January 21, 2014

A guide to the South’s good life

     If you were born south of the Mason-Dixon Line, you’ve probably seen the stares and heard the snickers about us.  That once bothered me.  Then, I realized the South and its people must not be that bad.  How many people do you know who retire and move up North?
     None of us are perfect, but I love living down here.  And I particularly like the friendly, easy-going features of our lifestyle.  That’s why I devour the six issues a year of Garden & Gun magazine.  With each publication, it gets better.  Last fall, the magazine released The Southerner’s Handbook, A Guide to Living the Good Life.”

Whether you were born in Savannah or just got here from Scarsdale, you’ll want this little hardback by your reading chair.  As Clyde Edgerton noted, “Because I was born in the South, I’m a Southerner.  If I had been born in the North, West, or the Central Plains, I would be just a human being.”
     If you don’t get any further than the introduction by Garden & Gun’s Editor-in-Chief David DiBenedetto, you owe it to yourself to read aloud those three pages.  Born in Savannah to Brooklyn transplants, DeBenedetto sees the South the same way I do.   I tease my newcomer friends with this advice: 
     “If people say, ‘You aren’t from around here,’ you can say, ‘No, but I got here as fast as I could.’”  And I add, “That’ll make a Southerner smile and probably hug your neck.”
     Here are some things in The Southerner’s Handbook that made me smile:
     John T. Edge explains “Why Southern Food Matters (So Much).”  This Georgia-born culinary authority is world-renown.  He’ll have you drooling for “provincial dishes—from pulled-pork barbecue to fried chicken drizzled with honey, from hoppin’ John capped with chow-chow to blue-crab gumbo thickened with dried sassafras.”  These, he says, “serve as unifying totems of people and place.”  You’ll read how to care for the iconic cast-iron skillet, fry the perfect chicken and bake a biscuit worthy of your grandpappy’s cane syrup.
     In the “Style” section, Athens’ Cindy Haygood gives instructions on “How to Behave.”   Good conversation is as Southern as a magnolia blossom, but there’s a trick to it.  She reminds us, “People love to talk.  But it’s important not to make the all-too-common mistake of confusing conversation with monologue.  You should keep it a give-and-take, a tennis game, a back-and-forth.”  Manners matter, especially in the South.
     In the “Sporting & Adventure” section, Guy Martin offers some “Wisdom of the Field.”  He says, “It would surely make us braver and finer people if we lived our lives as farmers or as fishermen, because their wherewithal is in the ground and water, absolutely at risk and play.”  Amen.  And there are—among other things—tips on how to grab a frog, remove a tick, shoot a dove, fall off a horse, improve your Kentucky Derby bet, start a fire and soak up the natural wonders of the Southland.
     There are six sections in the book.  But if you can read only one, don’t skip the “Arts & Culture” guidelines.    Savor our music, art, crafts, expressions, literature, storytelling and “The Church of Southern Football,” with arch-rivals Alabama and Auburn, Georgia and Florida, Mississippi and Mississippi State sitting in the front pews.   These add sizzle to our brand that Clyde Edgerton describes.

     You may never need to know “how to talk to a game warden.”   You might not want to indulge in nightlife at Athens’ 40 Watt Club, but here are 287 pages to make you feel good about being a Southerner.  And if you are a newcomer, you can rejoice: “I got here as fast as I could!”