The South: "That's What I Like About The South"

Allendale, South Carolina
October 10, 2008
Dear Family and Friends,

Phil Harris was a charismatic singer and an energetic band leader back in the "Big Band Era." I can recall his (black and white) TV appearances on the Jack Benny Show and on his own program with his wife Alice Faye. Phil Harris could really put over a song, especially his signature number, "That's What I Like About The South."

The lyrics feature rhymes as "mammy and Alabamy; candied yams, Virginia hams,
and berry jams; cane grows tall and y'all; pretty queens, turnip greens, butter beans
and New Orleans;" and of course the universal unrequited love: "Now every time
I pass your door, you act like you don't want me no more." After listening to this song,
who can resist the South?

My first encounter with the South was in the summer of 1958. I worked at a hotel on Miami Beach. But first I needed a Miami Beach identification card that was issued after being fingerprinted and mug-shot at the local police station. Side by side at the police station stood two water fountains: one marked White and the other marked Black (or was it Colored?). Blacks were permitted to work at the hotels on Miami Beach but they were subject to arrest if they stayed on the beach longer than 9:00 pm.

One afternoon at the nearby Walgreen's lunch counter, a black man sat next to me. He was "invisible" to the white waitress staff. After what seemed like a very long time, a black dishwasher came over, whispered something in his ear, and the man left quietly.

I admit to this freely, and I sure I am not the only Northerner who has had this reaction: whenever I heard a heavy Southern drawl, I automatically deducted 10 points from that person's IQ.

Twenty years later my feelings began to change. I traveled to several metropolitan areas including Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Memphis and Charleston, South Carolina. But these were business trips. While I did get a sense of a modern and a more tolerant South, I don't think I ever had a real appreciation of Southern culture.

Ten years ago, during a visit to Washington, DC, my eyes were opened to Southern sensibilities. The Washington museums and monuments are extraordinary, but after a few days, I decided to take a ride to Virginia. After a tour of the fabulous Luray Caverns, I drove to Chancellorsville. Located in Spotsylvania County, it was the scene of two Civil War battles: the Battle of the Wilderness and the Battle of Chancellorsville. I found the local Civil War cemetery.

Several tall obelisks dominate the landscape of the cemetery. Fallen officers were accorded this honor. The regular soldiers lie under small gravestones with engraved names, units and hometowns. Some stones only had names. Other stones only had serial numbers – no names. Some stones were blank.

Just across the street from the entrance to the cemetery, the Stars and Bars, the Confederate flag flew from the doorway of a shop. I was curious. The shop was filled with Confederate Civil War memorabilia: flags, hats, guns, bullets and photos. The owner of the shop was welcoming and he invited me to look around. I brought up the subject of the cemetery across the street and he pointed out that all the soldiers buried there were Union Soldiers – soldiers who fought for the victorious North. In that area, the defeated Southern soldiers were buried wherever they fell.

Our conversation continued as we discussed the population growth and the large scale housing development that was taking place in Virginia. Apparently, as the work crews cut down the woods and dug foundations, they were also uncovering human bones. With a sad tone in his voice, my host said, "Yes, many of our boys are buried out there."

"Our boys"!!!  I felt, that for this man and for many others, the Civil War ended just last week. I have never met a Northerner who had any special feeling about the Civil War (1861 – 1865), brutal as it was, except for curiosity about an historical event. But in the South, for some folks, their defeat is an important element in their view of their citizenship and their place in the life of our country. Living up North, I just never knew.

Well, I wanted to know more.

This fall I drove north from Miami, Florida to Estill, South Carolina. Unfortunately my good friend is incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution there. This is the second time I have visited him, and despite his good cheer, it is always a sad meeting.

Estill, of course, is a small rural town surrounded by other small rural towns: Fairfax, Gifford and Allendale. Yes, it is rural and poor. Yet folks are friendly and helpful. And this is a paradise if you like deep fried chicken and fries, and grits, biscuits and gravy.

The largest town in the vicinity is Allendale. I drove between Allendale and Estill so I can attest to the accuracy of Allendale's website:

"Allendale County is proud of a rich culture, filled with history and Southern tradition. Beautiful historic homes, churches and cemeteries are plentiful in this side of the region. Take in the beauty of the Spanish moss gracing the enormous live oak trees….notice too, the low-lying cypress swamp areas where alligators, turtles and other species choose to dwell."

"Allendale County has a strong tradition in agriculture, producing cotton, grain, watermelon, peaches, peanuts, corn, okra and other crops. Stop at roadside stands to enjoy some of this fresh produce. Take your trip through Allendale County slowly to enjoy the easy pace of the South. Here it is much like it was in yesteryear. On the western border of Allendale County lies the the Westobou River for the Westo Indians (a warlike tribe who lived in a village on the Westobou). The river was later renamed for the Savannah Indians. At Topper Site, the National Historical Register South Carolina Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology conducts a seasonal dig in May."

Did you ever stop at "Historical Marker Up Ahead?"  I decided to "enjoy the easy pace of the South." I found an "historical" spot at Robertville, South Carolina. "Named for descendents of Huguenot minister Pierre Robert…(now my interest is piqued…I was born and lived for several years in New Rochelle, NY, an original Huguenot settlement. New Rochelle was named for the Huguenot home in France – a town called La Rochelle. One of the main streets in New Rochelle is Huguenot Street. When excavations began for Interstate 95, their cemetery was unearthed.)

