Robert St. John, executive chef and owner of the Purple Parrot Cafe, Crescent City Grill and Mahogany Bar of Hattiesburg, Miss. recalls a visit to Virginia. While hanging out with his cousin and some friends, the discussion turned to popular movies of the day.
When he put in his two cents on the social relevance of the movie Billy Jack, one of the boys asked, in all seriousness, "Do you guys have movies down there?" To which he replied, "Yep, ... and we wear shoes too."
Recently he and his wife were attending a food and wine seminar in Aspen, Colo. They were seated with two couples from Las Vegas. One of the ladies was amused and rude, when he described his restaurant as a fine restaurant. "Mississippi doesn't have fine restaurants!" she stated and nudged her companion.
As he contemplated an answer, he was hit with a blinding jolt of enlightenment. He says in complete and absolute clarity it dawned on him that his South, is the best kept secret in the country. Why try to win this woman over? She might move to his South.
He is always amazed by Hollywood's interpretation of the South. He realized that we are still, on occasion, depicted as a collective group of sweaty, stupid, racist and backward-minded rednecks. "The South of the movies and TV, the Hollywood South, is not my South," he observed. Then he described his South.
My South is full of honest, hardworking people. My South is the birthplace of blues, jazz, and rock 'n roll. It has banjo pickers and fiddle players, but it also has B. B. King, Muddy Waters, the Allman Brothers, Emmylou Harris and Elvis.
My South is hot and it smells of newly mowed grass. My South was creek swimming, cane pole fishing and bird hunting. In my South, football and NASCAR reign supreme. My South is the home of the most beautiful women on the planet.
My South is full of fig preserves, cornbread, butter beans, fried chicken, grits and catfish. In my South we don't eat fois gras, caviar and truffles. In my South, grandmothers cook a big lunch every Sunday. In my South, family matters deeply.
My South is boiled shrimp, blackberry cobbler, homemade ice cream, banana pudding and coconut cream pies. In my South people put peanuts in bottles of coke, and hot sauce on almost everything. In my South the tea is iced and almost as sweet as the women. My South has air-conditioning.
My South is camellias, azaleas, wisteria and hydrangeas. In my South, the person who has to sit on the back of the bus is the last person that got on the bus. In my South, people still say, "yes, ma'am," "no ma'am," "please" and "thank you." In my South, we all wear shoes ... most of the time. My South is the best-kept secret in the country.
Why not sit down right now with Mr. St. John's South as an inspiration and describe your South from your own experience. By the way, please keep it a secret. It keeps the idiots away!