Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"I declayah" a love for the south

I am a fish out of water in some respects, a Yankee surrounded by southerners. At our lunch table I was seated with Rick Bragg, storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham of Selma, Dr. Hardy Jackson of Jacksonville State University, John Fleming and Chris Waddle of The Anniston Star.

Their conversation was so lyrical and colorful and filled with euphemisms I don't understand but which sound lovely to the ear. Talk about kin and "my people" and being "tired" but not in the sleepy sense.

I am infatuated with the south and not only because of the sunshine and temperatures hovering around 70 degrees in early March. The people here are warm and wonderful and engaging and brilliant conversationalists and terrific listeners.

One beautiful example is Kathryn Tucker Windham who turns 89 in June. She spent 40 years as a newspaper reporter and is a storyteller in the oral tradition. For nearly an hour without a podium or microphone she mezmerized the audience over lunch, holding even the wait staff in rapture for the duration. She talked of the markers of southerners: "We eat off each othah's plate, we announce when we're going to the bathroom and we trot out our peculiah kinfolk."

She has a lovely gentrified southern accent that drops the Rs as she refers to the "suthun" tradition of sitting on the "poach" following "suppah." "I grew up in a time when we took the time to talk to each othah," she said.

Her father, for whom she spoke so lovingly, used to say that you have two ears and one mouth and they ought to be used in that proportion. She spoke of listening to the morning, listening to the sounds of the birds chirping and paper being delivered and the coffee brewing and the house coming to life. As she spoke of stories that made us laugh uproariously and touched us deeply, so many ideas from my own life began to creep into my head. Ideas for stories or essays or books or I don't really no what. The mind was open and the ideas were flowing.

Over dinner tonight at Betty's Barbecue, where they serve "home-cooked food from 4 until it's gone," a large group of us gathered at the recommendation of Rick Bragg. We enjoyed pulled pork, fried chicken, catfish, okra and fried green tomatoes. But mostly we shared stories together and laughed and laughed.

Joining us at our table was former U.S. Congressman Glenn Browder and his wife, Becky. The former congressman asked each of us at the table about our writing dreams. Not one of us hesitated and interestingly our dream writing involved some aspects of our families or ancestors.

This is what I love about these kinds of workshops and conferences, the chance to meet with people all over the country who are as passionate about good writing, good books and good reporting as I am. We connected as people who share a desire to make their communities better by telling stories that matter.

Kathryn Tucker Windham told us that you can never truly hate someone with whom you've had a good laugh. Not that any of us would hate each other. It wasn't about hating or not, it was about friendship and camaraderie.


redhorse said...

Sounds like a wonderful time.

the zoom said...

I listened to a speech from a former congressman where he preached how bad the Republicans are in communicating there message to their base and to the public, and how the public does not know anything about what the republicans got done in the 109th congress. And while he was going on about the issues that the Republicans got done, he was also talking about the "earmarks". He explained to the conservative crowd, that "earmarks are les than one tenth of a percent of the federal budget" witch is a stunning fact that makes me wonder why this is the concern of our time in the conservative community.

As he finished his speech, I walked up to him and told him "Mr. Congressman, I might be wrong but I recall reading an article in the Wall St. Journal, about an official in CO criticizing an earmark that Sen. Allard (R-CO) inserted in a spending bill, saying that it takes away the money the State gets from the federal government." So I asked the Hon. Congressman "Is it true that when a congressman or senator inserts an earmark in a spending bill, he does not raise spending? That he just takes away the liberty from one bureaucrat to decide how to spend the money and decides himself where the money should go?"

The answer was yes.

So if earmarks do not raise spending and it's not more then one tenth of one percent of the budget, why is there so much noise about it?

Because we do not communicate, and nobody amongst us is aware of the facts. We have to start communicating, and shouldn't be afraid that someone will slam us, because if you fight back, you have a chance of winning, and if you don’t fight you don’t even have a chance of winning.