Now the road sign gets truly informative.  Robertville was the birthplace of Henry Martyn Robert, author of …(have you guessed yet?)…"Robert's Rules of Order."  Alexander Robert Lawton, The Confederate Quartermaster General, was born there.  Robertville was burned by Sherman's army in 1865.

Robertville is a tiny quiet town in rural South Carolina. There are several well-kept, lovely churches and municipal buildings. And yes, even for a fancy New Yorker there is plenty to admire if I tarry for a moment at a cool spot shaded by an enormous live oak that is graced with beautiful Spanish moss.

Dublin, Georgia is now the home of my good friend, Laszlo Fecske who I first met in Miami. In Laurens County,Dublin is a large town/small city with mostly all the conveniences. Homes are neat and clean and the manicured lawns display "McCain – Palin" signs.

Laszlo emigrated from Hungary in 1956. He loves classical music and reads and rereads the great works of literature – in Hungarian and English. Laszlo has mastered the English language and I am confident that one day soon he will also master the computer keyboard. To his utter shock and amazement, Laszlo calls me on Skype. It's never too late, my friends. Log on!

The Richard B. Russell Parkway (ring a bell?) takes me to my last stop in Georgia - Warner Robins, where I visited my friend Sandy Needelman Ippolito and her family: her mother, husband and two cute little kids. For dinner Sandy served the spiciest spaghetti and meatballs this side of Arthur Avenue. 

And just as I do everywhere in Florida, from Bay City to Jacksonville; in South Carolina, from Estill to Allendale; in Georgia, from Dublin to Warner Robins, and back again, at every filling station, every budget hotel, every convenience store, even the DQ's, my greeting is with my right hand over my heart and the well-understood word "Namaste."

"Namaste" is no Seminole or Savannah tribal greeting. It's not a southern greeting like, "how yu?" or "how y'all?" or "how's yur mom anem?"  "Namaste" is indeed a southern greeting – the typical greeting of South Asia.  It seems that Indians, real Indians have cornered the market in budget businesses. They are industrious and thrifty and invest their money here or with their families or in real estate projects back home.

Since 1989, there is an active and powerful professional group called The Asian American Hotel Owners Association ("AAHOA") with over 9,100 members owning more than 22,000 hotels that total $60 billion in property value. And would you believe, a fellow New Yorker from Queens, bless his heart, Fred Schwartz is the respected long-serving president. Go figure!

So what do I like about the south? Friendly greetings. Pleasant pace. Fresh air, bright scenery and charming gardens. For us Northerners, there's so much to learn if we can ever be still for a New York minute.

Finally, in Allendale, South Carolina, prepared by a barely-English-speaking East Asian family, I found the tastiest Chinese food this side of Mott Street.

In my search for the song "That's What I like About The South," I found a traditional version sung by some good ol' Southern boys playing gitars and fiddles.  They call themselves the Red Stick Ramblers .  The Red Stick Ramblers? Such a name?, until it hit me like a ton of jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a fillet gumbo!

Dorothy Rose, y'all keep the light on, hear?  Be seein' ya down by the bayou in Red Stick.  Well, close enough.

Biih,

Janny Bob


Phil Harris - Big Band Style: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGsz7kJR9U0

Red Stick Ramblers – Cajun Style: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAo7b65Dgtg

And for you Texicans, Randy Brown, Texas Western Style: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f51A7Tz4XhE&NR=1


That's What I like About The South" by Andy Razaf

Won't you come with me to Alabamy
Let's go see my dear old Mammy
She's fryin' eggs and boiling hammy
That's what I like about the South

Now there you can make no mistakey
Where those nerves are never shaky
Ought to taste her layer cakey
That's what I like about the South

She's got baked ribs and candied yams
Those sugar-cured Virginia hams
Basement full of those berry jams
An' that's what I like about the South

Hot corn bread, black-eyed peas
You can eat as much as you please
'Cause it's never out of season
That's what I like about the South

Aahhh, don't take one, have two
There's dark brown and chocolate too
Suits me, they must suit you
'Cause that's what I like about the South

Well it's way, way down where the cane grows tall
Down where they say "Y'all"
Walk on in with that Southern drawl
'Cause that's what I like about the South

Down where they have those pretty queens
Keep a-dreamin' those dreamy dreams
Well let's sip that absinthe in New Orleans
That's what I like about the South

Here come old Bob with all the news
Got the boxback coat with button shoes
But he's all caught up with his union dues
An' that's what I like about the South

Here come old Roy down the street
Ho, can't you hear those tappin' feet
He would rather sleep than eat
An' that's what I like about the South

Now every time I pass your door
You act like you don't want me no more
Why don't you shake that head and sigh
And I'll go walkin' by

On, on, on and on and on
Honey, when you tell me that you love me
Then how come you close your eyes

Did I tell you 'bout the place called Doo-wah-diddy
It ain't no town and it ain't no city
It's just awful small, but awful pretty
That's Doo-wah-diddy

Well I didn't come here to criticise
I'm not here to sympathise
But don't tell me those no-good lies
That a lyin' gal like you can devise

You love me like I love you
Send me fifty P-D-Q
Roses are red and violets are pink
If I don't get all fifty, I don't show

She's got backbones and turnip greens
Ham hocks and butter beans
You, me and New Orleans
An' that's what I like about the South

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