One of the gravest sin of my life is the fact I am not a proud Southerner. While Robert E. Lee was an exceptional military general I consider him a shortsighted traitor despite his well know reservations about slavery and secession. At the sight of a Confederate flag my stomach turns sour with the fact that if you burn away the half-truths and revisionist propaganda the men fighting under that banner were defending the idea that one person could own another human being. I have found most people who sadly reminisce about the dead Confederate States of America are racists rednecks with little to no redeeming qualities beyond the fact I often find them outrageously funny in a perverse way.
My list of sins could continue but there would be no point other than to over emphasize the obvious. I would like to think I slightly redeem myself with my admiration of Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner, two fine, sophisticated Southern gentlemen who in my opinion could write circles around that womanizer and egotistical dick, Ernest Hemingway. Now, I will admit that if you ask me who I would like to fish or party with you would receive an entirely different answer on that one.
On a sad note, it is a terrible testament on the state of Southern education that if you ask the average person in this misbegotten part of the country about what they think of Williams or Faulkner these days you will get a funny look with them believing they are NASCAR drivers or cast members on some reality show. See, a liberal education has never been that popular in this part of the country. The overly enthusiastic embrace of religion and the outright worship of firearms has left little time for such things as sissy intellectual niceties.
Anyway I digress, the one aspect of the often nebulous concept of being a Southerner I do readily embrace is when it comes to our cuisine. And for the purpose of this seditious rant I will center my attention on the food that is almost exclusively identified with the American South and that is none other than grits.
For those who do not know grits is made of ground corn and originated with the Native Americans. In the coastal regions of the southeast United States, especially in the Low Country of South Carolina, a dinner of boiled shrimp and grits served with collar greens and corn bread is considered a gourmet meal of the highest order. Being that I was raised in the shadow of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Charleston, South Carolina, my family cooked grits the way they did in the Holy city by using milk instead of water.
There was a rather curious tradition when it came to grits in my family. When my maternal grandfather sat down for a full breakfast he would spoon his bowl of grits over his standard two fried eggs. He would then commence to mash and thoroughly mix the two until the liquid yolk had turned the off white corn mill a dark yellow. Being a young boy in awe of his grandfather there was never any doubt that this was the normal practice for the morning meal so I quickly learned to followed his lead. I've got to admit I found the taste of grits and eggs delicious and like my grandfather whenever I had time for a real breakfast would mix the two and savor every messy and slightly disgusting bite. This habit has followed me all my life, even though my wife finds it utterly disgusting.
As I aged my grandfather and I began to differ on certain aspects of history with one being the true nature of the American Civil War. To be fair, we are all products of our environment and my grandfather's own granddad was a child during the worst part of the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War. To be frank, those stories had a considerable influence on how he felt about “Yankees.” At times, these discussions could become somewhat heated and very often they took place over the breakfast table. I'm sure it was quite the sight with the two of us using Granny's homemade biscuits to sop up every last drop of the grits and eggs mixture while discussing the merits of Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and other people from the nineteenth century.
Needless to say, my grandfather had a very different opinion about events in American history than I. Despite the fact he never understood my fascination with the Union cause our discussions always remained within reasonable bounds. However, there was one event that I am sure he got a huge kick out of because I inadvertently earned the Southern Cause a little bit of revenge. This event took place down in Orlando, Florida a good number of years after my grandfather had passed away.
My family and I had arrived in Orlando a day early to begin our vacation at Disney World. We would be staying at one of the Disney resorts outside the parks but we could not check into our room until after four o'clock in the afternoon. So our general plan was to drop off our luggage at the front desk then spend the day worshiping the mouse that Uncle Walt had created and built his empire upon. But first, we would fuel up at one of the International House of Pancakes restaurants on Orlando's International Drive.
Being that this was Orlando in springtime all the restaurants were packed with people heading to the theme parks. The IHOP my family and I chose was no exception, we ended up waiting twenty minutes before the hostess finally showed us to our table. Seated directly beside us was a family whose accent strongly suggested were from the New York City area. There was some interaction between my family and those we sat beside. Mainly because the kids in both groups found out the other was headed to the Magic Kingdom once we all were finished with breakfast.
I would like to say the encounter with the family from New York was totally amicable, it wasn't, a young looking grandmother, or possibly an older aunt from their group appeared to be in a bad mood and took great pains to limit the children from talking to each other. A difficult job considering that they were about the same age.
As we continued to wait for our food this older woman turned her attention away from the kids and began making offhand comments that were directed like blasts from a shotgun. They were aimed at one person but were of such a general nature others in both groups were partially hit as well.
This all changed when my family's breakfast order came first. That circumstance was purely by chance but since our two groups were not there together my family and I dove headfirst into our meal. This, of course, meant me spooning my bowl of grits on top of my fried eggs and mashing them up together. For reason I cannot imagine this malcontent older woman took a great interest as the yellow yolk from my eggs oozed throughout the grits on my plate. By chance, I happened to notice her staring at my normal breakfast habits. Her eyes had the look of someone viewing a horrible accident, while her face quickly began to take on a slightly green pall as if she was suddenly being stricken with a nasty stomach bug.
It was only moments later that she left her group's table and immediately headed in the direction of the restaurant’s restrooms. I'm not sure, but as she ran away it did look like she had one of her hands up against her mouth trying to hold back the physical manifestation of her disgust at me mixing up the two main items on my plate. If this older woman's intentions was to create a schism between our two groups her reaction to me preparing my meal did created a lingering awkward silence.
When she finally returned a few minutes later to the area we were all sitting, instead of a green her face she had turned extremely pale complete with a bright sheen of sweat all across her face. In the mean time her family had apparently all lost their respective appetites. I would be lying if I didn't think there was some sort of ill feeling directed towards me by the Northern family. More evidence to this belief was that my wife, a proper and refined Virginian with exceptional table manners, was giving me one of her patented, “I can't believe I married this country hick” look. It didn't really bother me, I was hungry and was paying more attention to my meal.
Later that day while I at the Magic Kingdom, I actually felt a little bad about the whole affair. However, it was offset by the fact that I am sure my grandfather would have gotten a small kick out of the whole affair and might have even considered me a good Southerner for a change.