Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A five gallon bucket of lard

I was reading Jen's post yesterday about churches in Georgia and while I don't want to copycat, it got me thinking. As someone who has spent quite a lot of time in the South (Alabama to be exact), I'm fully aware that it takes some getting used to. I was lucky, I guess, in that my time in the South started practically at birth, so even though I can see how different things are I'm so used to it that it doesn't even phase me. Not everyone is this lucky though, and this is what I started thinking about yesterday.

I was born in Michigan and lived in the Detroit suburbs until I was eight. That was when my parents divorced and my mom and I moved to Southern California, the place I consider "home". My grandparents on my mom's side also lived in Michigan, but they were both from Alabama and went back several times a year to see their family. When my grandfather retired they moved back to the house they owned there. When I was growing up I spent summers in Michigan with my dad and my grandparents and always made at least one trip to Alabama with them. My love of road trips started with these journeys and I always had a great time on the way. It was when we arrived that my troubles started.

I always felt a little Bipolar (Tripolar?) with this Michigan/Alabama/California hat trick, but was usually able to fit in somehow. Alabama challenged me. I had family there I loved and it was certainly familiar, but I was always the odd duck out. The family home was down a dirt road in the middle of frickin' nowhere and there was not a bathroom in the place until I was about twelve. The last time I forced myself to go into the godforsaken outhouse something in the corner rattled. Standing in the middle of the yard with my panties around my ankles I swore "Never again". I spent my days trying to talk people into driving me to the gas station in town so I could pee. I would come up with all kinds of fictional errands that always went right by the Sinclair station. I developed the largest bladder in three counties.

Then there was the fact that I was terrified of bugs. (One day I woke up with a spider in my mouth and now, all these years later when I sleep I cover my mouth with a sheet). And I'm not a big meat eater. And there aren't any tornado sirens. Or basements. And I hated the fact that every time you went to the Piggly Wiggly or the Jitney Jungle you ran into twenty people you knew who all had to ask you which you liked better - Alabama or California. I was a mess. And my family, who loved me, made excuses for my eccentricities and wrote me off as a bona fide city girl. To be fair it was my own teenage inflexibility that made it such a problem. My family just thought I was a whack job and went on with their lives.

By the time I took The Film Geek to my grandparent's house for the first time I had made peace with the whole situation. I was finally able to see the good and tolerate the bad with fairly good humor. I was comfortable there. I fully expected, forgetting entirely where I was and who I was married to, that he would fit right in and have a great time.

As Humphrey Bogart says in Casablanca, I was misinformed. It was, plainly put, a train wreck, more aptly a train wreck driven by Homer Simpson. It took me a long, long time to laugh, but it was worth the wait.

FG is from a military family and had lived in California, Hawaii and Arizona. He was used to moving around but he was mostly in the Western US. He had, to be fair, spent time at his dad's house in Dallas, but by his own admission usually stayed inside in the air conditioning to read a book. And his dad was in the city, not the country.

I was already in Alabama with the infant Sasquatch when FG arrived, fresh off a job that had fallen through at the last minute. At some point during that first day my grandmother, not sure what to feed him, suggested we go to the Piggly Wiggly to buy some food. It was summer, which means hot and humid. He was extremely cranky about the world at that point. When we got into the store he told me he was going to go get some sparkling water and walked off. I called after him to let him down gently.

"You can't buy sparkling water here," I said.

"Whattya mean you can't get sparkling water here?" Mr. LA asked. "Of course they have sparkling water. It's not like it's caviar or anything." And then he stomped off.

Five minutes later he came back empty handed.

"You can't buy sparkling water here," he said accusingly.

"I know", I replied. "They don't carry it. If you want water you have to take a container to the gas station." ( See? I worked the gas station into everything).

He took a deep breath.

"Are you trying to tell me that you can buy a five gallon bucket of lard but you can't buy a bottle of sparkling water?"


