The South

When I was 7, my mother pulled me out of school and took me to the Uptown Theater to see Gone With the Wind. This was the first time I was introduced to the idea of the American Civil War, which was basically a 1930s Southern Sympathy Soap Opera set on a Grand Plantation in the Old South. For budding Civil War historians, this was usually where it all began and usually branched out from there.

I wasn’t all that invested in the movie until I saw this one shocking scene and then I was hooked. Not on the movie, but on the American Civil War. I had so many questions and the movie answered not a single one.

The Confederate Wounded in Atlanta
Union Major General William T. Sherman’s handiwork.

Over the years, I’d developed a deep fondness for Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, the very same Sherman who captured Atlanta, and nearly torched it to the ground on his rampage toward the sea. There’s a goddamned tank named after him.

When the Ken Burns Civil War Series came along, I of course binge watched the entire thing in real time, and once again, I still had questions. As it turned out, Ken Burns and Shelby Foote answered not a single one.

On a tainted whim, this red-blooded blue-state Yankee Northerner decided the only way any questions would be answered was to up and move to the land of the forbidden South.

I ended up in Nashville, Tennessee and lived by myself in East Nashville near Shelby Park for 13 months. To say it was a culture shock would be an understatement. For anyone to just up and leave the cool rainy gray Pacific Northwest and move to “the South” was like landing in a totally completely different country. I am deadly serious.

I arrived in July when the Kudzu was growing everywhere. Even in my bathroom, it was coming through the wall.

My first week in my little house on Lillian Street, I pulled away my bedcovers and lounging there in my bed was a cockroach. It was over 5 inches long and it didn’t even flinch. It seemed intelligent and I felt it was mocking me. It jumped out of bed and ran under the stove. It was too big to kill, and I eventually caught him under glass and carried him out to the backyard. When I flung him as far as I could, I actually heard him land, like it was a small animal.

The first time I went into the basement and turned on the light, I looked around and didn’t notice anything unusual. And then I saw it. It was a Wolf Spider and was one of the biggest spiders I had ever seen in my life.

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And then after my eyes focused, I noticed that the walls were on undulating, and it was then I realized all of the walls were literally covered with wolf spiders. This unfortunately was also where the washer and dryer was located.

The grocery store checkout ladies were exceedingly friendly and would call me “Hon” while ringing up my groceries with cigarettes dangling from their lips. They all looked like they were Country Western singers. One day while I was walking home from the store, I stopped at a yard sale where an old woman was selling handmade quilts. She sold me a quilt for $30. She said she hand sewed it herself, and the fabric was cut from all the costumes she wore back when she sang onstage at the Grand Ol’ Opry. I still have that quilt, but sadly, I forgot her name.

I drank delicious boiled custard made from the hands of a woman who was in her 80s or 90s. She used an old pre-Civil War Tennessee family Southern recipe that had been handed down from one generation to the next. I felt like I was drinking Old Southern history.

Black & white kids chased fireflies up and down my street and full grown dogs crawled out of second story windows and run around on the roof tops of their owners houses. Do Northern Dogs do this? The Confederate flags in my neighborhood looked like festering old war wounds against the pink sunset of the Southern sky.

I saw tornadoes form directly over my house and had to decide to take shelter with my two cats—Grunt and Lint—in either my tiny bathtub or down in the basement with the wolf spiders. And the tub it was.

To this day, I have never heard wind like that, not before or since. Tree limbs were snapping off sounding like gun retorts while a family of opossums were screaming in the tree next to my window. I was told this was normal.

I worked as a letterpress operator at Hatch Show Print on Lower Broad and pretty much kept my opinions to myself. One day while I was running the letterpress, a woman with a blonde beehive wearing a gold lame pantsuit and white cowboy boots came walking in and stood right in front of me.

Without looking at me, she got down on her knees and bowed her head, closed her eyes and for a long moment, she stayed in that position. When she was done, she got up and without saying a word, she left. Was it a prayer, or was it a curse?

Sometime during the Autumn months, a friend took me to the Bell Cove in Hendersonville near Nashville to watch Bill Monroe play. It was 100% authentic. It felt very Depression era, and I felt that at any moment the Carter Family would get up on that stage and start to play.

And then I saw Bill Monroe sitting at a table in the back in the dark, his white hat perched next to the apple pie and ice cream he was eating. He wore white mutton chops and pinned to the front of his crisp white suit jacket was a huge pin that spelled out the word JESUS in diamonds. Anyone could see that diamond pin a mile away.

I asked him for his autograph, he smiled and asked me where was I from? I said Nashville, and then he didn’t smile and asked again, where was I from? I said Seattle, Washington. He honked and laughed, “Warshington! A damned Yankee!”

Furiously blushing, I got my autograph, and went back to my seat. When it was time for Bill Monroe to perform. he made it a point to pass by the table I was sitting at and stopped. With his crotch directly in front of my face, he put both hands in my hair and commented about how he would just love to brush my long hair all night long.

He planted a big wet sloppy kiss on the top of my forehead, turned and as he walked away toward the stage, the table I was sitting at erupted in approving cheers. The moment Bill Monroe got up on that stage, It was like he dropped 30 years, he was lit. He played so hard I thought his mandolin was going to burst in flames. He died less than a year later.

O Death by Dr. Ralph Stanley

 
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