Being Southern

[Inspired by a poem by George Ella Lyon called “Where I’m From]

Being Southern

I’m a Southern girl, raised up in Alabama and Georgia

I come from grits and sorghum syrup

From black-eyed peas, fried okra, and homegrown tomatoes

From banana puddin’ and co-colas

I’m from the South, where every recipe in the cookbook starts with “melt a stick of butter”

Many an evening, I’ve sat on the ice cream freezer while daddy cranked it and then gone tearing around after lightning bugs when it was somebody else’s turn

I know about screen doors and box fans, bare feet, and front porches

I know better than to wear white shoes before Easter or after Labor Day

I’ve fanned myself in the church house while the man up front quit preachin’ and went to meddlin’

And I’ve been threatened with eternal damnation if I so much as set foot in a dance hall

I can tell you ever one of the 12 apostles (Peter, Andrew, James, and John), recite “The Lord is My Shepherd” in no time flat, and sing all six verses of “Just As I Am”

I’ve seen the menfolk hurry out to the churchyard to smoke as soon as we let out

And I’ve helped my mama fix casseroles and pound cake to carry to people on their beds of affliction

I’ve been to many a viewing and smelled enough carnations to last me the rest of my life. When I get a whiff of one now, all I can think is, “Who died?”

I’ve been told to take off those clodhoppers in the house

Sometimes I was as slow as molasses, and sometimes I was told to wait a cotton-picking minute

I’ve washed up for supper, set the table, and hollered at my brother to get on in this house

I’ve hankered after blackberry cobbler and had it too, till I was about to pop

I know when to say yes ma’am and no sir, bless her heart, and y’all come on

I’ve been mad as all get out, but I knew better than to throw a hissy fit or sass my mama. If I did, I knew I was fixing to get a whipping; I might as well go on and break a switch off the peach tree

I’ve been told to stop being ugly or Mama would jerk a knot in my tail

That my face was gonna freeze like that

And that I was getting too big for my britches

I knew who had home training and who didn’t

I’ve given the kinfolks sugar, been tickled pink, had my neck hugged, and gotten my leg pulled more times than I can count.

I’ve been told to go get that doohickey over yonder and carry it to my grandmama

And been asked what in tarnation did I think I was doing

I’ve played possum so I could stay up later than the other young’uns and listen to the grown folks talk. I’ve heard tell about how Miss Myrtle Atkins wadn’t right anymore since her old man run off with that little hussy from the five-and-dime. Everybody knowed he was downright sorry anyway, always had been, useless as tits on a boar hog.

I’ve been puny, choked down daddy’s homemade cough syrup made with whisky and lemon and honey, had my chest rubbed with Vick’s Salve, and had my neck wrapped up with a hot wet rag

My grandmama has given me silver dollars and told me I might could buy myself a play purty if I’d put the money in my pocketbook and hold on to it till somebody could carry me to town

I’m the spitting image of my mama. When she took a notion to do something, she’d do it come hell or high water, and I will too

Honey, I’m a Southern girl from way back

And I reckon that’s all I need to say.



This morning on our way back from Alabama, we stopped in at the little church I went to as a child. There were only about 50 people in attendance, although I remember it being a congregation of 200 or so when we lived in the community. I didn’t recognize anyone, but people who had known our family when I was 5 to 10 years old greeted us so kindly. Truth is, they were just as kind before we introduced ourselves and made the connection. After the service and before we left, an older man went to his truck and brought a small item back in his hand. “I always like to give something to visitors,” he said, holding it out to me. “I make things out of cans and golf balls, but all I have with me today is this little dog. You may not want it…” Oh, my. How could I not receive it with joy? His gesture was one of the sweetest, most beautiful things I’ve experienced in a while. He offered this simple gift from his hands and his heart, making two strangers he may never see again feel very welcomed indeed.

Sam I Am


I’ve been pretty busy with Connecting Memphis and with little Sam🙂


What an honor that LeBonheur Children’s Hospital reposted (on their FB page) the interview with Brendan from Connecting Memphis!


