My latest book, HALLEY,
Awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction.
Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon
Southern hospitality isn’t what it used to be. And I’m not just referring to the decline of the ritual “Ya’ll come to see us” southerners once felt compelled to say on parting. These days, Even the most hospitable and charitable only feel required to say something like, “Come back again sometime.” That would have been bordering on downright rudeness in my childhood. Back then, nobody called ahead to announce a visit either–nobody had phones. They simply drove up in your yard on Friday or Saturday. Surprise!
Even if we’d just finished a meal, Mama or Daddy would say, “Well, have you folks had anything to eat?” The polite response was, “No, but I wouldn’t want to put you to no trouble.” “It’s no trouble,” Mama would say, even though it meant she had to cook all over again. If we had yard chickens, which we did in a few houses we rented, it frequently meant running down a hen and wringing its neck to become company dinner. Or Daddy might go buy pork chops.
Whenever we had such unaccustomed items for a meal Mama would take me aside and whisper, “You kids don’t get any meat until company helps their plates. Tell the rest.” I didn’t have to. They knew the protocol. When food was served, Daddy was sure to announce, “Make yourself at home. If you ain’t at home you orta be.”
Nighttime meant all the young’uns slept on pallets–boys on one, girls on another–so adults could have the beds. In cold weather we kids slept “spoon-style” and woe to you if you had a bed wetter on one–or both–sides.
There were times when visitors stayed for longer durations. One bachelor uncle remained for nearly a year before being diagnosed with tuberculosis and put in a hospital. Why none of us caught it, I don’t know. It wasn’t all one way. Once when we were down on our luck, we stayed with my father’s parents for a couple of months. My grandfather Junkins was very stingy, so he wasn’t as gracious as southern rules of hospitality required, but he never kicked us out.
Another time we stayed with my Grandmother Long and her husband, Pa Long, for a couple of weeks.. We were very welcome there–my grandmother put us to work. On their large farm she could always find work for every one of us. I’ll have to say her policy motivated guests to move on as soon as possible!
When my sister and I were both out of college we took Mama to visit a distant relative who lived in a rural area. This was in the mid-nineteen sixties, but this woman was still trying to keep up the old standards. She absolutely would not take no for an answer when she invited us to dinner. One of her five children was dispatched to the mom and pop store down the road and the others were set to gathering corn, tomatoes, green beans, lettuce and onions from the abundant garden.
When dinner was spread the browned slices of Spam were on a platter in the center of the table. All five children were eying the meat, but none took any. Mama, Jean, and I helped ourselves to all those fresh vegetables and assured the hostess again and again that we’d much rather have those than meat. Only then did the kids reach for the meat platter. It was empty in a minute or less.
When we departed, our hostess,said, “Ya’ll come back.”
“You come to see us,” Jean, Mama, and I said together. Back then we still practiced southern manners.