Knuckledraggin posted an article questioning the practice of eating fried chicken with utensils, to which I replied, admitting to this dining habit. The subsequent good-natured Knuckledraggin response, and selected commentary, incorrectly identified your author as a Yankee. The following is typical of the sort of well-groomed, finely detailed, factually accurate, and calmly-delivered lambast that one might expect from a traditional southern gentleman, having waited patiently while his detractors wound themselves into an ignorant passion. The personal affront is in jest, the cultural references are sincere.
I was born in Laurel, and raised in Ellisville, Mississippi. Yes, that Ellisville. Audrey, my child bride of more than thirty years, measured in Providential time, was born in Covington County, but grew up in Ovett, and we went to the same Ellisville Elementary and South Jones High School; she was a year behind me. And yes, it is that Jones County.
At the corner of the streets connecting those two schools lies the Deason Home, where Newt Knight is said to have shot Major McLemore, not choked him in a church as Hollywood would have you believe. For decades, the standouts in every graduating class, academic, artistic, and athletic, had their official yearbook photos taken on the steps of that house. Before those photos were taken, each received a lecture on the house and its place in the history of the region, a history not allowed in public schools since the mid-1960s. This lecture served as an initiation into true southern culture, grooming the initiates to comport themselves as southern nobility. Each such formal initiate, Audrey and I included, was expected to become an ambassador of that traditional culture, no matter where they may find themselves. Certainly, this expectation was lost on many, in one ear and out the other, but for a few of us, the principles took root, and bore fruit.
To reinforce those lessons in the minds of those who would receive them, each year the high school homecoming parade, on its final turn, passed solemnly and in dignified silence past that house. The band ceased play, save a single martial drum, before reaching the property boundaries, fallen veterans of all three sides of that local guerrilla war called to ghostly attendance and review by that lone snare drummer.
Even today, the county has two official county seats, one in Laurel, and one in Ellisville, as an enduring recognition of that legacy. My birth and my rearing span both. I assure you I am quite familiar with the principles of secession, and the necessity for good men everywhere to resist the machinations of those who would destroy entire nations for profit, and to resist and overcome the evil of a far-off, wealthy, alien few who see perversion of governance and pitting brother against brother as nothing more than line-items in their ghastly ledgers. Even if that resistance was only by a handful of besieged schoolteachers, whispering the lessons into the ears of the few standout children who passed their way each year, across the street from the schools which forbade those lessons there, given leave to do so by administrators who were themselves besieged.
Geographically, Jones County is located farther south than probably 95% of those who should call themselves Southern. Anything in Florida south of Tallahassee doesn’t count; the pendulous is either East California, South New York, or North Cuba, depending on local customs and ethnic heritage. Texas is its own nation, not southern. New Orleans and surrounding portions of the Louisiana boot are more properly French Acadian, a beautiful culture unto itself, from which Audrey’s ancestry springs.
My maternal grandfather and great-grandfather, both of them ministers who died before I was born, co-founded the small church on the outskirts of Soso which I attended as a child, a church I was later invited to leave as a teenager for expecting the sermons therein to be based on scripture, and not on populism and the whims of whomever in the congregation wrote the largest checks for the collection plate.
I am well acquainted with the principles of traditional southern culture, which is not the degenerate yee-haw substitute that has been popularized through media, who hate and fear the innate power of any traditionally self-disciplined man. That easy, undisciplined and self-destructive populist substitute for true power has been adopted by people who, to quote a well-known southern phrase, “weren’t brought up right”, itself a reflection of the scriptural passage which says “forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” At one time in the South, even the very poor and low-born, Audrey and I included, comported themselves with pride and dignity, speaking like men and women, living like nobles in even the smallest, well-maintained shacks. It is often said that letters from our poverty-stricken ancestors read like literature, and inspired those who read them, no matter how mundane the topic.
I am a card-carrying member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, with no less than four well-documented veterans on my mother’s side alone. My father’s side, his family hailing from north Georgia and eastern Tennessee, among other southern locales, would no doubt produce many more if researched. My second year at the Naval Academy, I hung my Confederate flag on the door inside my 14th company locker, where it remained for nearly three years, defying attempts to remove it as the regulations at the time nowhere prohibited it. It fell to the enemy only after someone, undoubtedly either a current or future naval officer (Marines included in that category), stole it before I graduated in 1988.
If I am a Yankee, it is in the classical American sense of an appreciation for ingenuity, self-reliance and hard work, our common shared culture. If I am not southern, it is not because I left the south, it is because the south left me, in caricature, driving an embarrassingly jacked-up, loud-piped pickup truck, desecrating the flag of fallen heroes as it flaps along in tatters. Forgive them, my fathers, they know not what they do. Put away the toys of children, my brothers, and restore to yourselves your true heritage.
I can tell from the misguided rhetoric which the description of my dining habits prompted in a few, who knew not what they wrote, that there is clearly a need for an exploration of traditional southern culture and its demise. I’ll get to that in future articles.
In the meantime, although I have neither the apparel nor the accent, imagine me in period finery and with an aristocratic affect shared by even the common man of the day, addressing my detractors who assume I am a restoration Yankee because of my cultural inclinations:
“Compared to me, suh, you, … are the Yankee heah.”
Postcript: you can read more about the Deason Home here. In the sketch on that page you can see a modern extension of the elementary school to the left, the older portion to the right behind the house; the high school is to your back. Click on the tours page and you can see an extension of the high school across the street, the main, older portion to the left off screen. Neither of those extensions existed when Audrey and I attended either institution. The front porch steps, to the right in the latter link, its railing decorated by a fall garland, is where the lectures were given to the initiates, and their photos taken.