Lift Every Voice


Monday was the MLK Jr. holiday, and I went downtown to the Civil Rights Museum. It was a beautiful day, warmish, sunny, and lots of people were out. I ran across two students I had in class last year and was able to do a number of interviews with people of all ages. All in all, a good day. I haven’t been inside the Museum since the recent renovations, but I plan to before long. Next month, February, the theme for our Words3 Reading at Holy Communion will be “Lift Every Voice.” I’m not sure how I’ll approach that one, but I may do some interviews of people who have been around for a while, recall the days before the Civil Rights Movement, and can speak about the changes that brought about. The older people in Memphis, like older people everywhere, are living libraries.

Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve in Memphis. Cold, wet, and bleak.

But there is hope. The following piece was written by my friend Terry Sanford Smith and posted on his FB page today:

The littlest child
Hidden in a manger still
I sing “Silent Night”

The light of the world
Coming down to bring real joy
Unending love given all
Who will believe it
Historically certain
It is verifiable

Please consider this story
Don’t take others’ word for it
Religious or atheist
You can decide this

Consider all things
Get all the information
Respect your judgment
Listen to your broken heart
Listen to the heart of God

I’m given a mind
A heart, soul and a body
Time to consider
What is true – what is not true
I have chosen to believe

The littlest child
Hidden in a manger
Was the Son of God
I am alive to live it
I am free to share the joy

Death has no power
I have chosen where to stand
A resurrection
Has taken place in my soul
Both now and forever more

Marco Pave

Although I posted this piece on the Connecting Memphis website and FB page, I’m posting it again here. Marco and I spent some time in conversation yesterday, and he really helped me understand some things in a way I hadn’t before.


“People hear the lyrics in rap music and automatically get turned off, but systemic racism and inequality are more vulgar than any language in my songs. As an artist, I’m responding to what I’ve seen growing up in north Memphis; the lyrics reflect what’s actually happening. If we’re not aware of the vulgarity out here, we can’t address it. Yeah, I could do Kumbaya songs about blacks and whites all together and make people feel good, but that’s not the reality. Those kinds of lyrics shelter people and lie to them. They make people feel like there is no racism in the world. If you’re offended by what you hear in rap songs, then work to change things.

“You say you care about the city? Then get out in the neighborhoods and talk to people. Don’t just go in and pick up trash or paint a mural. That doesn’t change what’s underneath. Don’t just take field trips and go back feeling like you’ve really done something. Listen to people, ask them what they need, get their input. Partner with them and help them get connected to resources. Empower them. Ask them: ‘What do you want and how can we accomplish it together?’

“When those with power and resources talk about helping the city, they don’t ask community members for input, so they’re not invested in what’s being done. They buy up buildings and open coffee shops and boutiques, but those are not for the neighborhood. The people who live here don’t even know about them. They’re here so white people can feel comfortable coming to this area, but white people can’t float these newly gentrified businesses forever. They can’t sustain them. The neighborhood needs to have input into what’s being done.

“People living here don’t have the resources or the ability to get the resources to make their dreams come true. A kid in Silicon Valley has an idea for an app and has access to all the funding and help he needs, but a kid here with the same idea has no way to make it happen. That’s why kids give up, get angry, and then take it on other people. We need to connect people with resources and figure out ways to work together.

“I want to encourage kids to hold onto their dreams. That’s why I’m mentoring at East High School where I graduated. And that’s why I created the ‘Books on Beale’ benefit concert: we donated 500 books to a community library and raised $20,000 for literacy the first year we did it. I want to give back to my neighborhood. Yes, my career is coming along well, but volunteering and helping out my community are more important to me than a paycheck.”


Website for Marco Pave, Hip-Hop/Rap Artist: http://marcopave.com
FB: http://www.facebook.com/Kingofmarco
SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/marcopaveosp
Tumblr: http://kingofmarco.tumblr.com
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCI2IkSCYkjTusPmX9oUjtsw
There’s an interesting interview with Marco on the ilovememphis blog.
Excellent interview with Duke University students: http://readcontra.com/2014/11/rap-as-a-community-tool-marco-pave-speaks/