Dear Mr. Langley - Letter from a Southern Writer
by Annie Slater
Dear Mr. Langley,
I enjoyed reading “Southern Writers” on the Absolute Write web site. As I grew up in rural northern Missouri during the 50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s, I can relate to your observations about Southerners. Understand that rural Missouri is mostly southern in culture. My ancestors who were there during the Civil War were “Southern Sympathizers.” Churches divided into northern and southern branches. My tribe worshiped at the Southern Methodist Church.
Yes, we did and still do things earlier than our urban counterparts. Many of us started driving around age ten. My son, David, age fifteen, is an excellent driver. In spite of my protests, he was driving in the cow pasture around the age of four. Relating further, many locals, men, that is, will admit to having their first chew around age seven.
You observe, “others write about a subject. The Southerner will write around it.” For me, this translates to mean a southern writer will patiently circle a scenario, dropping nuances, adding color, setting the rhythm, etc. before gently guiding the reader on a journey.
I theorize that Northerners can be an impatient, no nonsense lot. As all behavior overlaps, the same principles apply for occupational/life tasks as they do for storytelling. This might be linked to a southern/midwestern agrarian economy. It takes patience to plant and harvest a crop. Also, a farmer must have a certain philosophy, laced with a healthy dose of humor and imagination to keep on planting year after year in the climate of low market prices, poor crops, and whatever havoc Mother Nature and Federal Government delivers.
Writing and conversing around a subject keeps options open, allows for both a flexible story line and destination, and makes points in between more interesting. If one is willing to listen, behind every chore is the opportunity to hear a good tale. On what was known as Decoration Day, I would follow my Grandmother around the cemetery, placing flowers on various graves according to her instruction. Blossoms from Grandma’s garden were bestowed according to merit, with the final resting sites of the most worthy, being adorned first. This is how I learned about Grandma’s cousin, Tracy.
While in route to the tomb of Grandma’s maternal grandparents, which was always second on the itinerary after that of her mother and father, I inquired about leaving a couple of flowers for cousin Tracy, whom I viewed with a certain awe, as he moved his pool table into his front yard every summer. This violation of lawn etiquette would have been enough to deny him any of Grandma’s harvest, but I persisted. What followed was a critique of cousin Tracy’s life.
On that day, I learned how cousin Tracy wrecked sixteen new cars in one year during the 1920’s. Moreover, he was drunk at his father’s funeral and passed the hearse on the way to the cemetery. To Grandma, his life was nothing but a disgrace. I was intrigued and resolved to learn more, which Grandma was all too glad to tell.
During those trips through the cemetery, if my intent was only to loose the flowers, I would have missed out on many a story. This was true to the nature of one with a southern heart and spirit. I had learned to absorb.
Thanks again for your article. Currently, I am spinning a yarn, interspersed with these characters of my youth. Let’s see where they take me. Maybe the result will be good enough to invite others along for the journey.
In closing, I am inspired that you have resumed your writing career at age 85. I am forty-seven and have decided it is ok to indulge my fantasy.
Write Annie at this address.
Back to USADEEPSOUTH homepage