Southern Scribe
       our culture of storytelling

 

Celebrating Our Culture   

 

 
Pecan Trees and Secret Family Recipes       
By Lea J. Moore

                                                          



Upon moving my daughters and myself from the Oregon Coast to the depths of the South, I swore to my family and friends that I would never let "y'all" enter into my ever
y day vocabulary. Nearly a year later, not only have I added that particular contraction, but also "fixin'" and a few other "in" words indigenous to the Deep South.

I have learned much in the past year: How to cook collard greens, black-eyed p
eas and pork neck bones. In order for cured meats and salt pork to make foods taste GOOD, they have to be boiled and rinsed at least twice before they can be properly used. Bags of shelled, raw Spanish peanuts (for my family famous peanut brittle) are impossible to find, and it takes forever to shell raw peanuts by hand.

Pecan trees grow in almost every yard. Truck farmers can be seen all over the city, carrying their wares down the residential streets, delivering them to the front doors of housewives. Cornbread is a staple food - and you have to leave out the sugar. Sweet potato pie harder to make than pumpkin and recipes for it are nearly non-existent. The best recipes, passed down from generation to generation, are heavily guarded secrets. Hot boiled peanuts are sold - instead of espressos - at the neighborhood markets. I love the South and its traditions, its connection to the good things of the past. I am often awestruck by the friendliness of the strangers I meet. The smiles of those I meet leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

I have finally mastered the art of using Ma'am and Sir in normal conversation. As a Yankees living among the native Southern People, it has been a difficult year for my daughters and me.

Although I am in the process, I may never complete the transformation from Yankee to Southerner to the satisfaction of those around me. I will always carry many of my northern characteristics (like forgetting to put the bacon in my green beans). The one "flaw" in my personality that fits neither in the North or the South is my love for and acceptance of all people I come in contact with, regardless of the color of their skin, their gender, their creed, or the status of the bank accounts and living quarters. That has been the cause of much gossip wherever I have made my home. I have raised my children to be and feel the same way.

Not knowing the layout, or the level of segregation present when I moved to this area, I rented a home in what could be considered one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. We were the only Caucasian family for blocks around. Finding ourselves in this position has been neither cause for alarm, nor reason to move. Instead, it has presented us with an unusual opportunity to live the beliefs that we profess. We love people - all people. We believe in celebrating the differences of our cultures and learning from them, not in trying to make everyone else be just like us. We stand on our conviction that each and every person on earth should be able to have the advantages every other person has. We should be able to live, work, eat, play, laugh, cry and exist side-by-side, in harmony with one another.

I see more racial segregation here than I have ever known to exist. Our town is divided. East Side, West side, North Side, Fort Hill, Bloomfield, Lake Wildwood, northeast, Unionville, Shurlington, Cross Keys - black, white, Asian. People stay in "their own" neighborhoods. Fear and oppression keeps them there.

I have often heard of people being stopped by police officers - on suspicion of drug interactions - just because they visited friends in neighborhoods not of their own color. They were on the wrong side of town at the wrong time of the day. Even more prevalent is the arrest and conviction of black men and women for being in the wrong place when a crime has been committed. They are black and out of the accepted territory, therefore they must be the one who stole, murdered or burglarized.

Spring 1997, my friend lost a civil suit. He was suing for only enough to cover the damages caused to his car when a woman ran a stop sign and hit him, broadside. The citation she received for failure to yield clearly acknowledged that she was at fault. Yet, when presenting her case to the jury, the defense attorney overcame every possible reason for her to pay for the damage she caused. My friend lost his suit because he wants to become a pilot and he is black. The defense argued that he was trying to get the money to pay for his flight school tuition and would not use it for the purpose intended. The jury agreed

Where and how does integration begin in a city so addicted to its hatred that if I mention that I live in the Fort Hill area I receive a cold look and the tone of voice changes? (It is assumed that I must be fairly stupid, a woman with no moral values and/or a drug addict or alcoholic.)

It begins with me.

It begins with you.

I live. I go to work. I pay my bills. I hang my wash out in my back yard. I mow the lawn. I wave to passersby. I have coffee with my neighbors. I answer my door with a smile. I don't walk fearfully, but confidently down the sidewalk.

And I don't wave a flag that says, "Hey! Look at me! I'm great because I live in a black neighborhood."

I live, and work and eat and sleep - like everyone else in the world.

I try to perfect that sweet potato pie.
 

Lea J. Moore has been writing for 27 years.  She is a Contributing Editor for Suite 101.com and is owner of Type As You Talk and Career Pro Plus.  Lea is the mother of three teenagers and is married to a gentle and supportive man who thinks her writing is the most wonderful in the world.

2001 Lea J. Moore, All Rights Reserved