Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A New Tradition

I'm adopting a new tradition here at Blogs Are Stupid. I'm going to post a piece which tells the story of my first Thanksgiving with Husband's very southern, very rural family.

I first wrote it in March of 2006. I reposted it last Thanksgiving, and I think I will do so again this Thanksgiving for those who are new to my blog.

It's one of my favorite pieces, and I like resurrecting it now and then. I hope you will enjoy it.



North and South


I am a Yankee by birth. I was born on the frozen tundra of Wisconsin in an igloo. We were transported to and from school by dogsled. In the winter, we did not venture from our glacial home for months on end because do so would mean risking life and limb, or at least a really bad head cold.

Chronic hat head and the need to layer robbed us of our fashion sense, so we grew up assuming that one cannot go wrong with flannel. Due to a congenital malformation of the tongue that has plagued generations of Wisconsinites, we are incapable of pronouncing the fricative "th", and so subsitute the plosives "d", (dere, dat, dah) or "t" (tirty, tree, tirty-tree)

Well that's just silly, isn't it?

Unbeknownst to me, these were some of the misconceptions that I faced when I journeyed South at the tender age of 18. I learned a lot that first year and after almost 20 years in the South, I'm still learning.

Despite the yawning chasm of cultural divergence, I married a Southern country boy. And though he had been succesfully citifed by the time I met him, his family remained firmly entrenched in their small town ways, antiquated attitudes, and stereotypical beliefs regarding those who hail from North of the Mason Dixon line.

It has made for some entertaining moments in our 13 years of marriage.

The first time I took my then fiancee, who had never been further north than Tennessee, home to Wisonsin was Christmas of 1992. They were having a brutal cold snap, with wind chills near 30 below zero. I, who had journeyed home a week before him, called to remind him to dress warmly. He assured me he would.

My parents and I went to pick him up at the small municipal airport, which did not have the luxury of jetways like the large international airport from which he had departed. We, along with many other families eagerly awaiting the yuletide return of widely scattered loved ones, watched as passengers deplaned and made their way to accross the tarmac. As my beloved appeared at the hatch dressed in a leather bomber jacket, a silk shirt, blue jeans and cowboy boots, two things happened.

First, the smile on his lips froze in place as the saliva on his exposed gums instantly crystallized, turning his boyish grin into an agonized rictus of disbelief.

Secondly, his testicles retreated into his abdominal cavity with such force and velocity that he was momentarily convinced that they had simply disintegrated in the savage cold; frozen solid and fragmented into tiny, sperm laden shards.

Everyone saw his reaction to the frigid conditions, and a collective exclamation of pity was heard, sort of like "Yeahhhoooooh." My Dad, though trying to amenable, could not resist muttering to my Mother "Doesn't that boy have any sense?"

Well, yes, he had plenty of sense, but he had Southern sense, not Northern sense. He simply had no frame of reference for judging cold of such bone piercing brutality. "Cold" in Georgia means throw on a jacket and you can always take it off if it's too much. Cold in Wisonsin means long underwear and Goretex, and a stadium blanket in the trunk in case its not enough.

I blamed myself for not explaining the difference between "stiff nipple" cold and "Sweet Mother of God I can't feel my butt cheeks" cold and specifying that we were dealing with the latter. But my Dad wasn't buying it. He grumbled sotto voce to my Mother, "It's cold, you put on a sweater for Chrissake."

Despite the rocky start, my husband and my family actually hit it off quite well, and the rest of the week went smoothly. My parents' annual New Year's Eve bash was my first opportunity to show him off to those outside the family. Being a pretty great guy, he made a good impression and scored big points by proving his willingness to laugh at himself; first when he complained that the beer sitting outside the back door would not be sufficiently cold for his taste and then again when it was revealed in a semi-drunken revelry that he knew all the words to David Allen Coe's "You Never Even Call Me By My Name".

He endured it all with good humor, but the first Thanksgiving with his family a month previous has proven just as harrowing for me, so he owed me one. After five years of spending my solitary Thanksgivings in front of the tv eating pumpkin flavored ice cream out of the carton, I was looking forward to a family Thanksgiving dinner. My mouth was watering at the thought of turkey and stuffing, and all the accompaniments. I chose a nice dry Chardonnay to bestow upon my future in-laws, hoping to make a good impression.

When we arrived, the kitchen was awash with aromas; some familiar, some decidedly alien. I spied several dishes that were unidentifiable to me, but, being gastronomically adventurous, I resolved to try everything. I hugged my future mother in law and handed her the bottle of wine. She thanked me graciously, then apologized for the lack of a corkscrew and placed the bottle on the uppermost shelf in her kitchen cabinet, next to a coffe can full of nuts and bolts, and a bedraggled plastic floral arrangement.

My fiancee whispered in my ear "Chattooga is a dry county, hon." Wha??? A dry county? I thought those were a myth, like tar paper shacks and people marrying their first cousin, both of which, I later found, were not in fact, myths. "Why didn't you TELL me?" I hissed back. He shrugged..."I thought you knew."

I momentarily considered asking for it back; it was a $40 bottle of Mer Soleil, after all. But I decided it would be in poor taste, so I resigned myself to drinking ice water with the meal. I couldn't help but cast one last longing glance at the lovely Chardonnay, which did not go unnoticed.

We settled in at the table whereupon I was given the dubious honor of saying Grace. I couldn't help but think it was test of some kind, though in reality, it was most likely just a kind gesture meant to made me feel welcome and included. Having already exposed myself as a raging alcoholic, I was reluctant to add Godless Heathen to the quickly lengthening list of shortcomings.

