by Paul Bowen
The answer is not readily susceptible and your notion of what being from the South means to you may be totally different from mine. And we can talk about that. After all, Lord knows we do like to talk down here. Preferably while sitting on a nice front porch with a cool glass of something in our hands. So here goes.
While being a Southerner is to be informed still by things not forgotten, it is likewise to have transcended the baser aspects of that common past. What the South has endured is completely unique in American history. And it is imprinted in the DNA of each of its children. Because of our respect for the past which is not even the past (to borrow from William Faulkner) we in the South respect our elders to an almost Oriental degree. For example, people in their twenties refer to me as “Mr. Paul” nowadays. And boy, do I hate it. Especially when it comes from young women. But I am a gentleman, or I try to be. I may indeed be the worst person in the world but I have good manners. Good manners count for a lot down here. As far as fetishes go, there are worse.
I don’t know if the South is “Christ haunted” to use Flannery O’Connor’s memorable phrase. I do know that folks that are so inclined take their religion as seriously as they take their football. And that’s pretty damned serious. Further, name me any other region of these United States where biblical references pepper the everyday speech of even the unbeliever? I dare you. Religion is not merely subsumed into Southern culture. You can argue that it is the culture.
Speaking of writers, has any other region cranked out as many great writers as the South? A partial lineup off the top of my head will prove the point nicely. I already dropped the names of Miss Flannery and Mr. Faulkner. Let’s add the following to the mix: Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, John Gould Fletcher, Shelby Foote, Robert Penn Warren, James Agee, one hit wonder John Kennedy Toole, Roy Blount Jr., Tennessee Williams, John Grisham and Lewis Grizzard even. I know that I left about 50 other worthies off this list. But I ain’t got all day.
In case you didn’t know, and if you are a man who lives down here, I am preaching to the choir. But otherwise, let me clue you in on something. The South historically has had the largest available sampling of the most goddamned indomitable and hard headed women in the known universe. T’was ever thus.
A couple of examples come to mind. Dispatches from back in the day revealed that the Union Army found the Rebs a lot easier to cope with than the women their men had to leave behind. Ladies dumped chamber pots on Union officers from above in New Orleans. When U.S. Grant hurled ordinance at them in Vicksburg, the women there scurried their families underground.
The women in Richmond incited a bread riot. Which should have given Jefferson Davis a clue about just how great things were going. Here in Little Rock, the women became active in the desegregation of our public schools for pretty much no other reason than it was too important to be left up to the men. No kidding. They actually said that. Turns out that the women were right. As usual. Down here, when it comes to the women getting riled up about something, you ought to bet the over. And get out of their way.
As far as politics go, well, we have turned out some humdingers. I give you Jefferson Davis, the Longs, “Hummin” Talmadge, Ross Barnett, Edwin Edwards, John Edwards, Lester Maddox, Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, and Arkansas’ own Wilbur D. Mills and Orville Faubus.
But the South also produced J. William Fulbright, Dale Bumpers, Jimmy Carter and one William Jefferson Clinton. Don’t know if we can call it a wash just yet. History’s immortal scroll is still being written upon.
You can’t talk about the South without talking about FOOTBALL. LSU and Alabama have taken turns being NCAA champions the last couple of years. The SEC is absolutely murderous. It is not for nothing that Athens, Georgia is described as “a drinking town with a football problem”. And Athens is OK with that.
Vanderbilt went to a bowl game this year. Vanderbilt! So, don’t even try to bring the Big Ten into the discussion. Or, better yet, do try. It would amuse us down here. They are proud of Northwestern? I love Northwestern. But the Commodores would beat them by 20. In Evanston. Or in any parking lot of the Wildcat’s choosing. Hotty Toddy God Almighty! And all of that.
The South is whispered stories on courthouse lawns over which countless statues of Confederate soldiers stand silent watch. The South is bourbon in the Grove before an Ole Miss home game. It is my grandmother Johnny Esther Bivens sending me a box of her fried pies when I was at law school at Tulane. It is a revival at an AME church. It is supper on the ground. It is cane fishing on the bank. It is a place that sent its children to fight our nation’s shooting wars. It is Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King. It is gathering by the river. It is Wilma Rudolph. It is Robert Johnson selling his soul for the blues. It is high school football on Friday night. It is Brooks Robinson and Willis Reed. It is Dolly Parton and William Grant Still. It is REM and the Little Richard.
