Sweet tea and thunderstorms

I love the South. I love fried chicken and sweet tea. I love the sense of home that comes from a twangy voice. I love words like “y’all” and phrases like “fixin’ to.”

There’s the sizzling of the frying pan with the cracking of the grease proving that bacon is going to hit the spot just right. Or the look right after one of those summer rainstorms, with the rain steaming up off the asphalt and you can smell the humidity in the air. The sun shines brightly, sharing its warmth like a sharp apology for the bucket of water just dropped on you.

There are the repeated phrases like, “Hey, how are you?” “How’s your mama?” “Is that so-so’s boy?” There are the football games and the county fairs and the incessantly half-joking, half-serious ribbing against whatever your SEC school of choice is.

There’s the gentlemen who still open the door for the ladies, and the young that let their elders get the first chairs. There’s the sound of crickets chirping, slamming screen doors and dogs hollering as soon as the gravel on the driveway crunches. It’s a magical place.

There’s the sharing of tomatoes and corn from homegrown gardens. There’s the overlaying of the past with the present.

People outside of the South perceive that overlaying to be a struggle to hang on to the past, to cling to the antebellum era. In my experience, it isn’t desperation to return to a previous time, but an homage to those who have been here before us.

There may be outdated cotillion balls and a desire to work in the dirt, but despite many media portrayals, we also like our self-service gas stations and Internet.

Recently, Downton Abbey released a publicity photo promoting their upcoming season. Two characters dressed in clothing consistent with the early 1900s stood in front of a mantle holding a bottle of water. To me, that could be commandeered as a depiction of the South.

There’s the hundred-year-old houses that creak when you walk by the china cabinets filled with a grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s dishes. The silver will be pulled out occasionally, usually just long enough to polish before it returns to its home. Walls stand tall in rooms with large windows draped in heavy cloth.

But there’s also the flat screen TV with a satellite receiver. Chargers can be seen lying on the kitchen counter next to the stainless steel oven. The latest People magazine rests next to a William Faulkner novel on the coffee table.

Here in the South, we aren’t afraid of progress so long as we remember where we came from. Sure, we can be resistant to change, but we’re also less likely to fall for the folly that newer is better.

Happiness comes from the slow moments, the proverbial smelling-the-roses moments. Happiness, genuine happiness, cannot be sought. It sneaks up and settles over you like the haze after one of those Southern summer thunderstorms. It comes from being content, but contentedness never stems from the purchase of some high-dollar item.

Slowing down, enjoying the moment, surrounding yourself with friends – these are the things that us Southerners just get right.

 Julia V. Pendley is the lifestyles editor of The Daily Leader. You may email her at julia.pendley@dailyleader.com or mail a letter to her at Julia V. Pendley, Lifestyles Editor, P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602-0551.