Nevertheless, I passed the buck to my fiance with as much diplomacy as I could, as my mealtime prayer repertoire had never evolved beyond "Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub." The ease with which he channelled Jerry Falwell was slightly disconcerting, but I chose to overlook it in light of the fact that he had saved me from being branded a drunken impious wretch by people I would have had to spend the next 30 or 40 years sucking up to in an effort to convince them that I am not the devil's concubine and our children his imps.

At long last the food was served, and most of it seemed perfectly palatable. By and by, however, I was passed a Pyrex bowl filled with something that resembled kelp and smelled like feet. I looked up to find half a dozen pairs of eyes fixed upon me expectantly. My future father-in-law proudly pronounced, "Them's Collard Greens. Linda boils em with streaked (pronounced stree-ked) meat for flavor." "Is that so?" I replied. I did not know what streaked meat was, and I wasn't sure I wanted to. Reminding myself of my resolve to try everything, I enthusiastically placed a pulpy dab upon my plate.

I found myself repeating that reminder when I was handed a bowl of liquid the color and consistency of snot. I hesitated, uncertain of its exact purpose. My savior fiancee once again came to my rescue and informed me cheerily, "It's giblet (hard G, as in gross) gravy. You serve it over the cornbread dressing." Ah yes, the granular substance that was passed to me immediately preceding the snot. Gotcha.

I dipped the ladle into the viscous fluid, carefully avoiding the unindentifiable animal matter bobbing merrily on the surface, surmising that is was a pancreas or a gall bladder or some such thing. As the aroma wafted up from my plate my resolve weakened somewhat. But, I reasoned, I had swallowed plenty of snot over the course of my life, and since this was an actual foodstuff, it couldn't possibly be any worse. It turns out I was wrong.

Profoundly, tragically, egregiously wrong.

The lesson I learned that day is....don't put anything that smells like feet in your mouth, and there are things in this world that taste worse than snot.

To be fair, there were some truly delectible dishes on the table that day. My mother-in-law can make the lightest, flakiest, most succulent apple turnovers you have ever tasted in your life. They call them fried apple pies. I call them orgasmic. She can make biscuits of transcendant fluffiness, creamed taters that melt in your mouth, and fried chicken that defies description.

I've never mastered the art of frying chicken despite her patient instruction, and I definitely do not have the biscuit gene, so despite the initial shock of my first experience with collard greens and giblet gravy, I have to admit to her superiority in the kitchen.

Since that fateful day 13 years ago, we've struggled through many issues related to our cultural differences. Some, such as collard greens, were trivial, and easy to laugh at later. Some of the differences were deeper and harder to reconcile and some we still labor to overcome. But I've learned that my in-laws are good, kind, and generous people and that a lazy drawl can disguise a keen intellect and quick wit.

I still pine for home, of course. And no matter how many years I've been here, I still can't get into the Christmas spirit without snow or cope with the crushing humidity during the interminable summer.

But I've learned to appreciate the genteel charm, rich history, and easy hospitality of the South.

12 Comments:

  • At 8:53 PM, Blogger painted maypole said…

    around here all the thanksgiving foods are spicy and have things like crawfish in them,which is yummy and clearly WAY better than Giblet gravy

     
  • At 10:35 PM, Blogger Amy Y said…

    I love reading your stories about the south...
    It definitely takes a special person to learn how to love a place that is so foreign to them...
    I lived in Augusta, GA for about a year and that was enough but I had a really great time and will always miss some of the things that you can't find anywhere but the south. I love getting to live vicariously through you.
    Have a wonderful Turkey Day :)

     
  • At 11:29 PM, Anonymous Kvetch said…

    I loved reading this last year and I am loving it again today. I think you should submit this someplace. I know, were you in your twenties? Chicken soup is looking for 20's stories. Please look into it! You so deserve to be published, B.A.

     
  • At 11:56 PM, Blogger Cathy said…

    Hilarious! I love those Tale of Two Families stories!

     
  • At 12:41 AM, Blogger Terri said…

    I grew up eating the kind of Thanksgiving meal your in laws served. And I love giblet gravy over cornbread dressing. The kelpy-looking collard greens I've only recently ventured to try again.

     
  • At 7:37 AM, Anonymous Emily R said…

    Wow. This post took me back. I was a Yankee in North Carolina and then Charlottesville for several years. Because they were university towns, our friends hailed from all over the south. It was invaluable in terms of letting go of some of my biases (and discovering that it isn't worth eating bread pudding north of the Mason Dixon.)

     
  • At 9:56 AM, Blogger Tracey said…

    Oh man. That was great... I give you credit for trying lumpy goo and snot. That speaks of true love for your man...

    Happy Thanksgiving!

     
  • At 12:06 PM, Blogger jen said…

    what a lovely story BA, about new love and deeper love, about differences and similarities.

    have a lovely day.

     
  • At 7:20 PM, Blogger slouching mom said…

    as usual, your story-telling skills are exceptional.

     
  • At 11:17 PM, Blogger anne said…

    What a great Thanksgiving story.

    I these situations arise any time two families are blended together.

    You are very brave. After 19 years I have yet to summon the courage to try my mother-in-law's duck blood soup.

    Thats right. Soup made from blood.

     
  • At 11:30 PM, Blogger flutter said…

    You know, I honestly think he was just tailor made for you.

     
  • At 6:13 AM, Blogger Lively said…

    Hey B.A, I dunno how I landed here. But it's def through someone's blog. I dont remember who. But you are a terrific writer and a wonderful human, according to what i've gathered by your posts.
    I can relate to most of what you have to say. Except for kids matters, coz I dont yet have any.
    I'm hooked to this blog and will keep coming back for more..
    Cheers!

     

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