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My South

I received this as an email from my aunt… Yep, it’s good enough to share – with a few editorial changes, of course. :)

This was written by Robert St. John, executive chef and owner of the Purple Parrot Cafe, Crescent City Grill and Mahogany Bar of Hattiesburg , MS.

Thirty years ago I visited my first cousin in Virginia. While hanging out with his friend, the discussion turned to popular movies of the day. When I offered my two-cents on the authenticity and social relevance of the movie Billy Jack, one of the boys asked, in all seriousness, “Do you guys have movie theaters down there?” To which I replied, “Yep. We wear shoes too.”

Just three years ago, my wife and I were attending a food and wine seminar in Aspen, Colo. We were seated with two couples from Las Vegas. One of the Glitter Gulch gals was amused and downright rude when I described our restaurant as a fine-dining restaurant. “Mississippi doesn’t have fine-dining restaurants!” she insisted and nudged her companion. I fought back the strong desire to mention that she lived in the land that invented the 99-cent breakfast buffet.

I wanted badly to defend my state, my region, and my restaurant with a 15-minute soliloquy and public relations rant that would surely change her mind. It was at that precise moment that I was hit with a blinding jolt of enlightenment, and in a moment of complete and absolute clarity it dawned on me: my South is the best-kept secret in the country. Why would I try to win this woman over? She might move down here.

The Southern Magnolia

The Southern Magnolia

I am always amused by Hollywood’s interpretation of the South. We are still, on occasion, depicted as a collective group of sweaty, stupid, backwards-minded, racist rednecks. The South of movies, TV, and Hollywood is not my South.

This is my South:

My South is full of honest, hardworking people. My South is the birthplace of blues and jazz, and rock n’ roll. It has banjo pickers and fiddle players. But it also has BB King, Muddy Waters, the Allman Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Buffett, and Elvis. And Nat King Cole, Gloria Estefan, Leontyn Price, Anita Baker, and Beyonce. And Morgan Freeman, Dakota Fanning, Jeff Foxworthy, and Julia Roberts.

My South is hot. My South smells of newly mowed grass. My South was kick the can, creek swimming, cane-pole fishing and bird hunting.

In my South, football is king, and the Southeastern Conference is the kingdom.

My South is home to the most beautiful women on the planet.

In my South, soul food and country cooking are the same thing.

My South is full of fig preserves, cornbread, butter beans, fried chicken, grits and catfish. In my South, we also eat foie gras, caviar and truffles.

In my South, our transistor radios introduced us to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones at the same time they were introduced to the rest of the country.

In my South, grandmothers cook a big lunch every Sunday. So big that we call it dinner. (Supper comes later).

In my South, family matters. Deeply.

My South is boiled shrimp, blackberry cobbler, peach ice cream, (or peach cobbler and blackberry ice cream, if you prefer), banana pudding and oatmeal cream pies.

In my South people put peanuts in bottles of Coca-Cola and hot sauce on almost everything.

In my South the tea is iced and almost as sweet as the women.

My South has air-conditioning.

My South is camellias, azaleas, wisteria and hydrangeas.

In my South, the only person that has to sit on the back of the bus is the last person that got on the bus.

In my South, people still say, “Yes, ma’am,” “No ma’am,” “Please” and “Thank you.”

In my South, we wear shoes… Most of the time.

My South is the best-kept secret in the country. Please continue to keep the secret. It keeps the idiots away.

Memorial Weekend and Georgia Red Clay

For most people Memorial Day Weekend is a fun time with friends & family. Often involving a beach or some other vacation spot. After this past weekend, I am sun-burned and sore all over… But it’s not because of any fun!

This past week we received our fruit & nut trees from Burgess. (I didn’t expect them to be shipped until fall.) They arrived on Monday and needed to be put in the ground as soon as possible – they’re “bare-root” trees & shrubs. With my husband away for work from 7am to at least 7pm, that meant the work was all on me!

So, I dropped all the work that I had planned for the week and went to the store to get top soil & humus to mix into our solid red clay soil. Late afternoon, after it cooled off (relatively speaking – this IS Georgia!), I gathered all the tools & materials & went to the first spot to start a hole. Stabbed the shovel into the ground. It only went about an inch deep. I stood on it and bounced. It only went maybe another half inch! UGH!!!

Sun-baked Red Clay

Sun-baked Red Clay

What am I gonna do if I can’t even dig a hole?!?!?!? We hadn’t had rain in WEEKS, but we did have record or near record highs, so the red clay was hard-baked!!  I waited on Danny, hoping in vain that he’d come home early enough to dig the holes for me. No such luck.

The next morning, I went to Home Depot & purchased a mini-tiller that I’d researched and had my eye on: the Honda FG110. It’s not supposed to be able to break “virgin” ground, and I hadn’t been able to find the digging tines attachment for it anywhere, but I was desperate and running out of time.

Late that afternoon/early evening, after it cooled off (relatively speaking, of course), I put it to the test. It actually did the job! It bounces when it hits really hard-packed clay, but with patience, it dug in & turned the clay to dust! And it’s small enough that the hole it digs is just the right size! Unfortunately, I only had time to plant 3 trees before it was too dark to see what I was doing any more.

Danny comes home (as I’m putting everything away) & says, “Why don’t you just put them in pots for now? That gives them time to put on some leaves before we plant them in the fall, so I can see them when I’m mowing the field.”

Fortunately, I have enough big pots (from potted fruit trees we’d planted last spring), but I don’t have enough potting soil. So the next morning I go out looking for potting soil that does NOT have fertilizer in it. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find just plain old potting soil without some kind of plant food in it! (Directions say not to fertilize for the first year because it can damage young roots.) UGH! I got home just in time to put everything away & get to the school for my afternoon volunteer work and bring my darling daughter home.

The rest of the afternoon was spent mixing soil by hand and putting 6 more trees in pots! YAY! I was done!

Planted Mulberry

Planted Mulberry

The next day? The order of fruit & nut trees from Four Seasons came in! At least Danny would be home tomorrow… He could help with the work! Unfortunately, I was out of big pots. So instead of buying more pots, Danny dug the holes while I bought more top soil & humus. (Thank You to the retired Army Vet who helped put the heavy bags in the back of my truck!) The rest of the day was spent digging holes, mixing dirt, and planting the trees. IN THE GROUND. That’s when I got sun burned, because we started in the morning and didn’t finish until late afternoon.

Just for the record, the ground was so hard that even Danny couldn’t dig the holes with a shovel!!! And it had rained overnight 2 nights before!!

Since it was Memorial Day weekend, that meant we had another day to get some work done. So Monday was spent cleaning (scrubbing!!) the vinyl siding and washing windows! I pulled my hair back to keep from getting so hot, put sun block on my arms and put a wide brimmed hat on my head to protect head, neck & ears from the sun. Unfortunately, even the hat hurt my sun burned ears. :(

We’re gonna re-side with hardy plank & next time,  I’m hiring someone else to do the work!