Ingredients of Southern family gatherings
At any Southern family gathering there will be food. The best food you have ever tasted.
There are also likely to be a healthy supply of fireworks.
There will also be football, which means a game will actually be playing on a TV somewhere in the house or people will spend a good amount of time talking about football, or both.
And there will be talking. Lots of talking.
If you are new to the family, you may get trapped in a corner by a well meaning relative who wants to show you the scar from her recent surgery, or to tell you a random detail about a relative you’ve never met. Just smile, nod, and use your manners. (Yes Ma’m and No Ma’m)
Where a family gathers, there will be storytelling.
Whether your family sits on chairs scattered around the porch, around a formal dining room table, or on 5 gallon buckets around a bonfire, story swapping is going to happen. It is important to know two important rules of storytelling in the South.
Rule Number 1: Embellishing is allowed, as long as you keep a few of the key details intact. For example: It really was Bubba’s pond that you caught that fish on, but the size of the fish and the fury of the fight may differ each time you tell it, depending on your audience and beverage you are consuming. If you are drinking anything stronger than sweet tea, the sky’s the limit!
If anyone asks “Did it really happen like that?” it is perfectly acceptable to smile and say “Sure it did,” “Dang straight!”, or a similar variation. Everyone knows a least one part of your story isn’t accurate; they just don’t know which part. And that is exactly the point.
Rule Number 2: The second rule, often learned through painful trial and error, is Do not interrupt the storyteller or suddenly become overly concerned with the accuracy of the facts. This will ruin the flow of the story and Uncle James will begin his story again from the beginning. Or worse, alter the ending so that it lasts longer. A lot longer.
Meeting the Grandmother Rules
If you are being introduced to a Southern family, this is important! Southern Grandmothers have the ability to size you up and decide if you are worth your weight in salt in one glance. You will know immediately if you have been placed on the scales and found wanting. And it is nearly impossible to reverse this decision unless you bless her with beautiful grandbabies down the road.
- Besides your own worth, where you are from is also very important. Therefore, it is vital that you know as much as you can about your family history. It is best if you can trace your heritage back before the Mayflower. A true Southern grandmother will spend no less than 15 minutes trying to connect you with someone she knows. It’s an intense game of 6 degrees of separation, and your acceptance into the family is at stake.
- Say Yes Ma’m and No ma’m. If you fail at the first rule, this may save your hide.
Family Dynamics – You may be 6’2, but at family reunions you will still be referred to as knee high to a grasshopper. It’s just the way it is. And if you’ve ever made a mistake in your life, that will probably come up at some point.
It is difficult for families to realize that change is possible. We tend to lock people into the way we remember them. But the truth is, drug addicts can become clean, a willful child can grow into a focused, successful adult, and the baby of the family can become a successful entrepreneur.
We do move slower than molasses in the middle of December here in the South, but things don’t have to be frozen in time.
In our own family, for instance, I am known for my lack of direction because of an ill fated bus ride back in 1986. I got on the bus in South Mississippi and instead of going north toward home I took a bus to New Orleans. That has been a quarter of a century ago, and my mama still makes comments about it.
See? Frozen in time. Even though she had no idea where I was and no way to get in touch with me and she was worried sick, Mama really should let it go. After all, I’ve got Google Maps now. Which is helpful until they start using ridiculous directions like “East” or “West.”
I would love to hear your family stories, embellished or not. Leave a comment below and we can raise a glass of sweet tea (or whatever is in that container behind Granny’s kitchen door) together in honor of our families!
Y’all have a great day!