Delusions of Beulah

by Jas Faulkner 

paula paula paula

writer’s note: I had planned this really great photo essay about bookstore dogs and cats.  Then I started to upload my pictures and my CF card failed. While I was at Geek Squad trying to get my pictures, the nice young man who corrects all of my technical SNAFUS asked me if I’d heard about Paula Deen.   I’m rather fond of this kid, as he hails from Detroit and we have a favorite hockey team in common, so  I let it slide that he would think I cared one whit about the doings of La Deen.  

I went back home to find a stack of galleys waiting for me.  On the top of the pile was a new account of the American Civil War as told by a Dominionist historian.  Doing a little research, I found that he’s part of a group of people who envision a rather scrubbed version of  mid-Nineteenth Century America. He, and many people like him (and like our Paula Deen) find 2013 lacking and wish to go back to a simpler time, a time when there was little pushback at the social hierarchy, a time when they could be gentlepeople of refinement and leisure.

It’s a pretty picture of people dressed in beautiful clothing, moving around in sumptuous surroundings, innocent of anything outside of their angelic touch on the life around them.  Butter would never melt on the tongue of such a soul.

Of course this is not true.

Look to the far margins of those pictures of genteel plantation life and you’ll see whose lives are touched.  That Orwellian iron fist in a velvet glove was slamming into the uniformed help who stood by, expressing nothing more than pleasure at serving to Lord and Lady of the house.  It was counting every scrap of food and deciding (even well into the Twentieth Century) how much The Help could count on “totin'” home to feel their own families after spending long hours feeding the folks at the house.

This brings me back to Paula Deen.  Oh, Paula.   Paula, Paula, Paula…Is there any substance beyond the put-on accent, overabundance of spray tan, bleached teeth and hair and paucity of any sense for anything beyond raking in the mammon?  It is people like Paula Deen who make the literati feel justified in the beating Southerners, especially Southern women, get in American arts and letters.

Am I appalled by her racism?  Does her abuse of women in her employ anger me?  Absolutely.  There is something else that prompts so much ire from this Southern writer, a visceral disappointment that yet another person from my part of the US has lived down to expectations.

When dealing with people from outside of my part of the US, I find the discovery of my provenance more often than not leads to some tacit assumptions about my character, almost all of them negative.  I know this did not come out of a vacuum.  The fact that people think and act like everything to do with the south begins and ends with the 1860s adds a soupcon of “Shut up!  You’re not helping” to the discourse.

This will be the third day I have started this essay, gotten myself all worked up, walked away and then came back to try to say what I want to say in a way that will not have my Mother and the shade of my Father getting the vapors and thanking The Good Lord I adopted a pen name. The fact is, people who cannot let go of that small segment of who and what we are down here represent an ugly side of our history and culture. We are so much more than that.

Instead of continuing to mitigate the ulginess, I will steal an idea from a now-defunct cable station, Turner South, and show you a video patchwork of my home: stereotypes, saints, sinners, bliss, hell, and as much as I can squeeze in between:

This is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and this is my South:

and from Turner South, this is my South:

My South is heat and humidity.  My South is the food, the music, the politics for better or worse.  It is Bill Moyers and William Faulkner and Eudora Welty and Zora Neale Hurston and Edward Albee and Grantland Rice. It is football.  It is ambient Jesus.  It is the complex crazy quilt of Christianity, Judaism, and every other ism that comes here to live, love and create a life. It is the desert gothic of Larry McMurtry and the dulcet swing of Bob Wills.  It is Lyle Lovett and Amy Grant. My South is the line of Corvettes that burn up I-65. My south is the rebirth of Beale Street. It is the Hunstville Space Center and Cape Canaveral and Johnson Space Center.  My South can be found in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” It is Adelicia Acklen haunting Belmont’s campus and Elizabeth Mynders wandering the halls of the building that bears her name at The University of Memphis. It is the fan nation that bleeds orange and white in Tennessee and still follows Payton Manning’s every move. It is the Bama faithful who will tell you the spirit of The Bear never left Birmingham. My South is museums and festivals and artists and writers who ignore the grim statistics and carve out careers down here. My South is the natural beauty of the place and those who fight to preserve it. My South is Grinder’s Switch and Copperhead Road, both of which I have visited.

To borrow Turner’s ad tag:

My name is Jas Faulkner and this is my South.

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