It is mostly Elvis.
It is Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis and Birmingham. It is Dry Prong, Hope, D’Lo, Bossier, Bell Buckle, and Appomattox.
It is a mile in the air. It is under water. It is tornadoes, hurricanes and hellish summers.
The South is all of these things and more. But mostly, it is you and me, in all the fullness and diversity of whatever that means. It is here that I have made my own little stand. And it is here that I hope to draw the last bit of air lent to me by God when my time is at hand.
Enough of all that. We do tend to go on and on down here. It is part of an oral tradition that the children of Israel would envy. Anyway, my opinions aren’t any better than yours. And I invite you to share them with us down here at Bourbon and Boots any time the spirit leads or whenever you otherwise have the notion.
Y’all come see us whenever you can. There’s always a place at the table.
#25 Jim Bouton
“You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
#24 Pete Rose
“I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.”
#23 Bill “Spaceman” Lee
“Baseball’s a very simple game. All you have to do is sit on your butt, spit tobacco, and nod at the stupid things your manager says.”
#22 Joe Schultz
“Throw him low smoke and we’ll go pound some Budweiser.” — the Seattle Pilots manager’s one-size-fits-all advice to his pitchers, often cited in Jim Bouton’s classic book, Ball Four.
#21 Dizzy Dean
“The good Lord was good to me. He gave me a strong body, a good right arm and a weak mind.”
#20 Joe Garagiola
“I went through baseball as a player to be named later.”
#19 Bob Uecker
“The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and then pick it up.”
“I signed with the Milwaukee Braves for three thousand dollars. That bothered my dad at the time because he didn’t have that kind of dough. But he eventually scraped it up.”
#18 Vin Scully
“Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day…Aren’t we all?”
#17 Jerry Coleman
“Winfield goes back to the wall, he hits his head on the wall and it rolls off! It’s rolling all the way back to second base. This is a terrible thing for the Padres.”
#16 Mickey Rivers
“My goals are to hit .300, score 100 runs, and stay injury-prone.”
“We’ll do all right if we can capitalize on our mistakes.”
#15 Ralph Kiner
“Cadillacs are down at the end of the bat.” — The Pirates’ slugger on why he didn’t choke up.
“If Casey Stengel were alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave.”
#14 Joe DiMaggio
“I’d like to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee.”
#13 George Steinbrenner
“I won’t be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all.”— upon purchasing the Yankees in 1973. (He proceeded to become the most meddlesome owner in the history of sports.)
“Owning the Yankees is like owning the Mona Lisa.”
#12 John McMullen (former Yankees co-owner)
“There is nothing so limited as being a limited partner of George Steinbrenner.”
#11 Graig Nettles
“When I was a little boy I wanted to be a baseball player and join the circus. With the Yankees, I’ve accomplished both.”
#10 Larry Lucchino (Red Sox president)
“The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America.” — on the Yankees’ signing of Cuban free agent pitcher Jose Contreras.
#9 Reggie Jackson
“I’m the straw that stirs the drink.”
“The only reason I don’t like playing in the World Series is I can’t watch myself play.”
#8 Tug McGraw
“You gotta believe!”
#7 Satchel Paige
“Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.”
“My pitching philosophy is simple - keep the ball way from the bat.”
#6 Casey Stengel
“Can’t anybody here play this game?” — to his lovably awful 1962 Mets, who went 40-120.
“Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa”
#5 Wee Willie Keeler
“I keep my eyes clear and I hit ‘em where they ain’t.”
#4 Leo Durocher
“Nice guys finish last.”
#3 Anonymous young fan
“Say it ain’t so, Joe.”— to Chicago outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was accused of helping the “Black Sox” throw the 1919 World Series.
#2 Ernie Banks
“It’s a great day for a ballgame. Let’s play two!”
#1 Yogi Berra
“It ain’t over `til it’s over.”
The beloved Hall of Famer deserves his own gallery, but we’ll also give honorable mention to:
“Ninety percent of this game is half mental”
“If people don’t want to come out the ballpark, how are you going to stop them?”