Friday, June 23, 2006

Blog Stuff: Shinto 'N' Grits.

Although I’ve lived in the South since I was knee-high to a grasshopper and consider it my home, there are still one or two of its customs that leave me feeling like an alien from the planet Yayn-Kee. One of them is the near-obsessive ancestor-worship that starts when you hit Kentucky, but doesn’t really manifest to its full potency until you cross the Macon-Dixon line.

A couple of years back, I was invited to play Margaret Mead and observe the Southern Male ritual of “deer camp”. (“Now, the outhouse is right over there. Here's your flashlight. We made sure to buy plenty of the soft kind of toilet paper when you said you were coming, too.”) Being as this ritual seemed to involve a lot of A) Guns, and B) Lazing about the fireside and drinking, raconteuring, and reading, I figured I’d fit right in. And for the most part I did, too, except for one brief interlude…

We were on a beer run (go figure) to town, and our tour guide decided to help us take in a bit of local color. The truck veered down this farm road and meandered up that highway, all the while with a running narrative about “This was the swimmin’ hole where we got busted with a twelve-pack,” or “There’s the juke joint where Bobby near got his ass whupped.” Then we stopped in a churchyard. A cold drizzle fell out of the South Georgia winter sky and dripped off the live oaks and Spanish moss as our host and the other guests, native Southrons one and all, started exchanging secret handshakes about who was buried where and who might be kin to whom. I mean, you could put a blank genealogical chart on the wall, circle a line at random, and these friends of mine could point at the fifth cousin, three times removed, before their eyes could focus.

Meanwhile, chill December rain dripped down my suddenly-Yankee neck.

They were deep into discussing what made a good burial plot, and where they were going to be planted. I was remembering that my Midwestern Scandihoovian Lutheran kin usually announced deaths at biannual family reunions: “By the way, Uncle Olaf died last August. Pass the potato salad.” I felt completely out of place for the next month or so after I got back from that hunting trip, at least until I was talking with one of my co-workers, who is so Southern that his ancestors had James Oglethorpe for a bailbondsman. He was relating a conversation he'd had with his wife one night, when he had expressed his desire to be cremated. She demurred, saying “What will I do with the ashes?”

“Hell, I don’t care. Dump ‘em out of the car window on the way home. If your friends ask, you can tell them you scattered my ashes; you don’t have to tell them it was along the shoulder of Tazewell Pike.”

If the South has room for him as a Native Son, it sure as hell has room for me. :)


Shane said...

It must be in the blood. My wife was born in Pocatello, Idaho and raised in California, but her family is from North Carolina. I just lugged a 500 lb microfilm viewer/copier home so she can have even more access to genealogy records -- the stuff that you can't get on CD-ROM. We already had a microfiche reader, but she was droo//// excuse me, ladies don't do that / very excited about getting the new viewer.
She can talk genealogy for hours. Currently, her family database is around 14,000. My side of the family is Swiss by way of Wyoming, East Idaho and Utah, so we don't count for much.

homebru said...

If you do not remember your forefathers, how can you honor them?

phlegmfatale said...

My dear, surely you were mistaken. Clearly that was a haunting trip, not hunting... Being a lifer (if Texas for the past 27 years counts) of the South, I'm amazed when I go to family gatherings and I can't remember names or people, but my pop knows 'em all. Embarrassingly, they all know me, and I sputter and ask "how have you been?" as if I'd been wondering, as if I knew they existed a moment before.

Gewehr98 said...

Just got done reading that hunting cemetary thing. My reaction?

Hooray for Lutherans! Cookies and coffee fellowship after services, thank you.

As for my disposing of my mortal remains, Soylent Green sounds just fine.

There are some parts of the South I'm gonna miss: Night-blooming jasmine flowers. Egg on your grits. Blue Crab. Every try to find decent raw oysters in Madison, WI? Same goes for good ol' barbeque, be it Carolina Dry Rub or Texas Wet. The buffalo wings around these parts aren't worth crowing about, either. So I drown my moved-back-to Cheeseland sorrows in Leinenkugel, bratwurst, and squeaky cheese curds for now. ;)

Byron said...

Hmmm. I must have stayed in hunt camp on that run. I don't think I drank enough to forget it.

Todd said...

Growing up as a native we'd visit my great-grands on the family 20 in BF Alabama on many a weekend. Much of our visiting time was spent in cemetaries with wax paper and crayons taking rubbings of the headstones. One thing, you'll learn a lot about what and where you come from that way.

staghounds said...

How many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb?

Three- one to change it, two to sit around and talk about how good the old one was.

And I well remember being shown, by my mother, where I would be buried one day. I was 11 at the time.