The South Some Years Ago

Dedication: My mother, my wife, my daughter

“Hush Little Baby”

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” This Norman Rockwellish southern bedtime ritual anticipates the cooing of a mother’s warm kiss upon her son’s sweaty brow in the hot, still bedroom of their tiny mill-provided house as the lad’s eyes grow heavy. One final slip of the Robin Roberts baseball glove from under the fresh, sunshine drenched pillow and “sock it in the sweet spot” one last time for the day. This becomes a ritual akin to pulling the trigger for the final windup in the bottom of the ninth. The punch brings up a mist of red infield dirt and the unmistakably heady smell of quality McGregor leather.

“Georgia, Georgia”

Mother, pecan pie, hoe cakes, steaming buttered biscuits and sorghum syrup, a slab of “streak o lean,” blistering hot summer days, homemade peach ice cream, short pants around the house, knee-patched long pants for town, Atlanta Crackers ball cap worn cocked slightly right, and choosing sides for morning baseball using the “tossing the bat” method were as routine as attending prayer meetings on Wednesday. This was my life in a special southern cotton-mill town in the 1950’s.

“Don’t It Make You Wanna Go Home”

Growing up in the south was an earned privilege, a pay forward to the next generation by descendants mostly of mixed Scotch, Irish, English, Blacks, and Native Americans. We inherited much, perhaps not an inheritance of material possessions but we were beneficiaries of possessions money cannot buy: a high place earned through labor by antecedents dedicating themselves to sacrifice, and back-breaking hard work for the endowment of future heirs. We’re generations who’ve been steeped in common-sense values and from this standpoint we survey the world and its offerings through a Protestant clarity.

“Lean On Me”

Racial and religious bickering, territorial wars, cultural devastation of youth, drug abuse, social turmoil from unwelcome reform, religious and personal values decaying among us as time ticks ominously toward an early morning alarm, a media that exists merely to genuflect its own political bias. Who do we trust, where can we turn, and to whom can we turn?

If we take the time to search longer and deeper into faces in the crowd we see a reflection back of our own fears. When we seek out other voices we hear our own cry echo back. When we reach out to feel the calluses of honest labor on our brothers’ palms we acknowledge the collective labor of our antecedents. From the comfort of complacency, we see it all, the good, the bad, the lost, the found and the abandoned. If you cannot save a soul, surely it’d be noble to reach and try to help nourish a vanquished soul with humanity and understanding. Humility and humanity are easily nurtured; they always begin by just pausing to listen. Mother chided often ‘seek out and speak to a new soul every day and just listen to their life’s ballad’. She preached that every life is noble; she reflected the truth of every life basking in their finest hour and taught me that every man learns his greatest life lessons during his greatest trials. Mother always reminded me that everyone has something to teach you about who you are.

Mother Said “Live and Let Live”

America is proudly proclaimed a melting pot, a beautiful tapestry of color and culture. Mother’s “live and let live” philosophy encouraged an acceptance of all faiths, lifestyles, and cultures. We were asked to leave our differences at the table after participating in vigorous debate, and finally we were encouraged to walk out of room speaking in one voice.

In the south, we’ve struggled and flourished by living a doctrine of “right and duty:” Our abiding tenet is rooted in the notion that “for every right there is an equally weighted responsibility, and for every responsibility there is an equally weighted right.” This philosophy has kept us a civil society for the most part.

“How Sweet the Sound”

I’d wager that my south wasn’t unlike one’s north. Mine was a close-knit small town Christian family which in all probability was akin to one’s own close-knit large-city Jewish family. My cotton mill working parents were hard working, God-fearing and honest as the day was long just as northern working parents were. My America is their America. We love life and we forever mourn those who’ve left us.

We fearlessly, proudly fight side by side; we willingly offer our lives to save each other but only when the cause is a just cause. We’re protective of the weakest among us just as surely as we abhor and defiantly reject the lazy. We’re all aboard a roaring bullet train though perhaps on different tracks along with different stop preferences. At the final destination some will be carried solemnly to the final rest stop, some will rush from the train and slide in the grave head first, full speed like Pete Rose stealing home. The only certainty is that we’ll all get there, just in different ways and with different life stories flowing from our unique experiences.

“Weave Room Blues”

A reprieve from the stultifying long hot summer days in the south for me included “cat fishing” with a cane pole, a bobber, a hook, and a worm harvested by bringing it to the surface with the vibration caused by rubbing a rock against a stake driven into the ground, or just finding a shady spot by the creek to munch on a bona fide, mayo relished, homemade pimento cheese sandwich on white bread. Sometimes, we sipped on an RC Cola overflowing with generously salted peanuts and survived these “dog days.” A “moon pie” was always an extra special treat, which always seemed to be available only after mother “pulled a double” shift in the Weave Room at the mill.

“Put Your Hand In The Hand Of The Man Who Stilled The Water”

Southern charity wasn’t taught in the classroom, it’s a demonstration of respect for life and fellow voyagers one comes into contact with throughout the business of life. Who determines what the appropriate charitable reflex is when a child is drowning? What remains to be thought about when addressing the indignity of a hungry child in America? What is there to contemplate when a child is sick, or when a child’s parents are abusive? What is there to think about when a child implores you for compassion with desperate eyes and with hands outstretched for help in our bountiful country?

“That’s What Friends Are For”

In my Southern America, if charity was sought, it was guaranteed. In my Southern America, it was never described as ‘charity’ was accepted as “doing what is right.” In my childhood, no one asked for charity, but everyone was surrounded by it. We never discussed sharing, we shared silently, and sought out those in need silently, we gifted anonymously. Our charity in the south neither sought nor expected acknowledgement or overt gratitude. Mother would cook far more food than our family needed so she could leave lots of extras in a secret place where the hungry knew where to seek and find her heart’s charity.

“Praise The Lord And Pass The “Biscuits”

Church was for sharing blessings – to sing, to laugh, to catch up with all that was happening around us, to rejoice in others’ happiness, to contribute what we could for those in need. I don’t recall the needy ever being the same people. It’s as if the community’s help was all that was needed to ride out and turn a bad situation. We were all brothers and sisters and addressed each other in this way. I enjoyed being called “Brother Gary.” It made me feel big, part of something much bigger than I was. My mother, “Sister Granger” taught us to be thankful for all we had, including each other.

Why God Only Gave Us One Mother

My mother was colorblind; she didn’t see color in faces, she responded only to honest and open hearts. My mother was deaf; she didn’t hear harsh political speak, she kept her ears ready for spirited and heartwarming words of faith. Mother was insensitive; she didn’t acknowledge the selfish, she merely advocated for the self reliant. Mother didn’t feel pain, unless it was the pain of her children. Mother wasn’t afraid of the dark even though she shunned the limelight. Mother knew no strangers, only friends that she hadn’t met yet. She belonged to everyone although we felt she was all ours.

My mother, and I’m sure your mother, is the reason why God gave us only one mother…we couldn’t endure the loss of another. And we couldn’t get through life without the beautiful memories she made happen. Her story is where my life began.

Gary Granger: Born on a quintessential, still, Georgian post-WWII full-blossomed spring day who today remains a true son of the south. Strong, proud elders shared allegorical histories which have served his foundational imagination; his writings invite the reader on a wistful journey as a co-voyager.
As a young Atlanta broadcaster he was chosen to produce many of Dr Martin Luther King’s radio programs aired on WQXI. One of the last times he met with Dr King was standing by the popcorn machine in the theater’s lobby at the Atlanta premier of Dr Zhivago. But that’s another story…

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Doc Granger

A wonderer - a wanderer.