The next day he got a little cabin fever and decided to go out for a walk. Well, you don't really walk in the ultra polite South. He lost count of how many cars pulled over on the road to ask him if he'd had car trouble and needed a ride. He was gone for hours, but I wasn't a bit concerned, because every few minutes someone would call and say to my grandmother, "Bill (her nickname), I think I just saw Julie's husband walk by on the road. Isn't he wearing a blue t-shirt?" We tracked him for hours and knew when he was headed home because one of my cousins saw him turn onto the road, so she called from the Dairy Dip to let us know he was coming so we could warm supper up for him. Riiiight.

He walked in smiling and in a mood fit to live with again. Walking eight miles on dirt roads will do that to you. As he got a glass of water he said I'd never guess where all he'd been.

I didn't have the heart to tell him.


ciara said...

lmao-ah yes, the south. my dad is a bama boy born n bred. but he left there when he joined the navy when he was 17. out of everyone of the bama family members, he's the only one w hardly an accent lol. but i do know how those small towns go as my dad grew up in jasper...my dad got stationed in georgia for two yrs and i started to pick up some 'vocabulary' y'all, i'm fixin to go to the store, etc. i know for a FACT i'm a straight up city girl...i used to marvel at how 'slow' everything seem to be going in the south. being a navy brat i was born in the philippines (where my mom is from), but lived in the u.s. since i was almost 5. i, too, consider so. cali 'home' tho i lived in vegas 21 yrs lol i tell u...this whole parallel life thing just gets more freaky everytime u post lmao

Jen said...

It's amazing how much you and I are alike. Detroit 'burbs, Alabama, etc.

This makes me think so much about when I first started dating my husband. He is defintely a Georgia boy, born and bred. I was still pretty new to the south, and I think I'll save the story for a blog entry. But your picture reminded me of the one thing that's so very special about Alabama, that damn red dirt.

That red dirt that stains white shoes and never comes out of white shorts. And that makes half the road in the state red, because they use it with the asphalt. Almost every single on and off-ramp on I-65 and I20/59 are red because of that dirt.

Thanks for the memories, RC!

code word: vgpxxtfg...aw hell, I'm not even gonna try.

Akelamalu said...

That was so good to read,thankyou for sharing the memory. x

laurie said...

oh my, rc, i would have read much, much more about this. will you keep going? i loved it.

and i have southern stories to tell too though not quite that far south. my folks are from a small town in missouri and i was born in kentucky. but i grew up in the north, in minnesota.

my grandfather used to mail us big boxes of homegrown tomatoes from his garden every summer (a good thing) and my grandmother used to hole up in an upstairs window with a rifle and keep my grandfather at bay (a bad thing).

i believe they did have indoor plumbing, though.

here's a link to a photo you might like--a picture of my grandmother on the family farm in amazonia, missouri:

gramma and gun

Kaycie said...

I love the Piggly Wiggly. The one here closed down a few months ago and I was in mourning for days.

There's just nothing like the small town South. When I tell stories about my family and growing up in small town Oklahoma, people think I'm just making it up. I always tell them that you just can't make up things like that.

I am living in the land of red dirt for the first time. Up where I'm from, we have nice dark dirt. I hate red dirt.

laurie said...

i kind of love the red dirt. i know it's messy and my brother's kids can't even use the swingset in the backyard because your butt gets all red sitting on it. but i think those red dirt roads are beautiful.

The Rotten Correspondent said...

ciara - damn, woman, you've been all over the place. Not THAT way. You know what I mean! ;)Parallel is right. How weird. Where did you live in So Cal? I grew up in Pasadena, but then moved to South Pasadena during college and lived there until we moved here.

jen - okay, here's my list, because now I'm really curious. I was born in Detroit, lived in Southfield, then spent all my summers in Farmington Hills. Which 'burb were you in?

Yeah, that red dirt is something else. I want to read your story about meeting your Georgia boy husband. Somthing tells me this will be good!

akelamalu - that's very sweet of you. Thanks!

laurie - I could tell stories for days, but you'd all be begging me to stop. Trust me on this.I love the picture of granny and the gun. Too funny! (although I bet she was a darn good shot) Did you spend much time in the south when you were growing up?

kaycie - I completely agree. Most people think I'm coming up with this stuff off the top of my head. And in a lot of cases, I wish I was! But no. All true. Did you move to Oklahoma from Kansas? I saw something about Stormont-Vail on your blog?

