True Grits: It’s a Southern Thing

If you’re in the South for any length of time, you’re bound to learn of certain people’s blind adherence to a food similar in appearance and color to cream-of-rice cereal (without the lumps). Oftentimes butter and cheese is added to its base (which guarantees anything be good, in my book) and I’ve seen it teamed with peppers, zucchini, and onions. Its less-than-desirable name is “grits” and the flat-out favorite food pairing for this creamy porridge (among Southerners) is shrimp.

To many Southerners, shrimp and grits is gustatory nirvana.

I recall my first tasting of this concoction which prompted my query: “Why are they so crazy for this stuff?” To me, even with the additives, it was bland. A crunchy shrimp or two couldn’t convert me to a believer. But since that time, I’ve come to accept that loving that dish is really a Southern thing; it doesn’t need any more explanation than that. I don’t always understand why it works, but it does…pure and simple.

My husband and I live in the South, for 5 months of the year, specifically, in the mountains of North Carolina, near the Tennessee border. I call Asheville the place where hippies from the 60’s ended up—after life careers and raising families. It’s a laid-back, beautiful region where nature and greeners come together, a place where “Life is good,” as the t-shirts say.

People smile often; men still hold doors for women and “Allow me, ma’am” is a frequent request to serve. In short, western North Carolina offers a much slower pace, one defined by graciousness and respect, and it’s a key reason we settled here.

And in the oddest instance of all, people look each other in the eye, as they acknowledge one other, saying “Hello, Ma’am” or “Hello Sir.” They never effect that peculiar northern posture of avoiding eye contact, ‘lest one invite unwarranted interaction.

When folks do engage, they’re inordinately accommodating to one another, too, because simple graciousness (long disappeared in the Northeast) is a way of life. Patience is not just a virtue here; it’s prescribed ritual.

I remember the time I was in line (of 6 deep) at a Dollar General Store, in late December, and the woman being waited on asked the lone store clerk if the store carried Christmas ribbon. The clerk told her, “Yes—in row 6.” The clerk then followed up with: “Would you like me to wait while you go down and get what you need?” I stood incredulous, at the thought of the long train of customers cooling our heels as this lone shopper visited the aisle she’d missed, to rummage through bins for ribbon. I had to shut myself up, cautioning: “Now, come on…this is a reason you like it here. “ It’s never the fevered pitch of life in the Northeast, and that comes with a price.

Even so, it’s tough to adjust when you’re an impatient Northerner.

I recall, too, the time my husband and I brought my younger daughter to William & Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia, for her junior year of college. We’d just made a 700 mile trip in my husband’s Ford truck jammed with all her essential belongings. She sat on the hard portion of the seat between him and me, while I tried to accommodate my 5’9” frame to the remaining space, made more uncomfortable in that I sported a foot cast from a recent surgery. We got in late.

The next morning we moved her into her assigned room and then toured the beautiful town of Williamsburg, a colonial bastion steeped in history and idyllic charm. Following that, my daughter met up with friends, and we proceeded to leave. We had a long drive home.

He left me curbside, while he went for the truck. As he approached, I noted a young man stepping briskly towards me. Fearing his intentions, I readied my crutch in self-defense mode, poised to batter him, reminiscent of that Ruth Buzzi character on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” television show who beats off the old man’s advances with her purse.

But just as we stood almost face-to-face, he shot ahead, grabbed the door handle of the truck, opened it wide and invited me to step up, saying “Ma’am…?” (in the sweetest Sir Walter Raleigh kind of way) while I sheepishly thanked him. He was simply the not-so-rare breed of young man (in the South) who steps up to help a woman in distress.

So…grits…gentility…charm…”It’s a Southern thing.” And we women love it.

Rhett Butler saying “Frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn,” at end of the movie, “Gone with the Wind” …It was a decidedly un-Southern phrase uttered by a gentleman to a lady–But then again, Rhett was a Northern Carpetbagger… wasn’t he?)






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A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog, kevinMD.com, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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