Dear Yankee Girl with Preconceived Notions of the South
Nonfiction by Sarah Heady
Dear Yankee Girl with Preconceived Notions of the South:
Enclosed please find some helpful hints that I (with the assistance of my obliging neighbors Davidson, Rutherford and Coffee) have compiled for your enlightenment. Feel free to pass them along to any carpetbagging friends who might follow in your footsteps.
Love and fried biscuits,
Bedford County, Tennessee
P.S. It’s called “The War of Northern Aggression.”
- There are ten ways to order hash browns at Waffle House: Scattered, Smothered, Covered, Chunked, Diced, Peppered, Capped, Topped, Country and All The Way. I’m telling you right now you won’t like Capped, because even though you love mushrooms, you’d rather die than eat canned ones. I suggest sticking to Scattered. Also, the orange juice at Waffle House comes from a machine and tastes vaguely of dish soap. That’s not necessarily a negative. Finally, if you see the young gentleman at the counter whose name badge reads “Hi My Name is Cain,” please don’t ask him why anybody would name their son Cain, because isn’t he a bad guy in the Bible? We all know your only Bible knowledge comes from art history lectures and your ex-Catholic boyfriend, and we don’t hold truck with that sort of thing.
- Speaking of trucks, try not to be so disdainful of people who own pickups for no apparent reason. Odds are they do have a piece of land someplace where the truck gets put to good use, and besides, you know you’re going to need help with a bookshelf some day. However, you are totally within your rights to be offended when someone at the Chili’s asks if “that itty bitty Corolla” in the parking lot is yours, since it’s technically a midsize sedan.
- To “put something up” means to put it away, not to physically place it at a higher altitude, so don’t go craning your neck looking for shelves that aren’t there.
- A conversation with a neighbor can last for what feels like (and may actually be) twenty minutes, at the end of which you will have absolutely no idea what information has been exchanged (see “The Hammer-Lending Incident,” in a forthcoming missal). If confronted with this scenario, try to take backwards baby steps, creeping imperceptibly toward your own house, waving your arm in semicircles with smaller and smaller radii as you complete a seamless transition to whatever task you were performing when the neighbor, to your increasing East Coast horror and denial, initially approached you.
- Most folks here do not wake up at noon, so eating breakfast on the porch at 1:30 pm is a sure outward manifestation of the sin in which you are living. Try eating your toast and jam as a sandwich instead of open-faced and drinking your coffee from a tall plastic cup.
- An appropriate way to dispose of the three dozen copies of the Rutherford Reader, our local anti-Islamo-fascist rag, which you stole from out front of the meat-and-three is to recycle them at the town dump—but only if you acknowledge in your heart that Bedford County does not have a real recycling program, and the separate dumpster for newspaper is a prop to appease Yankees and professors from the local prep school.
- Don’t be surprised or saddened if friends you took to be pretty much secular give their toddler a “My First Bible” coloring book. Most people find Bible stories to contain good moral lessons and don’t see harm in passing that on to their kids. They don’t think it will turn them into Jeezo-Zombies; they should know, since they were raised the same way (and you should know, knowing them).
- If someone has you over to dinner, etiquette says that in order to avoid a scandalous fallout, you must reciprocate within some precise timeframe that is impossible to determine but generally understood and accepted by everyone in town except you. Don’t forget, when you do finally get around to hosting, to put up the pipe and the baby food jar of weed that’s been sitting on the kitchen counter for a week. Most people have lives and children and some modicum of adulthood, and you wouldn’t want to make your house of cards so apparent. Also, opening three bottles of wine at your dinner for four is probably sending the wrong message.
- When your midsize sedan spins out on a greasy, just-rained-on road and you run directly over someone’s mailbox, the car coming to rest with its nose facing the opposite direction you were headed, wait for someone to come out of the house, then hand them the note you’ve written with your contact information and offer to pay for the damages. Graciously accept their help in putting on a spare and do not feel guilty for the fact that they never send you a bill, even after revealing that this is the third time someone’s run over their mailbox in six months. That’s what you get for living at a bend in the road, they’d said.
- Going back to this last point: if someone offers to do you a favor, just let them. Do not carry their shockingly nice behavior around like an albatross for months afterward. Accept this as actual Southern hospitality, and move on.
- Learn to wave back at people in cars—or maybe even beat them to the wave—whether you are driving or walking or sitting on the porch. Try to pay attention in the 25 mph zones heading out of town, as these are the most likely places a farmer will do the quick lift of the palm that means “good morning/afternoon/evening/merely checking to make sure you’re one of us.”
- Take it as a sign that it’s unsafe to bike around here when someone yells something indecipherable at you through a bullhorn mounted to the roof of his Ford F-150 as you try desperately to climb the last hill before Fairfield Pike.
- It’s possible to listen to someone without sanctioning their viewpoint. Your bleeding heart activism can wait. For example, it’s best to smile and nod when the guy at the junk store tells you that America started going downhill when they took prayer out of the schools. Same goes for the yard sale lady who goes on about how Bedford County is spending too much money on teaching English to “Spanish” children and not enough on her autistic son. Allow the son to place a Garbage Pail Kids keychain in your hand, then give his mom a quarter and walk on down the hill.
- Finally, don’t be surprised when a Dollar General goes up seemingly overnight—parking lot and all—right off the Buchanan Road exit. Give in to the fact that you will enjoy the convenience of the store more than a few times, while concurrently decrying the concept of ex-farmland commercial development. Learn to live a way you never thought you would. Learn to live in paradox and discomfort, then purchase the Seinfeld Season 4 DVD boxed set for $6 on the way home from work, thus completing the true Yankee circle of life.
© Sarah Heady (text and photo)
[This piece was selected by John Haggerty]
Sarah Heady is the author of Niagara Transnational (Fourteen Hills, 2013), winner of the 2013 Michael Rubin Book Award, and Tatted Insertion (San Francisco State University, 2014), with artist Leah Virsik. Her manuscript “Comfort” was a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Prize for Poetry and a semifinalist in the 2016 Omnidawn Open. Sarah is currently writing the libretto for UNFINISHED: An Opera About Change, in collaboration with new music composer Joshua Groffman, who has previously adapted her texts for vocal and electroacoustic works. A native of New York’s Hudson Valley, Sarah recently completed her MFA at San Francisco State. She works as a grant writer and co-edits Drop Leaf Press, a small women-run poetry outfit. More at sarahheady.com.