To Be Southern

I recently read the incredible novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Upon finishing this powerful book, I found a brief essay called “Too Little, Too Late” by Stockett about herself and her writing of the book. Raised in Mississippi, she so beautifully articulates the tension that exists in most of us Southern folk. In light of  moving back to the South, I found this beautifully appropriate:

“The rash of negative accounts about Mississippi, in the movies, in the papers, on television, have made us natives a wary, defensive bunch. We are full of pride and shame, but mostly pride.

“Still, I got out of there. I moved to New York City when I was twenty-four. I learned that the first question anyone asked anybody, in a town so transient, was ‘Where are you from?’ And I’d say, ‘Mississippi.’ And then I’d wait.

“To people who smiled and said, ‘I’ve heard it’s beautiful down there,’ I’d say, ‘My hometown is number three in the nation for gang-related murders.’ To people who said, ‘God, you must be glad to be out of that place,’ I’d bristle and say, ‘What do you know? It’s beautiful down there.’

“Once, at a roof party, a drunk man from a rich white Metro North-train type of town asked me where I was from and I told him Mississippi. He sneered and said, ‘I am so sorry.’

“I nailed down his foot with the stiletto portion of my shoe and spent the next ten minutes quietly educating him on the where-from-abouts of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Oprah Winfrey, Jim Henson, Faith Hill, James Earl Jones, and Craig Claiborne, the food editor and critic for the New York Times. I informed him that Mississippi hosted the first lung transplant and the first heart transplant and that the basis of the United States legal system was developed at the University of Mississippi.

“I was homesick and I’d been waiting for somebody like him.

“I wasn’t very genteel or ladylike, and the poor guy squirmed away and looked nervous for the rest of the party. But I couldn’t help it.

“Mississippi is like my mother. I am allowed to complain about her all I want, but God help the person who raises an ill word about her around me, unless she is their mother too.” Kathrym Stockett