My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.
When I was a child in the mountains of North Georgia, people like us had no telephones, so when you wanted to visit folks—especially relatives—you just loaded up the family in the car or truck, along with maybe a dog or two, and went. Heck, calling would have given prospective hosts a warning—a chance to leave town. Forewarned, my overworked mother might’ve done exactly that. Summer weekends (when most of these visits occurred) she was tired from working all week at the mill. Without modern conveniences, cooking just for family was hard enough without adding in eight or ten visitors.
However dismayed she might be, Mama always rose to the demands of Southern hospitality. Her smile was in place by the time she reached the front porch. “Well, look who’s showed up! Good to see you. Come on in and set a spell. Have you had any dinner (or breakfast or supper)? Mama felt required to ask, even if we had just cleaned the kitchen from our own meal. If the visitors said they’d eaten before leaving home, Mama felt compelled to offer again —and again.
Daddy was even more insistent. “It wouldn’t be a bit of trouble. Ain’t nobody going to say I let company go hungry.”
By this time one of the men in the group would allow that he could always find room for a few of Nell’s biscuits. That was the signal for Mama to say, “Faye, go light up the kerosene stove and draw me a fresh bucket of water.” Several of my siblings would be sent to gather corn, okra, tomatoes, or squash from the garden. There was always something ready for harvest. Daddy might make a run to a nearby store for meat—chicken, if we were flush, Spam, if times were lean. Since we had no refrigerator, we couldn’t keep fresh meat on hand.
While the younger kids ran and played, and the men set up straight back chairs on the porch or beneath a shade tree, the women got busy in the kitchen. While supposedly riding herd on the younger kids, I drifted from the talk of births, deaths, and other family gossip to where the men discussed who was laid off from work, who had gotten into a knock-down, drag-out fight, and the fine details of overhauling a motor. Sometimes they passed a bottle around and told stories in low-pitched voices too indistinct to make out.
Finally the meal was ready. I’m sure my siblings and I had never read a book on table etiquette, but we had been well-trained in Southern table hospitality. The first rule was that we could not take a helping of meat until guests had been served. Then, no second helpings until guests got theirs. Breaking the rules meant a hickory switching after company departed. Actually, there were a host of other infractions that could incur a switching penalty when visitors were barely on the road home.
Things began to wind down after the meal—unless the guests planned to spend the night—and hospitality required that hosts urge, or even beg them to stay. “”Don’t go,” my mother would say. “We can make pallets for the young’uns.”
My father always joined in even more wholeheartedly. “You just now got here. What’s your hurry?”
After this, came the departure, in which the visitors insisted that their hosts go home with them. “You ain’t been to our house in a coon’s age. Why don’t ya’ll load up and go with us?”
My Aunt Hilda, a German war bride who was new to our customs, actually accepted the invitation, much to the shock of the departing guests. My Grandmother Junkins who was one of the few relatives who refused to go through much of the ritual, managed to stop Hilda. “Set down,” she ordered Hilda. “You ain’t going nowhere.”
At last, the requirements of southern hospitality had been observed and the last of the visitors and their dogs had loaded up. As the motor rumbled to life and the vehicle began to move, Daddy would call, “Ya’ll come back, now that you know the way.”
Still smiling and waving, Mama would heave a big sigh and mutter, “Thank God they didn’t stay for supper.”