Celebrating Our Culture
Erma Bombeck meets Lewis Grizzard is one way to describe the whimsical style of Celia Rivenbark. She writes about home, local people, and how the world at large touches small town America.
Recently in her column "From the Belle Tower" for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, Rivenbark gave tips on how to look busy during a book signing. Sometimes there will be a long line waiting for a signed copy, to which Rivenbark smiles thinking there's a new southern humor queen -- "Sweet Potato Queen THIS!" Then the next day the customers are so few, that she finds herself painfully stretching out each part of the signing from the autographed copy sticker to the small talk.
A news reporter and columnist for over 20 years, Celia Rivenbark’s columns have been syndicated by the New York Times News Service and the Knight-Ridder-Tribune News Service. Her column “From the Belle Tower” appears Thursdays in the Myrtle Beach Sun News. Rivenbark has won national and state press association awards. She has represented the New York Times Company as a Visiting Media Fellow at Duke University.
What's the power behind "bless your heart?"
There's tremendous power in being able to say exactly what
you want to without risking someone thinking you're rude, or worse, a
Yankee. "Bless your heart" enables you to say the very nastiest
thing you want to, all with a smile on your face. "Bless her heart,
she's ugly as a mud fence daubed with tadpoles." Now that wasn't so
bad, was it?
What adjustments do actors make when they come to Dixie?
Good question. For a brief and dark time in Wilmington,
N.C., they stopped serving sweet iced tea at several of the better local
restaurants. Since this coincided with the influx of Yankee tourists and
famous Yankee actors, I know perzactly who to blame. Fortunately,
there was a great outcry, and sanity and sugar were restored within a few
months. Actors are from all over the place, naturally. Few were born and
raised in Hollywood. Generally, they've embraced local customs and seldom
complain as long as Buford and his posse don't pester 'em for autographs
while they're a-dipping their bread in that silly balsamic vinegarette
instead of slathering it in butter like God intended.
Why are Southern women so obsessed with appearance?
It's who we are. I have a friend who says she would go
without food before she'd give up her weekly manicures and I'm not sure I
disagree with her. Shallow and vain? Perhaps. But we smell better and none
of us has armpit hair. So there.
What's with the cooking terminology (smidgen, mite, etc.)?
It's NOT to confuse judges from the James Beard Awards,
although that's an awfully good guess. It's just more evidence of the
colorful Southern speech that's disappearing faster than devilled eggs at
the church picnic. We grew up with these expressions and it is in our very
marrow to know the perfect definition of "passel,"
"mite," "teense," etc. Its' God-given; you can't learn
What's with those womanless wedding fund-raisers?
Unkind folks (usually those who have had at least a
semester of abnormal psychology at some silly school or the other) often
speculate that rural men who dress as women for pageants and mock weddings
are enjoying it just a LITTLE too much. I don't agree. I think it takes a
man very much secure in his masculinity to wear a Nerf football bra and
Family Dollar Store high heels in front of hundreds of his friends and
Why does snow turn a Southerner into a fool?
Because, as I state in my book, we don't have enough
experience with it. Hurricanes are the devil we know. Snow? We don't have
anything to get the stuff off the road so we just hunker down and hope the
designated Family Bread Buyer made it to the store in time. Having enough
white bread on hand will see a Southerner through any catastrophic event,
whether it's snow or new neighbors from the North who begin every sentence
with, "Back home, we did it like this. . ."
Who's the most eccentric person you have interviewed?
I would have to say the man I interviewed one time in a
nursing home. I asked him how he liked to pass the time and he said
"I really love to beat my meat." I was young and tender and
didn't even know what he was talking about until the photographer who was
with me explained the phrase to me. At which point I (A) blushed and (B)
fainted. On second thought, the most eccentric person I ever interviewed
was probably the man in my hometown who killed a cat and drove the poor
dead thing all around town strapped to the hood of his truck
"offering it as a sacrifice." I believe he later became mayor.
What do you like most about writing essays on local people?
Seriously? Listening to the true locals, especially the old
ones, makes me feel like a kid again. When I was growing up in my hometown
(pop. 200) I would buy a baby Coke and a huge Jack's butter cookie and sit
and listen to 'em swap stories all afternoon in a store that smelled like
chewing tobacco and Ivory soap. It was heaven.
Will our culture fade as more non-natives move South or
will newcomers conform?
I've seen a little of both. We now say "you guys"
a lot which distresses me greatly, but, by the same token I've seen
Yankees move here and immediately ask for help having a pig pickin' which
they pronounce "pig picking." They crack me up.
Contact Celia Rivenbark at email@example.com
© 2001 Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved