"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Monday, February 29, 2016

Bits from "Deep South"

Happy Leap Day!  Last time we had a February 29th, Andrew and I visited Bamberg, Germany, with a friend.  This year, I'm home.  How about you?

Recently Andrew and I were at a Barnes & Noble in Myrtle Beach, SC, and we were looking at travel books. I text him the names of a few authors and books that looked good.  Before buying books, I like to see if my local library has them. Sure enough the Graham library had Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads by Paul Theroux on the New Books shelf!  What an interesting read!  First a couple posts I wrote on Facebook about it:

I'm reading "Deep South" by a man from Massachusetts. In it the author, Paul Theroux, talks about food he encounters along the way. I chuckled at his description of okra "as viscous as frog spawn, next to a kettle of sodden collard greens looking like stewed dollar bills."   :-D
This was early on in the book, but I noted many pages later - this book has over 400 of them - that he ordered a side of fried okra to go with his chicken salad so ...

Also, I'm not a fan of collard greens, but I've read that partly why they are eaten on New Year's Day (or is it Eve? -- clearly it's not a southern tradition I've been part of) is that they resemble money and are supposed to be lucky.   How's that workin' out for folks, I wonder.

I included a link to the book with this recommendation on Facebook: 

If you enjoy travel books, and hearing stories about the people who live in certain areas of the world, and experiences of authors traveling there, I recommend this one. The author focuses more on the Lowcountry, the Black Belt, the Delta although not exclusively. It's an interesting collection of stories of blacks, whites, even a Lumbee or two. What I like, too, is that the author didn't just write about a one-time journey through these cities and states. He went back in the different seasons, and checked in on people he met during previous trips, and sometimes he met new people. He visited churches, and gun shows, pawn shops, diners, and more.


Here are just other tidbits from the book that I noted:

In this book I met such interesting characters such as the lawyer/pastor Virgin Johnson ("My grandfather picked the name, it seemed special - Virgin Mary, virgin soil, virgin anything. My son is Virgin the Third." pg. 60) of South Carolina; the Greensboro, Alabama, historian "Our Randall Curb"; the author Mr. Curb introduced us to, Mary Ward Brown (called Mary T - short for Mary Thomas) age 95, and many, many more!   The author speaks of southern literature, the use of the N-word including the usage by black rappers and how black folks greet each other in some circles with forms of this word "nigga" or "niggaz" (some claim that by using it, they take the power out of it.); he takes us to Bill Clinton's birthplace as well as the area in which he grew up.   I really enjoyed learning more about Strom Thurmond's secret, biracial daughter.   And what should one think of the claim about white southern politicians supporting racial groups because it was politically good for them?  (The author mentioned Bill Clinton's eulogy of Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia.) 

The author has traveled to many places in the world, and often hearing someone's story is easy.  But he notes: "Poor Americans, who have very little, still have their privacy - in many ways it is their last possession, and they resist losing it. That is a challenge for a traveler who is curious to know: What do people do when they don't appear to do anything?"  (pg. 24)

"...people attended church to find hope, dignity, love, consolation, fellowship, and advice. The church was central to life here in a way I had never seen elsewhere in the United States - certainly not where I was born. A church in the South resembled the life around a mosque or a temple in India or Africa."  (pg. 149)

The author mentions "Dot Indians" who have come to the South and own a bunch of the hotels.  Overwhelmingly (70% of all Indian owned hotels) these people have the last name Patel and come from the same region of India.  (pg. 161)  Also he noted once or twice that the reason Indians owned the hotels were that white people didn't want to sell them to black people.

The author goes to at least three gun shows, and he comments how polite and considerate everyone is there. He describes the process for checking in, emptying your guns, and tagging them.   I have never been to a gun show or a pawn shop (that I recall) so it was interesting to read about those experiences and impressions especially related to who goes to the shows and the atmosphere there.

I enjoyed a couple of stories shared about people he met - at their houses or places of work --  who wanted to shoot guns with him. One was a sixty-two-year-old lady who wanted to see if she were a better shot than he (she was.)

One time the author showed up for an appointment fifteen minutes late.  A black lady in attendance was angry, and started talking about "white privilege," accusing him of taking advantage because he was late and didn't bother to call when he could have (he had a cell phone, after all!)  She accused, you didn't bother to call because you are white. You assumed I'd wait for you to come since I'm black!  He was stunned by her accusation.

And then there is this...

In Vicksburg, Mississippi,  when he told the group in a restaurant that he was from Massachusetts a white lady turned hostile accusing him of starving them.  "You made us eat rats!" she said referring to the siege (that was 1863, folks.)

As one person he met along the way said of the South, "history is alive and well here." 

Thankfully, the author didn't write in dialect throughout the whole book.  He did a little at times, but it wasn't overdone.  (If it had been, I'd probably stop reading.)  I'm a Southerner, but I hate reading more than a few words written in our accent.  I am used to writing and reading in a regular way, no' lahk thees, ya know?  Occasionally he'd mention a person saying he'p for help or "what the hail are you doing?"  cause we often really do say "hell" like "hail."   One thing the author quoted early on in the book were the words "ah mo."  I immediately recognized "ah" for the way many of us say "I," but "mo" threw me.  Is this "more"?  But then I read a few of the sentences out loud, and it made more sense.   One example. See if you can figure it out. 

Eutaw's first black mayor had served three terms, but lost the last election.  He spoke of how the election was dirty, and when the author suggested that he - Mayor Steele - could now just run his dry-cleaning business and let the new mayor try to solve Eutaw's problems, the former mayor is quoted as saying, "Exactly right.  Ah mo buy me some popcorn, set me down, and watch the show."  (pg. 81)

I read one of Peter Theroux's (Paul's brother) books back in late 2011.  Peter's book was about his travels in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  Here is that post.


S Wibby said...

"Ah mo" = "I'm gonna"?

I don't like to read things in dialect either, generally. In comic books for particular characters' speech bubbles it makes sense, in regular text too much of it is distracting.

Susanne said...

Yes, I agree on both things!