“The joys of this Southern life, we polish like old silver. We are good at stories. We hoard them, like an old woman in a room full of boxes, but now and then we pull out our best, and spread them out like dinner on the ground.”
I rarely race to the bookstore to get a book on its release date. But when I heard that Rick Bragg’s compilation of previously published essays from the likes of Southern Living, Gun & Garden, Sports Illustrated and Bon Appetit was being released on September 15, you can bet that our local bookstore was on the top of my to-do list for the day! Let me introduce you to my good friend Rick Bragg. Or at least I feel like he is my good friend. That is the nature of his writing…you grow to feel like you know and certainly love this good ole boy from Calhoun County, Alabama. You will notice quotes throughout this post, and they are all taken from his writing in “My Southern Journey.”
I was introduced to Rick Bragg through a client when she gave me the book “All Over But The Shoutin'”, and I was an immediate fan. His writing really hits home with me as he speaks of the Appalachian foothills that he loves and calls home. Calhoun County is the neighboring county to ours and his words come to life when he speaks of all the places I have known and grown up around my entire life. This fellow Northeast Alabamian certainly earned “braggin’ rights” when he took the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 while writing for the New York Times. “I was honored to do this book which is a kind of love story to the South.”
Deviled eggs make Rick Bragg want to cry. Not that they are so tasty, but because they evoke such memories of his grandmother, the matriarch of his family, Ava. He tells the story of her suffering from mild dementia and how “his people” gathered together in her backyard each June to celebrate her life. Deviled eggs always made an appearance! Bragg’s love of food and family resonate in my heart. He captivates his audience by his gift of story-telling that, I believe, is a lost art. His book is split into five sections…Home, Table, Place, Craft, and Spirit. Each section is brought to life by experience…experiences that hit home for us Southerners. His essays vary from the South’s reaction to a dusting of snow to his experiences with bad coleslaw to SEC football. Bragg declares in the chapter titled “Shopping” that he is immune to fashion, loathes to shop, and has decided not to shop again. He goes on to say that “new shoes feel like you are shuffling around in a box of saltine crackers. They even sound wrong.” And although I love shoes, I think he is onto something there. New shoes are not the most comfortable thing in the world if you think about it! In his chapter “Fully Dressed”, he goes into the great debate around Thanksgiving: dressing vs stuffing. “You could find stuffing in sofas, teddy bears, and baseballs. If you caught a big fish or shot a big deer, or even a big gobbler, you have them stuffed and mounted. But Thanksgiving turkeys did not have stuffing, They had dressing. And that dressing started with an iron skillet of cornbread, mixed with onion, sage and the fatty, golden nectar. It was baked until a golden crust formed on the top, leaving the inside firm but creamy. It had to be perfect, and it usually was.” Amen, Mr. Bragg. Amen. My mother never “stuffed” a turkey, and in my opinion, she made the best dressing this side of the Mississippi. It started off just as the story Rick Bragg tells…cornbread in a cast iron skillet. There are so many things throughout the book that just feel like home, this being one of them.
A week ago last Tuesday, Rick Bragg came home. And by that, I mean he was at our local Books-A-Million signing his new book. Katy and I got there early in order to get a good seat only to find out the event was moved from the bookstore into the mall in front of the Sears store. It was a small intimate setting…completely his comfort zone. He didn’t have a speech prepared and he decided not to use a microphone. Nestled right there between Sears where he and his mother shopped while he was a boy, we sat and listened to him do what he does best…tell stories!
“The obituary made me smile. Ellis Ray of Moundville passed away Saturday…he was a loving husband, father, and grandfather, who loved to fish and piddle. He will be greatly missed. I mean no disrespect. Quite the contrary, I smiled because Ellis, whom I never met, is my brother, bound to me not by blood but by a shared habit. We are piddlers.
The whole idea of piddling is to kill time, but without any great effort at all, or even really meaning to.”
“When I was a child, we never bought a tree. We got an ax, or a handsaw, and went into the woods. It would have been a scene straight off a Christmas card, if we had actually gone hunting for one on our own land, which we did not have. I guess it was poaching in a way, but it seemed harmless, it was more like we were just thinning the herd, rather than stealing.
That was a long time ago. I have not stolen a tree, from Alabama or anywhere else, for 35 years. We buy our trees now, and pay what feels like $900 for a tree cut last Fourth of July, a tree I am afraid to shake too hard, lest it look like something Charlie Brown would have. You got a much better quality of tree, when it was stole.” “I know that the real color and warmth in us, as a people, is not in the landscape or the sky but in our language, the way we lean the words against each other. We are the best-spoken people on Earth, not in the realm of grammar, perhaps, but in the pictures we paint and hang on the air.
