This image was taken from a screen shot of Weather.com’s five day forecast for Norfolk, Virginia, on Sunday evening January 31 2016. I posted it on Facebook with the comment, “Do you wonder why Southerners are so bat-shit crazy?”
The fluctuation of temperatures alone–from 60 to 71 to 52 to 72 to 52 and, on Friday, 42, with snow showers–in a not atypical five-day stretch at the end of January–explains, at the very least, the aches and pains and chest colds and migraine headaches from which most of us suffer.
It might even allow us to venture a guess about the prevalence of alcoholism, snake handling, and good writing for which my native South is so well-known.
I personally have never handled snakes.
I was born in Montgomery, Alabama, grew up on 200 acres of woods between Cedartown and Rome, Georgia, and in September of 1963 enrolled at Emory University in Atlanta.
Montgomery was, until 1861, the Capital of the Confederacy and, from 1962 to 1987–for four terms (two consecutive, two non-consecutive), was the city where George Wallace occupied the Governor’s Mansion.
Montgomery is the city where–in 1971–Morris Dees, Joseph Levin, and Julian Bond founded The Southern Poverty Law Center.
Atlanta is the birthplace of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind, and Atlanta is the home of Morehouse College, one of the centers of the Civil Rights movement.
In 1963, Emory University was considered, as my family so quaintly put it, “a hotbed of Communism.” I don’t know about that, but I know I went from Emory University with my fellow students to sit in at lunch counters and picket segregated department stores.
My grandmother believed that the moon landing was a hoax and that, on the election of John F. Kennedy to the Presidency, the Pope would take over America.
The South, of course, nurtured one of the most virulent plagues in American history and a strain of racism so embedded and so severe that we cannot with any confidence say it has been wiped out even today.
On “The Daily Show” the day after the killings in Charleston, Jon Stewart pointed out that the society in which these apparently inexplicable shootings took place is a world in which the Confederate flag flies over the State House and the roads on which these slain citizens drove every day are named for Confederate “heroes.”
The South was the place of my childhood where my cousins and I were cared for, disciplined, bathed and fed and clothed, not by our mothers, but by the black women who worked in our homes. And those were the women we loved most in the world, in that peculiar twisted bond that is the relationship between the races here. For the South is also the place where we would never ever ever have sat down to dinner anywhere other than the kitchen with those black women or their children or their children’s children.
Funny what inspires a writer to write. Last night I checked the weather so I could decide what to wear this week, already suspecting just what I found–chilly one day, warm the next. In the South it is never possible to entirely pack up a season’s clothes. Especially here in southern Virginia, there’s not quite anything you can even call a season.
So, today will be 71 degrees and partly sunny. I’ll scramble to the back of my closet and find a t-shirt, maybe a vest; by the end of the day I might have pulled on a light sweater. I lived north of San Francisco for several years and learned to dress in layers. But north of San Francisco is another planet, and weather is weather, not the soul of a people.
Last night I checked the weather so I could decide what to wear and suddenly I thought, “No wonder we’re all nuts!!” And I sat down and started to put words on paper.
Because the South is in my bones and in my blood, the writing came easily. I’ll need to look up Jon Stewart’s exact words and the date on which the Southern Poverty Law Center was started. I’ll need to try to recall the stores we picketed in Atlanta, possibly some of the particular people and events that took place in and around Emory University. I might want to add what I can remember hearing about the Freedom Summer of 1964 and what happened in Mississippi.
But the South is home for me. I’ve never really been able to escape the climate, or the land, or the beauty and the soul-sickness of her people of which I am inescapably a part. I have never been able to get far enough away that I wasn’t, finally, called back. I have never stopped loving the South, and I have never stopped hating it.
“He got off on Lincoln and slavery and dared any man there to deny that Lincoln and the negro and Moses and the children of Israel were the same and that the Red Sea was just the blood that had to be spilled in order that the black race might cross into the promised land.” William Faulkner