Bringing Up Babies: Southern Home Training Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
Years ago, when Tom Brokaw was still the anchor of NBC Nightly News, I heard him speak about the challenges of rearing children in New York City. The Iowa native said, “I tell them, ‘Despite all outward appearances, you’re being raised in Des Moines.’”
So it is with the children of Southern parents. No matter what your particular geography, it’s possible to raise a Southern child anywhere. This kind of home training is no joke; you must dedicate yourself to these methods.
Here’s a list of Top 10 things (in no particular order) all Southern children must be taught:
Children must be taught to say, “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir” from the cradle. There is almost nothing worse than a smart-mouthed child. If you back talk to the wrong Southerner, who happens to be in a foul mood, you could end with a switch on your backside. Also, if you can tie your shoes, you better know how to shake hands and look adults in the eye when speaking to them in a clear, audible voice. It is the mark of poor parenting if you dare disrespect your elders.
2. Thank You notes:
Southern children are taught to write their names first and the words “Thank You” second. This is because they will spend a lifetime writing thank you notes for everything from birthday gifts to help with the carpool.
3. Church attendance:
The first question your children will be asked when meeting a new person is their name. The second question will be, “What church do you attend?” They will need to be prepped with the correct answer. Please note: Membership is not the important issue. You must show your face every time the doors are open. Every. Time.
4. Football as the second religion:
Sunday is dedicated to the Lord. Saturday is dedicated to His second in command: the coach of the SEC football school you support. If you happen to be Catholic, you can get a pass on Notre Dame. But you’ll be suspect. The South has long been home to minor gods employed as football coaches: Bear Bryant, Darrell Royal, Frank Broyles, Ralph Jordan, Robert Neyland, Lou Holtz, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, Wally Butts, Phil Fulmer and Les Miles, just to name a few. Children must be taught the game and culture of football, such as tailgating and singing the fight song, as early as possible.
5. Mama worship:
It’s difficult to rank where Southern Mamas fall in the divinity chart. “Honor your mother” is right there in the Bible. You can look it up. And every football player who wins a big game yells, “Hi Mom!” when he gets on the TV. Even traveling carnies and prisoners, presumably the lowest of God’s creatures, have hearts with “Mom” tattooed on their arms. Every Southern girl has been well coached to cross her mother-in-law at her own peril. You do not ask a man to choose between his wife and mama, unless you are prepared to lose.
Somehow, despite the open worship of the woman who reared us, Southerners tell the best “Yo Mama” jokes you’ve ever heard. It’s a complicated relationship that can be learned only through full immersion in a Southern family.
6. Crazy on display:
The history of crazy people runs deep and wide for Southerners. No one finds it shocking at all, least of all children. Do not teach them to be afraid of the weirdoes, but to set a place for them at Thanksgiving, preferably in such a way as to give others an escape route if things get out of hand. Children should be taught to be prepared for anything at a family holiday.
Perhaps Julia Sugarbaker said it best in an episode of Designing Women:
Julia: I’m saying this is the South. And we’re proud of our crazy people. We don’t hide them up in the attic. We bring ’em right down to the living room and show ’em off. See, Phyllis, no one in the South ever asks if you have crazy people in your family. They just ask what side they’re on. Phyllis: Oh? And which side are yours on, Mrs. Sugarbaker? Julia: Both.
7. Tortured Literature:
Maybe it’s because of the crazy people we’re all so accustomed to, but I triple dog dare you to read a novel by any Southern writer that isn’t filled with enough emotional baggage to travel to Europe. Children are taught early the only proper way to tell a story is to break the listener’s heart. Russian children are probably the ones who come closest in terms of recording pure despair.
David Allan Coe may have best summed up the best of the Southern clichés in the final verse of his hit, “You never even call me by my name.”
Well, I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison. And I went to pick her up in the rain. But before I could get to the station in the pick-up truck, she got runned over by a damned old train.
The send off of a loved one is not to be taken lightly. There is a strict protocol that must be followed, lest you risk being thrown out of the family.
— The first rule of funerals: always go to the funeral. It’s a really big deal. Really. If you prevented from attending the service, you must go to visitation the night before and pay your respects.
— If you are driving down the road and see a funeral procession with its’ lights on, you pull over and wait until they’ve passed. It’s the only respectful thing to do.
— The name of God’s only son is pronounced differently at church or funeral home chapel than it is at graveside. Your children should not be alarmed by this. “JEE-zuss” and “JAY-zuss” are the same deity.
— The only good part of saying goodbye to the dearly departed is the food. Tell your children to try and stifle their excitement about this part as best they can. After the graveside service, you’ll be expected back at the church or someone’s home for a meal. This is the best food you will ever eat. There are always deviled eggs.
9. Nice Meanness: Despite the belief that Southerners are an ignorant, illiterate lot, most of us are very good readers. We can even read between the lines. Children must be taught to understand the language that sounds so nice, but is in fact, downright hateful. If your child makes it past third grade without understanding the true meaning of “Bless your heart,” they will not go far in life. Also, they best know the difference between Southern and redneck, or risk a fight in a bar.
10. Brown liquor: This isn’t so much for the children, although I’ve heard more than one old woman swear by it for teething infants. (To rub on their gums.) You can take that up with DHS.
This is for parents. Because if you are going to rear a child steeped in the best tradition, with good manners and a nuanced sense of God, family and humor (which might really all be the same thing), you’re going to need something stronger than lemonade from time to time. This is why the folks south of the Mason Dixon line created bourbon. It’ll cure what ails you.
Kerri Jackson Case is physically incapable of parking legally. She lives in Little Rock with her husband, son and two smelly dogs. If you’re around at suppertime, she’ll feed you. You can follow her unremarkable but thoroughly entertaining life at DrinkSleepAndBeKerri.com..