Some things we say are just mysterious, like a friend’s grandmother who is prone to blurt out, ‘Well, I’ll be Johnny.’ We do not know who Johnny is. I am tired of trying to explain us. I once wrote that a man had enough money to burn a wet dog. I got a call from animal rights activists who wondered why I advocated such. I told them it was only something we said, and I loved dogs, and…I should have just told them to go see Johnny about it.” In “All Over But The Shoutin” he mentions that he, along with his mother and brothers, grew up living with his grandmother on Roy Webb Road. This country road is about 20 miles away from us!
Located about 9 miles from our home, Coosa Corner is the place for a fisherman to stop for breakfast before hitting nearby Weiss Lake. Butch and Seth have eaten sausage biscuits from here many, many mornings before they sat in a boat for the day and called that fishing!
“In a wasteland of tepid tomatoes and mummified chicken fingers, there still exist across the South some fine dishes, served on paper plates, prepared by people who have solved the great mystery of simple food. Drake’s Citgo on Highway 411 in Leesburg, Alabama, served a mouthwatering pork cutlet on hot biscuit, or about any other part of a pig that can be made to lie flat. Drake’s is now Coosa Corner, but to my big brother, Sam, it will always be Drake’s”
On any given Saturday, weather permitting (or not), thousands of people pour into this large space on US Highway 11 in Collinsville, Alabama known as Trade Day. And this hits home too, when Rick Bragg writes of his memories and treasures they took away from the flea market…our long time friends are the owners!
“Five years ago, my brother and I drove to a vast flea market in Collinsville, Alabama, to buy a bantam rooster for our mother. We left with two ducks, two chickens, a Hamilton watch, two fig trees, a sack of green onions, a bone-handled pocketknife, a bushel of sweet potatoes, a four-way lug wrench, a goat named Ramrod, and a ball-peen hammer.
The goat, the size of a Shetland pony, butted my Ford Bronco so hard it rocked on its springs. That was why I bought the hammer. I was not riding back with that thing unarmed. I guess there is some junk here, but I never took any of it home. Only treasure.”The armadillo. “The South is their buffet”
Another common thread between me and Rick Bragg: our frustration with this pesky creature. Or as Bragg calls the roadkill specialist “opossums on a half shell”. They are frequent visitors on our property…spending their nights digging holes in our yard, being anything but quiet with their armored backs! And we have declared war. They dig and dig and make a mess, ruining our yard. They better hope they don’t make their way back to our garden!
“Their greatest talent is getting run over”
As a three decade plus subscriber, I think the best thing Southern Living has done is add Rick Bragg’s genius writing to the back page of every edition. I skip over all of the perfectly manicured gardens, charming storybook homes, and sweet & savory recipes to see what he has written for the month! This should tell you how excited I was to meet him: I was the first person in line for the book signing! And he could not have been any more warm and personable. We chatted for 2 or 3 minutes as if no one else was waiting! I have never wandered far from home. Sure…I have traveled to 40 + countries, but only as a visitor with no intention of staying. My entire life, I have lived within 9 miles of my childhood home. There is just something about these “Appalachian foothills” and “my people”.
I highly recommend this book to all of you, especially Southerners. You can click here to order through Amazon: My Southern Journey. I promise you many laughs!
Linking with Pieced Pastimes, Silver Pennies, Life on Lakeshore Drive, Thoughts From Alice, Mod Vintage Life, Coastal Charm, My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia, The Dedicated House, Dwellings-Heart of Your Home, Savvy Southern Style, Ivy and Elephants, French Country Cottage, From My Front Porch To Yours, Stone Gable, Confessions of a Plate Addict, Worthing Court, Between Naps on the Porch, Cedar Hill Farmhouse, A Stroll Thru Life, The Style Sisters, The Charm of Home, The Winthrop Chronicles, Cornerstone Confessions, A Delightsome Life, Imparting Grace, Posed Perfection, Katherines Corner, My Romantic Home, Chic On A Shoestring Decorating, Rooted In Thyme, Share Your Cup, TheEnchanting Rose, Alabama Women Bloggers, 21 Rosemary Lane, Northern Nesting, Oh My Heartsie Girl, Cozy Little House, Rattlebridge Farm, The Turquoise Home, My Flagstaff Home, In The New House, Natasha in Oz, Vintage Refined, Rustic & Refined, Must Love Home, Grammie Time