Truths about the South that nobody else has ever written about.

Photo: Sidehike

Sometimes the best stories are found in your own backyard.

PEOPLE FROM THE NORTH WERE CALLED YANKEES. They talked funny, and came down to Emerald Isle to build big ugly condos on the beach.

Some grown-ups used the N-word. My parents didn’t use the N-word. Kids weren’t allowed to use the N-word, but some did to try and sound more grown up.

Only mountain folks play the banjo.

We lived on Emerald Isle, and everyone I knew was from here, so nobody played the banjo.

The “No shirt, no shoes, no service” sign at Dairy Queen doesn’t apply to locals — it’s for tourists!

The word “drink” is pronounced “drank,” as in “Pick me up a drank at the store, will ya?”

You have a brand of soft drink you identify with. You ask the waitress for it, even when you know the restaurant doesn’t carry it. “Y’all carry Sun Drop yet?”

My dad’s friend T.G. was a Dr. Pepper man before the diabetes.

“Does he even drink it in the morning?” I’d ask my dad. “Only every morning,” he’d say, and I’d dream about what it must be like to drink Dr. Pepper in the morning.

One time Brian, the man who lived in our shed one summer, drank a can of Hawaiian Punch on our porch. “It only made me thirstier,” he said.

I asked my mother where Brian was from. She said, “I think he’s from Minnesota, or one of those weird places where it’s always cold.”

We were a Pepsi family. It was invented right up the road in New Bern.

On the eighth day God made sweet tea.

Outer Banks vocabulary

Dingbatter: n. 1. An uneducated inlander; someone from the mainland. 2. An inlander who’s moved here.
Ex. “Some dingbatter asked me what time the four o’clock ferry leaves.”

Mommucked: v. 1. To shred or tear. 2. adj. Just about as bad as it can get.
Ex. “Grandma took a spill by the porta potties and mommucked up her blouse.”

Whopperjawed: adj. 1. Warped or warping, especially when building something that is supposed to be square or level.
Ex. “Doug tried to fix our gazebo after the hurricane, but the roof came out whopperjawed.”

* * *

The morning sun glinted on the barrier islands of Bogue Sound.

It’s high tide on the sound side.

My school was on the mainland.

The teachers were white. Except for Ms. Annie, all the custodians were white too.

Everyone was afraid of Ms. Annie. “Ain’t no kids running in my hall!” she’d say. “Now git on back there and you walk this time.”

One boy in my class was from England. James’ accent made him PRIME TARGET during recess when we played Smear the Queer.

Inga was the other foreigner. She was a quiet, redheaded girl from Ireland who always wore colored socks. It was fun to tell her, “hold out your arm” as she was very pale and this was the best way to see who was the most tanned. Then it was time to find a black person and make them hold out arms for “ultimate comparison.”

Though it was prevalent among classmates, Mom forbid white bread in our house. “It has no nutritional value,” she’d say, and God did that make me want to try it more.

For class birthday parties, there were bowls filled with potato chips or Cheese Doodles.

The smell of Cheese Doodles reminded me of dirty feet.

Poor people ate them and, although we lived in a trailer, mom said that we weren’t poor and I believed her.

My doctor had a policy, which was “No Polecats.” He had a sign made and hung it in the waiting room.

At night, stray cats came up underneath our trailer to breed. Beneath my bed I’d hear them talking and howling. I’d lie awake, listening, imagining them sitting around a big horseshoe-shaped bar. I named the grey cat Patches on account of the patches of fur missing from his back. My dad came home one day with a cage and rigged it with a cheeseburger. That afternoon I hid behind the holly tree and “meowed,” trying to lure Patches out from the cedar forest across the street.

Life lessons

I learned from my mother how to keep from embarrassing myself, to hold a spoon like you’re sitting across from the President, not like the shovel used to bury Zan, Sax, and Dr. Noah (I & II) in the side yard.

Uncle D.B. performing the chair trick

I learned to take small reminders from the places we’d been, such as the Spanish Moss hanging in Grandmother Ethel’s yard in Soperton, Georgia, to stuff handfuls of it into black trash bags, to hang it from the limbs of our oak trees back in North Carolina.

I learned to listen to the way people spoke: to Mr. Jones at the strawberry farm; to old black men in the thrift store; to Waymond the bag boy at Piggly Wiggly, how he managed to compact a life story — his father in the iron lung, his cruel wife that ran off with a trucker — while carrying our watermelon out to the car.

My first job was as a bag boy at Piggly Wiggly.

Our neighbors were a retired fire chief named Fats and his wife Myrtle. Across the street was a family of morticians that our family liked very much.

One of my most vivid memories is of Fats’ Pig Pickin’. I’d never seen a whole hog before. Fats opened the lid of the massive cooker. When the hickory smoke cleared, it was lying belly down with a red apple clinched in its snout.

I’ve pulled a hit and run at the Newport Pig Cookin’.

I’ve met David Allan Coe.

The rednecks at my high school celebrated Rebel Flag Day. This entailed flying a Confederate flag from a pick-up truck, honking horns, and doing donuts in the dirt lot across the street.

We Southerners are hung up on the Civil War. This is the most difficult thing to try and explain to folks who aren’t from here.

Family stories mom told me

Mom grew up in Clinton, North Carolina, with her grandma, Mama Collins. They lived on Sampson Street.

“Uncle D.B. could pick a wooden chair up with his teeth and flip it over his back.”

As a kid I thought this was a circus trick but really it was more like a whiskey trick.

“He’d hand out nickels and dimes to colored kids on the street.”

D.B.'s chair trick finale

Uncle D.B. was a rambling man. He hitchhiked around the country. He sent my mother post cards of people in blackface sitting on the toilet.

Mama Collins made Uncle D.B. drink Epsom salts after pulling a drunk.

“He’d lay on the floor and read when he was sober.”

Sampson was a dry county for some time. You had to go into Colored Town to buy bootleg moonshine.

They used to spray the streets of Clinton for mosquitoes during the summer. “We’d ride our bikes behind the truck and pretend it was fog,” she’d say. “The thicker the better.”

Mom picked grapes in the backyard and sold them to Daughtery’s Grocery Store.

Mom’s father was a bootlegger in Georgia. “He once got shot in the back at a bar while defending a woman’s honor, but he didn’t die from it.”

My grandfather forged documents and joined the merchant marines. He was 16.

“On a train one time, the drill sergeant had the men line up. He went down the line, insulting each man, but your granddaddy stabbed him and jumped off the train.”

Hugh would beat the hell out of you if you called him a Georgia cracker.

Mom smoked Salem cigarettes before I was born. “I’d still smoke, if it didn’t give you cancer.”

My mother never met her father. She could not say his name until she was in college.

He died of lung caner in his trailer in Soperton, Georgia. His name was Hugh. He lived right next door to his mamma.

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