The South! Ah, the South! I grew up in West Virginia, which is only marginally in the South. Still, I can claim the South. In addition to Union ancestors, I had Confederate ancestors. But more to the point, I have lived in South Carolina these past 14 years. And so, I have come to love it. In many real ways, South Carolina is the heart of the South; the home country; the place where the South first defined itself as a unique entity.
I could go on and on about the South, from the comfort of living near other people who love fried chicken livers, to the joy of having sweet iced tea available in more places than water. I love the way religion and daily life are not separate, unrelated ideas, but rather two sides of the same beautiful coin.
I also love the people I see in the emergency department. They can be maddening, ridiculous, pathetic and unreasonable. Yet, they can be caring, beautiful, charming, unimaginably strong and entirely devoted. (to the extent of actually hiding their convict/escapee cousins).
They can make you want to smother them with a pillow at the same time as you’d be happy to join them in a fight over matters of honor; or a battle on some long ago field covered with blue and gray. I guess, after a while, they’re like family; the family you know will cause a scene at Thanksgiving, but you’d never consider not inviting over–it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them!
Another wonderful thing in the South is the language. It’s poetry, absolute poetry! Not only because it is sometimes melodic, but because it is sometimes so honest, so simple, so elegantly utilitarian. Having grown up in Appalachia, I love the sounds of old Elizabethan English that remain in the South. We can tell someone that a thing is yonder, and they comprehend. We can say ‘are you kin to the Salem Alexanders?’ And everyone knows what kin means. A lovely young woman can swoon, have the vapors, have a fit, have a spell or tell me, with long lashes fluttering, ‘I like ta’ passed out!’ It speaks to me like an exotic language that few understand. Furthermore, ‘ya’ll’ is as surely a word as any in the language.
We describe things, especially directions, in a wonderful way. Case in point, from our EMS dispatch. Directions to caller, having abdominal pain, dizziness, heart racing and difficulty breathing. ‘Double-wide beside pasture with goats and gray and burgundy truck in front yard.’ You can almost see the blocks under the wheels. You can almost envision the young woman in the yard in jeans, holding a baby’s hand and waving the paramedics over to park next to the dog-pen.
EMS was once dispatched to ‘a trailer on Hillbilly Lane.’
There’s also a kind of ancient Anglo-Saxon sorrow in the fatalism of our language here. ‘We almost lost him last year.’ Not ‘he almost died.’ I may ask a man how he is, to which he might respond ‘well, above the grass, and that’s good considering the alternative.’
It was that quality of the South that I saw, in all it’s pain and wonder, this past weekend. A man in his thirties had wrecked his car. He was ‘drunk as Cooter Brown.’ He moaned and cried, not so much because he had broken his fool neck (another Southernism), but because he mourned his brother, killed in a motorcycle crash last week.
His mother, tired but standing tall, fresh from her storm-swell of grief, looked at me with enormous strength, shook my hand, and said ‘Well, doctor, I put one in the ground last week, and when I drove past this one’s car, I thought it was happening all over again.’
He’ll be fine. I guess she will be too. She’s made of some sturdy stuff. The South is amazing, in word and deed. And ya’ll can believe it!