That was the text I got from my sister one random afternoon about a week ago, and it made me stop and think: Did I know what made a story Southern? Was it just writing fiction with characters that talked in a particular way, or were there experiences that were so unique that a person’s location could be immediately identified? Was I qualified to write Southern stories?
Certainly, growing up and living most of my live in the heart of the Heart of Dixie qualified me to some extent to write Southern stories, but that in and of itself was part of the problem. I have never lived outside of the South to have a point of comparison. In fact, I have not been out of the South for more than 10 days at any one time. I could not precisely identify which of my life experiences were uniquely Southern, which were simply American, and which were just plain human. I went on to think about what made someone or something Southern. The immediate and obvious answer for a person was The Southern Accent. Another problem came to light: apparently, I’m lacking or mostly lacking in the accent department. My kids have told me for years that I do not have an Alabama accent. Compared to some of my family and friends, I knew my accent was not as pronounced, but it came as a great shock to learn that someone might think I did not have a Southern accent. I have always been proud of what I thought was my Southern way of talking. But, in the interest of full discloser, I will say that someone recently asked me, “Where you from?” When I stated my current location, they said, “No, where’d you grow up?” When I stated a place about 10 miles from my current location, they said, “You sound like you’re from up North.” I really just thought that person was crazy.
Thinking beyond the accent, another thing that could identify some people as Southern is their name. My original name, Kim LeeAnn Kennedy has always felt Southern to me. Billy Bob, Scarlett are names that scream Southern, but naming someone is very hard. I know. I had to name 3 people, and it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, especially my first child. When you find out that you’re pregnant, it is very exciting to think about baby names. Soon you realize that the first thing you give your child is life, and the second thing you give them is a name. Who wants to screw up that up? The list of possible names was long and daunting. I fretted getting it right for months and considering that she recently changed her name, I fear I may have failed. Whether or not the name was Southern did not even factor into our baby name discussions.
The next thing that could identify something as Southern would be location, but this element was dicey, too. As every good Alabamian knows some places in the South are decidedly not Southern. Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana are pretty much safe Southern states. Most of Florida is more like a 1 on the Southern scale. Tennessee is about as North as a true Southerner likes to go, in my opinion. I know that Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia are up there somewhere, but let’s be honest here, can you really consider yourself from the South if you get more than 1 day of snow per year? As far as the Carolinas go, first, North is right there in the name of North Carolina, and I lived 22 years in South Carolina. I can testify that a large majority of South Carolina would not pass my Southern meter except, of course for the Low Country. Texas and Arkansas are more west than South. And who in the world would ever think that Delaware and Maryland were in the South. That’s just crazy talk.
A new question arose, did I know enough about Southern activities to write about them? On the Southern side, I’m the child of a high school coach. Growing up, I spent every single one of my fall Friday nights at a high school football game, and every single one of my fall Saturdays watching college football either in person or on TV. On the not so Southern side, my dad was a high school “BASKETBALL” coach, and since we were not from one of those quasi – Southern states like Kentucky or North Carolina it was not extremely popular (At least he wasn’t trying to coach soccer in the South in the ‘70s. People would have thought he was from another country instead of just from the North).
On the Southern side, I took dance practically from the day I could walk, and I twirled the baton from around fourth grade through high school. On the not so Southern side, I never once entered a beauty pageant. As a child, I never really went to a beauty pageant. Until recent years, my beauty pageant knowledge was limited to watching the occasional one on TV. The final thing that I have thought a lot about since my sister’s request was should I write fiction or nonfiction. I don’t mean to imply that one or the other is more Southern. My question here was a personal one. If I went fictional, there are certainly time periods for the South that seem more Southern to me. The 1800’s comes to mind first as being very Southern; however, my knowledge of the South in the 1800’s is limited to what I was taught in 9th grade Alabama history and 10th grade American history in the early ‘80s IN ALABAMA. To write even fiction with a believable amount of accuracy about the “Old South” it would take a lot more research than I was willing to put into any story.
The South in the 1970’s seemed to be far removed from the large world around it. It seemed isolated and more Southern than the small digitized world of today. If I went nonfiction, I would have to write about my life growing up and living in the South. At my age the details of growing up (or even 5 years ago) are fuzzy at best. I tell people that having and raising 3 kids sucked the memories right out of my head.
So where does that leave me? I could try to write fictional stories about growing up in Alabama in the 1970’s drawing on my childhood experiences but embellishing because to be honest what I can actually remember of my childhood seems relatively boring (the exciting parts must be in all of those holes I mentioned before). Bless my heart, after spending a good many hours writing this explanation of what I am and am not capable of writing, I find I have no time to actually write a story today. I’ll leave it for you to decide, if this writing qualifies as Southern. Inspired or not, that’s all this Southerner has to tell for now.Be Inspired Follow Us: