2009-12-09 / Editorials

Don Lively


The Old South.

Depending on who‘s pontificating, the term Old South is either revered or reviled.

Not much middle ground.

Even though the true Old South was gone with the wind decades before Daddy and Mama were twinkles in the eyes of Grandma Julia and Grandma Freddie respectively, I can understand why there are differing opinions about life in our homeland as it was all those years ago.

No era in any part of history, in any part of the world, is without its share of glory and of shame.

But by the time I made my grand entrance into Dixieland, the South was an easy paced, uncomplicated place to be a dirt farm boy.

I’m certain that some will disagree, but to me, a barefoot kid ignorant of and unconcerned about politics and world affairs, the South was the smack dab center of the universe.

Later in life I contracted a deadly case of wanderlust that I still suffer from today. But as a youngster a few thousand country acres and perhaps a weekly trip to the one screen picture show in town was all I needed to be content.

Life in my neck of the woods was interesting. Sometimes fun, sometimes eccentric.

Never boring.

I skipped kindergarten, we lived too far out in the country, but I got a fine start on my education by listening to men telling stories, some true, some not so much, while sitting on upturned Coca Cola crates at Mister Scott‘s store. The men seemed old and wise but in reality were probably considerably younger than I am now. I learned many lessons sitting at the feet of those fellows on that hard wood plank floor.

That was my South.

My knowledge of other parts of the world began in bed late at night when I would hide under the covers and listen to faraway radio stations on my transistor radio. WBT in Charlotte. WLS in Chicago. WOWO in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

And my favorite, WWL, “way down yonder on New Orleans”. The bayou accents of the deejays on that powerhouse channel sounded just as foreign, though not nearly as harsh, as the Northern parlance I heard from Yankee acquaintances.

Those stations could be heard all over the South and in many parts of America until the government decided that there was something unfair about that.

These days I can’t pick up AM stations that are thirty miles away.

The South of my youth was roamed by root doctors, rock doctors, mineral doctors, and all other manner of hucksters plying their supposedly medicinal wares. And for every peddler trying to convince his customers that a hunk of limestone could cure rheumatism there were plenty of folks, some of them my kin, willing to hand over their sawmill dollars to give it a try.

In rural Southern America back then there were fewer teeth. Fewer real ones anyway. I was often amused at some of my older relatives who, once their few remaining teeth surrendered, tried dentures for a while only to decide that they were too much trouble and that a good set of gums was all that was required to eat most Southern food anyway.

Thank the Lord for the fluoride introduction to the drinking water back then. My generation is much too vain to walk around toothless.

We had a grand total of three TV stations, all part time and all black and white. Locally produced shows kept me rapt for hours. Sheriff John enforcing the law and hosting a kid’s show at the same time Trooper Terry fighting bad guys on another station. Bwana John leading expeditions into darkest Africa with a Georgia accent and silly turtle shell hat. Sometimes Mama would have to make me go out to play if the “fuss box“, Daddy‘s epithet for the RCA, was too addicting.

Today I have five hundred channels and sometimes go for days without switching on the set.

To be sure, my young South was a different place.

It was a world where you could leave a dime in the mailbox on top of an unstamped letter. Later you’d find your change, a nickel, in the mailbox and the letter gone.

Where clothes were hung on lines in backyards to dry. The smell of clean sheets softened by the sun and the Southern breezes will never be duplicated by anything found in a bottle of Downy.

Where we put peanuts in our Cokes long before Tim McGraw, who by the way I doubt ever actually consumed the crunchy delicacy, sang about it.

A different world, yes, but today’s South ain’t bad either. I like it here.

I think I’ll stay a while.

Don Lively is a retired police officer and freelance writer. He lives in Shell Bluff. Email Don at Livelycolo@aol.com.

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