Monday, May 4, 2009

Deep South Wedding

'Deep South' is one of those phrases that mean different things to different people.  Before last weekend, I connected the phrase with images of bayous, mangrove swamps, and Spanish moss.  But after attending my cousin's wedding, I learned that there is a region that does not contain any of these features but can only be described as Deep South.

Here are some possible definitions:
1) Any place where the roads are lined with both trees and dead armadillos.
2) Any place where there is only one Mexican restaurant in the entire county.
3) Any place where I feel like a Yankee.

Of course, it is not sufficient to describe 'Deep South' in terms of location.  It is a also thing of culture, a state of mind.  I currently live in South Carolina, on a college that was once a plantation and still has the manor house in the middle of campus.  Yet I do not think of it as 'Deep South'  I think of plantation areas as 'Antebellum', while 'Deep South' describes those wild and lonely places of freeholding farmers that never had the decadent pretense of civilization or culture that the slave-masters built for themselves.

Here are a few random things to mention:
1) At the dinner the night before the wedding, the pastor was talking with a man who was either a pastor or the guy in charge of church music.  Within the space of two minutes, the conversation went from the pros and cons of various hymnals to AR-15 stocks.
2) My uncle, who is a coal mining engineer living in what I previously thought of as rural Alabama, complained about the lack of pawn shops, gun shops, or other window-shopping opportunities in the area.
3) Many of the graves in the church were covered with sand.  Apparently they have a tradition of removing all plants from the grave and spreading new sand once a year.  There was a big pile of sand in the graveyard for this purpose.

Because it was the wedding of a cousin, the family that I knew was one forth of the family there.  Half of them were the groom's family, and one forth were the family of my uncle, who I had sometimes heard about but had never seen.

My cousin is a great person, and I was impressed with the man she chose to marry.  I know that they will have a good future.  I do not mean any of what follows to be insulting.  If anything, it shows how strange and different I and my family are.  I have my prejudices, and my opinions on what makes a good life, and I understand that other people think differently.  I mention these things to show that I was experiencing a kind of culture shock.

The wedding was perhaps the greatest concentration of smokers that I have been exposed to in over a decade.  The reception was like traveling several decades back in time.  None of the sodas were diet, and most of the bread was lily white.  The 'groom's cake' was a tower of ten dozen Krispy Kreme donuts.  The other attendees of the wedding made everyone on my side of the family look like a health fanatic.  I was not the only one who commented on this.

After eating like them for two days, I felt slightly ill.  Partly this was my own fault; I made very little effort to keep to my normal diet and I usually have a 'When in Rome' attitude to joining festivities.  After the wedding, everyone from my side of the family went to my grandmother's house to relax and socialize.  My aunt and uncle went to the Whole Foods Market, bought a lot of fancy veggies, feta cheese, and olives, and made a big salad for dinner.  It was exactly what we all needed, and I felt a lot better the next day.

Many of the people at that wedding probably have no idea what it is like to feel healthy or be healthy.  They cannot understand just how much better and more alive you feel after eating a diet of mostly fruits, vegetables, and nuts, getting yourself to your proper Body Mass Index.  Healthy living is simply not a priority, or part of the culture.

But if I ever got in a fight, I would want them on my side.  And if I ever got in trouble, I know that I could count on their help.  If civilization ever collapsed, they would have a much better chance of surviving than most people.  Different people, indeed different cultures, have their strengths and weaknesses.  Being good at one thing does not imply being good at other things.  The structure of our modern world rewards a certain kind of thinking, but that does not imply that this kind of thinking is superior.


Anonymous said...

Hear, hear! Different doesn't mean wrong, it just means different. It sounds like part of your family subscribes to the Good Ole' Boy philosophy - they may smoke a carton a day but they'd give you the shirt off their backs without a moments' hesitation.

Anonymous said...

Yep, those folks would be the ones you want in a fight. And no matter what the joy or misfortune, you would likely get more donated green bean casseroles and dinner rolls than you can handle...


Anonymous said...

wait, I have to wonder, if there was a paucity of even pawnshops, just how did they find a Whole Foods?


Richard Bruns said...

My grandmother's house is two hours away from where the wedding was held. My grandmother practically lives in a suburb of Birmingham. My cousin lives near the Mississipi border.

Leslie said...

I hated to miss Sam's wedding, but 10 hours with 2 kids was a bit much. It's fun to hear your observations.

Random Internat Person said...

You can't discount the cultural role that food plays in the south, particularly in celebration. Killing the fatted calf perhaps?