something akin to the immortals that makes us long not to be altogether
unworthy of the fame of our ancestors.”
It must be
genetic. Southern women collect traditions like some people do stamps. Even
our recipes come with genealogies. No conversation passes without
clarification of the antecedents of those whose names pass through the
discussion. We are a people for whom our sense of place in time and history
is important. People, recipes, and houses have histories and to us they go
to create the wonderful tapestry of who we are.
Those new to the South are sometimes offended by our
questions. One of the first questions any newcomer is asked is "What church do
you belong to?" This question isn’t to challenge one’s morality, it’s a place
question. A who do you know that I know question. It is the jumping off point
for sharing information about people known in common. From that point the
conversation may begin…not to talk politics or religion…too dangerous! But to
Porches were once the gathering place for people talk.
Some folks call it gossip. It is too ingrained within the Southern tradition to
be belittled by such a derogatory term. Southern talk is more in the tradition
seanachies of old Ireland. The seanachie was the historian of the
tribe who passed the oral history of the tribe down from one generation to
another. The Irish and their descendant Scots settled the South. The pub, the
community gathering place in the old land, became the front porch where people
would sit in the shade, drink tea sweet as syrup, and wait for someone to walk
by and join them…to share the "news", meaning the talk of what was happening in
the lives of those they knew in common.
I sometimes think a part of the loneliness and alienation
young and old alike now feel is due in part to the fact that air conditioning
keeps folks inside. I wonder if the bars on the windows would be necessary if
the sense of community developed on those front porches continued today. A
community was like a family. Each contributed to the security of the least of
them because caring was not abdicated to a government agency, but was a
responsibility of those who kept up with the "news" about their neighbors.
As a young mother, it became important to establish
traditions for my children as they were set for me. I started jotted things down
for my children to find if suddenly I were taken from them. My horror was that
they would be lost without the security of knowing what their Grandmother’s
favorite foods were, who their people were, where they came from…how they fit in
the world. Only a child’s mother can provide them with that unique and special
sense of who they are.
To a Southerner, genealogy is not a hobby; it is a sacred
trust. Who we are, why we are here in this place, and what is our purpose, has
meaning beyond our simple existence. We are one in a chain, a continuation of a
heritage. Not to know our heritage is to dishonor those to whom honor meant
everything. Like the seanachies of our Irish heritage, every generation produces
one who remembers and records. We pass the torch to another generation to lift
the eyes, the spirits, the ambitions of the children to aspire to lofty goals
and transmit the same character and purpose to the next generation.
After the War, my ancestor, Elkanah Burson, came home
plowed his fields and went into politics, becoming a state representative. He
delivered the speech for the Memorial
Day ceremonies of April 26, 1877, included in its entirety in Chapter One:
Wakefield. He exhorted those assembled, saying:
"Then gather around this sacred
spot, when the flowers sweeten the air, and the song of the birds makes melody
with the children that cluster around you, and tell them the story of their
fathers and brothers. Teach them that man is noblest when he died for man, and
that their fathers were heroes and patriots worthy of the admiration of the
The family information I have acquired, including all
those pictures that tell such a story in themselves, are too precious not to
share. Since our family gatherings revolve around food, what better way to
discover our ancestors than around those wonderful dishes we would have shared
with them if they were here with us. Perhaps my children’s eyes will not glaze
over with family history presented in this manner.
Richard Llewellyn wrote in How Green Was My
Courage came to me from the height of the mountain and
with it came the dignity of manhood, and knowledge of the Tree of Life, for
now I was a branch, running with the vital blood, waiting in the darkness of
the Garden for some unknown Eve to tempt me with the apple of her beauty,
that we might know our nakedness, and bring forth sons and daughter to
magnify the Lord our God.
I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me,
those who are to come. I looked back and saw my father, and his
father, and all our fathers, and in front, to see my son and his son, and
the sons upon sons beyond.
And their eyes were my eyes.
As I felt, so they had felt, and were to feel, as
then, so now, as tomorrow and forever. Then I was not afraid,
for I was in a long line that had no beginning, and no end, and the hand of
his father grasped my father's hand, and the hand was in mine, and my unborn
son took my right hand, and all, up and down the line that stretched from
Time That Was, to Time That Is, and Is Not Yet raised their hands to show
the link, and we found that we were one, born of Woman, Son of Man, had in
the Image, fashioned in the Womb by Will of God, the Eternal Father.
These bits and pieces would never have come together in
this book without the inspiration of the Lunch Bunch, my reminder not to let
this fast paced world deprive me of the gift of Friendship. Faith, family,
friends and freedom are the most treasured commodities to Southern women. All of
our creativity revolves around nurturing these basics of life.
Tastes, sounds, and smells accompany our traditions.
Suddenly, in the middle of Manhattan, the smell of fried chicken can take me
back to Grandmother’s house and Sunday dinner at Wakefield. In the South,
gatherings of family and friends always center around food. The purpose of this
web site is to share the people, the places, and the traditions of one Southern