The Nation’s Redheaded StepChild?

I live and write in a 55-and-over retirement community in Cornelius, NC. Recently, I was invited to join a discussion group with other community neighbors. I am pretty sure that I am the token conservative! That’s just fine with me, because that is a role, as a retired professor, I am intimately familiar with. 

I also am the token Southerner! Imagine that. In Cornelius, North Carolina. Seems we are being overrun by Yankees, who have moved south to be with their grandchildren. Actually, they are indentured servants of their children so they can visit the grandkids. But … that is a story for another day.

Last week I was asked to talk to the discussion group about what it meant to be a Southerner and the effects of the Civil War on the South 150 years after the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.  I chose to title my discussion as “THE SOUTH – The nation’s redheaded stepchild?”  To illustrate my title, I taught a little lesson on misconceptions.  After all, I am still a schoolteacher down deep.

We laughed over some old Southern expressions – foreign to these Yankees – like Well bless your heart which any Southerner knows, really means – F-You! And is spoken in as polite a voice as possible and often preceded by the equally profane, Well, I’ll be. Let me illustrate with a small story.

Rich-Retired-Yankee, Doris says to her newly acquired Southern neighbor, “Lauraleigh, I am just so disappointed in my new Mercedes convertible. I had to take white because they did not have it in yellow.” 

To which Lauraleigh replies, “Well, I’ll be. Bless your heart, Doris.”  Right there, you have the famous DoubleF-You! 

Of course, that little group of Yankees just laughed out loud, and to myself, I said, “Well, I’ll be!” Enough fun – now back to the serious stuff. After that little activity, I asked the group to take the following alphabetically listed regions of the country, far-west, mid-west, northeast, northwest, south, and west, and rearrange them in order of their most favorable to least favorable based only on their personal impressions.

When I asked the group how many had listed the South last, all but one person raised their hands. To which I responded, “I rest my case.”

I don’t know if my lesson caused attendees to reflect on their prejudices toward the South – what I call the great open wound left by the Civil War – but, I sure felt better. 

I spent most of the three years writing my novel, Angry Heavens, thinking about the effects of the Civil War on the South.  And I  concluded that few people outside of Southerners – and that includes Southerners of all races – understand how it feels to be looked at as redheaded stepchildren. Even now. A century and a half later. 

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