Pixel Pi said...

My...since I'm a Michigan gal (west side) but all my family was from below the Mason-Dixon line, I'm the odd duck out. I actually had a friend down south ask me "What are you doing up there married to a Yankee?" She knew my family back for oodles of generations (including cousins removed and all the scandals) from SC to Alabama to Texas. It took so long to stop saying "y'all." But I have learned to say "pop" instead of "coke." Thanks, RC.

ciara said...

r.c.-i could come bk w a joke and say i'm from i da HO, but ain't never been to idaho lol always in san diego..first time was near the point loma area, the time before moving to vegas we lived right b/t mission bay and pacific beach...LOVED it there. oh, we did do one year in long beach, but we won't talk about THAT. lol

Dumdad said...

Crikey, you make me realise there is so much about America I have to learn. I'm not even scratching the (red dirt) surface.
All fascinating stuff to this Englishman on The Other Side Of Paris.

Happy in the Abyss said...

RIGHT! I had the spider in the mouth incident, but it was crickets in my long, curly blonde hair in Grand Prairie, Texas.

See, we are just so alike! Weird...


The Rotten Correspondent said...

pixel pi - boy, I bet you've got some stories to tell. That would be a fun blog post to read (hint :))In my family it was always co-cola, with peanuts in it if you were lucky!

ciara - are you still near the beach? are you northern or central CA?

dumdad - oh lord, if you only knew. There are those who think the south should be its own little country, and I'm not at all sure they're wrong!

HITA - spiders in the mouth are worse than crickets in the hair. because I said so.

Kaycie said...

RC, you're an observant girl. I moved to Topeka from Oklahoma once upon a time, got pregnant, had a baby, got pregnant again and moved. (I thought it was the water. Turns out I can get preggers in OK, too.) I've actually lived there twice. But I was born in the big city of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. An Okie girl, born and bred.

Laurie, red dirt is only pretty when you visit. ;)

Jo Beaufoix said...

RC, sounds amazing and complex and everything but I can't get past the spiders in the mouth bit.

I don't know if I would ever sleep again.


The Rotten Correspondent said...

kaycie, I noticed it because I don't live far from there and S-V was actually a hospital I considered working at. It really is a small world, isn't it?

jo - It was absolutely horrifying. I honestly do still have to cover my mouth up with a sheet before I can ever fall asleep. Ick.

my two cents said...

Such a great story!! I went back and found a handful of letters you wrote to me over the summers you and Sasquatch (sp??) went to visit in Alabama before Gumby was born--just as funny as your blog. You can tell a story!! In 1995 you could not buy bottled water or wheat bread at the Piggly Wiggly! Hey, what ever happened to naming Gumby, Mervaleen Fannie Dean?

second word: ucvija--a new college campus I haven't heard about??

The Rotten Correspondent said...

my two cents - You saved all my letters?? Oh my god, I want to have your children. Wow. I guess at the very least you can be a character witness that I'm really not making any of this stuff up!

And yeah, I had forgotten about Gumby's Alabama "name" ;)(Thank goodness!)

ciara said...

r.c.-i'm in no. cali now. i guess u would call this the central valley tho 20 mins away is east bay. i'm inb/t livermore and tracy. was in alameda county a year ago...now i'm in san joaquin.

Mya said...

I'm late to the party again, as usual. Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading this post - you really do tell a story well. I've spent a bit of time in the South - we did a road trip from Florida right across to LA once. I'll never forget the bridge over Lake Charles, Louisiana - I thought the car was about to take off it was so STEEP! I prefer the South to the West - the pace is slower and the manners are better!

Mya x

Blue Momma said...

This was a great post. I was born in Alabama and lived there until I was 29 and moved to Massachusetts (which is where I really should have been born!) and then to Wyandotte, MI.

We are now back in Alabama and the differences between here and where I've been seem clearer every day!

This place really is it's own little universe.