The Transylvania Times -

The Journey Inward: Reminiscing About My Southern Background


May 23, 2019

By Dr. John Campbell

My wife says that I am a connoisseur of “Cracker Barrel” restaurants. “Is there a Cracker Barrel you haven’t tried?” she asks.

The food is not like home-made, but their menu is southern.

Mind you, I have eaten at some of the finest restaurants in Paris. If given the choice though between escargot and country ham, I will choose the latter, hands down. Don’t mind the salt. Grits and red-eye gravy, what a combo. Throw in the biscuits and scrambled eggs and you have a meal fit for a good ole’ southern boy.

Beside breakfast fare, a staple at my boyhood home was a cake of cornbread, usually placed on the kitchen counter. Cornbread went with just about everything - fried okra, pinto beans, turnip greens, black eye peas, sweet potatoes. That’s it.

Oh, there is more nostalgia, not just about country cooking. It started a few Sundays ago while listening to a performance at the “Flat Rock Theatre.” The show featured two singers; Jason Petty sang the songs of Hank Williams and Katie Deal the songs of Patsy Cline. Sounded just like Hank, even his yodeling. Sounded just like Patsy, even her melodious voice.

Talking with friends about “Fireball” Roberts, Chevys versus Fords at Duckworth’s garage, we heard “I’m So Lonesome I could Cry “or “I Fall to Pieces” playing on the garage radio. That is classical music.

We heard about their untimely deaths, Hank at age 29 and Patsy at age 30. Hank suffered from alcoholism and drug overdose. Hank just drank himself to death. Patsy died in a plane crash just 90 miles from home.

Their untimely deaths remind me there is a dark side to southern culture. Alcoholism is one. Poverty, regressive politics and racism are other sides.

OK. I grant that. But as a son of the South my self-indulgent romanticism leads me to offer some more quintessential southern memories: soft breezes, front porch rocking chairs, vine-picked watermelons and hand cranked home-churned ice-cream.

Also, in the scorching hot Piedmont summers, I have picked cotton and primed tobacco; sweat running down my face.

My family were small truck farmers; they raised hogs and chickens for family use and tomatoes for market. I remember getting off the school bus and seeing my stepfather plowing furrows behind Tom, our swayed back mule.

Active in Future Farmers of America, my classmates choose me to be president. I was proud of the FFA blue jacket with my name embroidered on the front. Thought I was important.

My theology was formed in southern churches; Presbyterian and Baptist influences especially. Remember “Jesus Fans.” McEwen Funeral Home provided those. The fans had a picture of Jesus tending sheep.

In summers the church windows were opened. I never forget the time a bird flew into a window causing a flourish of activity. It seemed to fit the sermon of the day, as I recall.

The Bible contained no paradox. It was a book of rules handed down by people who were in conversation with God. We sang “The Royal Telephone,” the direct line to God.

Due to my successful recitation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, I received a New Testament from Belk Department store and a one-dollar bill. Much to my chagrin, I had to stand before beaming grown-ups to receive my gift.

There were three pillars to my faith. One, God created the heavens and earth. Two, God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son. Three, if you believed in Jesus, you were saved and eligible to go to heaven and live with God eternally.

A typical refrain from the preacher was “Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior?” I always felt guilty because I was daydreaming about Kay, my childhood sweetheart. She was real pretty. I was thinking more about her than the message.

I was “born again” one Sunday. Billy Graham was on the TV. He invited me to put my hand on the television. People could be saved that way. After the fourth verse of “How Great Thou Are,” I did. I still thought of Kay on Sundays but felt better.

Humor aside, I have never forgotten. There is something sacred, memorable, even precious about my foundation in southern churches. Although I have moved away from earlier beliefs, that foundation is still alive.

So, I am proud of my southern background. I still believe that God so loves the world and that Jesus is my lord.

(Dr. John Campbell is a psychotherapist and clergyperson living in Brevard)


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