A few months ago when Poet, the freelance wanderer that he is, found himself passing through my neck of the South, he called up, then turned up at my front door, then plopped down in my guest room for a few days.
And, of course, he was most welcomed. Not only because we have a deep and abiding friendship but also because whenever Poet is in my midst, a column or two will be awaiting breathlessly to drop into my lap. The friends I cherish the most are always the ones who provide me with entertaining stories, especially ones that I can pass along to you.
Let’s just say Poet is among my most cherished.
While Poet was in town partaking of my hospitality, my sister, Louise, invited us both to partake of her hospitality and join her family for a big ol’ country supper. To truly understand the worth of this tale, you must first understand that Poet is the most impeccably well-mannered man I have ever met. He rises from his seat each time a woman enters the room. He opens doors, pulls out chairs, always walks on the outside of a lady (this goes back to the ancient days when people would throw out used water from upstairs windows so men gallantly walked on the outside to assure they would be splashed with the water and not the ladies) and his conversation never hints of anything inappropriate.
He would never discuss crass issues such as money, the worth of anything he owns, an upset stomach or unseemly gossip like a woman who wore a dress too short, one cut too low or “forgot” to wear her slip.
For many of the reasons listed above plus more, Poet, the elegant, well-bred, well-raised son of the moneyed Mississippi Delta gentry, found himself seated at the wrong supper table. The usual eight of us plus Poet gathered around the long, cherry wood dining table and as forks clinked against pottery and ice cubes floated in sweet tea, we carried on with conversation that was usual for us but unusual for Poet.
The topics changed as quickly as the summer skies on a thunderous afternoon. We talked about the stock market, the prices of things recently purchased and new information that had surfaced from recent beauty shop visits.
“Are they married?” someone asked about one couple.
“No,” replied someone else casually, ladling gravy over hot biscuits. “Just livin’ in sin.”
When the conversation took a left turn down the road of unsuccessful potty training and cows with “the runs,” I realized we had just exposed Poet to an unfamiliar side of the South for him. Some might call it the uncivilized side.
I started laughing. “Y’all, Poet’s people do not talk like this at the dinner table. He comes from old money, the cultured South. His grandmother would faint dead away if she heard any such talk as this rising up from the dinner table.”
Poet, well-mannered as he is, protested. “Now, Ronda embellishes as she is so well known for practicing.”
“Have you ever discussed potty training or cows with diarrhea at your family dinner table?” I countered.
“We have neither children nor cattle,” he replied quick on the draw. “We’re cotton people.”
Not all Southerners are the same. Coastal Southerners differ from rural inland Southerners and us from those moneyed families from the Mississippi Delta while those Cajuns in the Louisiana swamplands are a breed all their own. There are many sub-cultures throughout the region, but there is a commonality of spirited pride in our homeland that bonds us together. Our accents, practices and traditions differ.
And so does the variety of our dinner table conversations. But for the record, I feel confident in saying that the conversation around my family’s dinner table is more interesting than what you’ll hear from Poet’s.
Ours is occasionally inappropriate but never boring.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of the new book, “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com.