While channel-surfing on the idiot box the other day, I came across another one of those clichéd programs about the South. These supposed Southerners were talking about eating a possum.
As long as I have lived in the South, I have never eaten a possum. No one I know has ever eaten a possum. I have never been to anyone's house who served possum. I have never seen possum offered on a restaurant menu and I have never seen possum in the frozen meat section of a grocery store.
I have, however, seen possums running through the woods. And I have seen a few possums (who weren't good runners) in the middle of the road.
In the South, we might eat strange foods, but possum isn't one of them.
As far as Hollywood is concerned, the South is still one big hot and humid region full of stereotypes and clichés (they got the humidity part right). We are either Big-Daddy-sitting-on-the-front-porch-in-a-seersucker-suit, sweating and fanning while drinking mint juleps beside a scratching dog - or - the poor-barefooted-child-in-tattered-clothes, walking down a dusty-dirt road beside a scratching dog. There is no middle ground. Most of the time, we are either stupid or racist or both.
A year ago I wrote a column titled "My South." In light of yesterday's possum experience, I would like to add to the list of things that make up my South. The South of movies and TV, the Hollywood South, is not my South.
In my South, no one eats possum. We do, on occasion, accidentally run over them.
In my South, little girls wear bows in their hair.
In my South, banana pudding is its own food group.
My South doesn't have hoagies. In my South, we eat po boys.
In my South the back porches are screened and the front porches have rocking chairs and swings.
In my South the ham is as salty as the oysters.
In my South, everyone waves.
In my South we know the difference between yams and sweet potatoes.
In my South, we eat every part of the pig, just like they do in Paris.
In my South we use knives, forks and spoons, but we let cornbread and biscuits finish the job.
My South has tar-paper shacks but it also has tall-glass skyscrapers.
In my South people will put crabmeat on almost anything.
My South has tire swings hanging under live oak trees.
In my South, grandmothers will put almost anything inside a mold filled with Jell-O.
In my South "cobbler" is a dessert, not a shoemaker.
In my South, the only things that "squeal like a pig" are pigs.
In my South ice cream is made on the back porch instead of in a factory.
In my South, grandmothers always have a homemade cake or pie on the counter.
My South has bottle trees.
In my South we give a firm handshake.
In my South "sopping" is an acquired skill and could be an Olympic sport.
My South is oleander and honeysuckle.
In my South we celebrate Easter a month-and-a-half early with a two-week long party called Mardi Gras.
In my South, fried chicken is a religion with its own denomination.
My South has sugar-sand beaches, pine forests, plains, hills, swamps and mountains.
In my South we still open doors and pull out chairs for ladies.
In my South we eat hushpuppies instead of wearing them on our feet.
In my South, it's OK to discuss politics and religion at the dinner table. As a matter of fact, it is required.
In my South, we don't hold Elvis' movies against him.
My South has shrimp boats and multi-colored sunrises.
In my South we move slowly because we can.
My South has covered dish suppers and cutting-edge fine dining restaurants.
In my South, young boys still catch fireflies in washed out mayonnaise jars.
In my South, 50 percent of the dinner conversation deals with someone's genealogy.
In my South, we don't burn crosses, we worship them.
In my South the dogs are still scratching.
Robert St. John of Hattiesburg is the executive chef/owner of New South Restaurant Group www.nsrg.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 264-0672.
an Indigo Insights contribution