do this. We had an outhouse until my father built a real, in-house bathroom, and my momma got to have the first flushing rights. I learned from an uncle how to find the stars, from an aunt how to make perfect sweet tea, from my grandmother how to “put up” canned fruits and vegetables, and from my momma how to use plants and trees for medicine. My great-uncle offered to teach us kids how to make homemade wine, but this never happened. And from my father and brother, I learned how to play chess, hunt and fish. I guess that all makes me Southern, and I feel real pity for people who don’t understand anything I’ve written here.

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Heat by Dempsey Miles

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!

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A Mule’s Gotta’ Die by Molly Dugger Brennan

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Southern Legitimacy Statement: My family, having disappointed everyone on the European continent, arrived on the shores of Virginia in the early 1700s to start anew. Being too lazy to pack for another big move, we have stayed in Virginia ever since and made the best of it. I live in the Shenandoah Valley with my husband and the trifecta of Southern legitimacy: a porch, a pack of dogs, and pie.

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First Hunting Trip by Berrien Henderson

Southern Legitimacy Statement (*as if this essay needs one, the title is the SLS, don’t you think?) Although my son and I didn’t get to shoot any squirrel, the lesson, the bonding, nor the experience was lost on my little boy and me. Plus, there’s the bonus of its being a rather traditional Southern/rural outing.

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