The Beautiful South. Farmland, mountains, fields of peachtrees. Swamps thick with muddy air and water blacker than nighttime. Beaches dotted with Palmetto trees. 100 year old Live Oaks raining Spanish moss. Magnolia blooms popcorning out from an endless sea of greenery that covers the land like dew in the morning.
A tremendous influence on the local culture is the Christian Church. Spend some time here and you’ll be invited to more than any dozen of your neighbor’s churches. As a social greeting among otherwise strangers, I have found it completely proper to ask “so what church do you go to?” Although this would undoubtedly reek all kinds of havoc on visiting or relocated atheists and agnostics, spend some time here and you’ll begin to truly understand the Beautiful South.
Grows on you; like kudzu, but not as invasive. It meanders over into the front porch of your life like the sweet smell of good southern cookin’ and sings a little tune like the crickets at night. Softly. Just still, lazy sound that’s perfect for sittin or relaxin’ or both. This little tune travels from the ears to the heart. (I think it must be something in the sweet tea that makes this possible, but I haven’t figured that out just yet.) In the heart, this little tune plays its melody to completion. It will move to tears the most hardened of men and makes believers out of the devil’s favorite people. Through the muddy air, fields of peachtrees, Spanish moss, and Palmettos, this sweet tune sings in the heart and things just start to make a little more sense and all of a sudden the Beautiful South is just a little more beautiful.
All of a sudden, you start to feel like there is something that ties people here to eachother and the land, and these ties are stronger than anything mankind could ever make. Stronger than suffering or money or ignorance or pride. Stronger than time. Something is shared here that causes a man like me to rejoice when I hear good news like the good news just heard from neighbors in Mississippi. I’m talking about that man who worked in Iraq, was captured, and then escaped. In the Mississippi hometown of this once-captured man is a population of 3100 and more than 2 dozen religious congregations. During his captivity, from his 92 year old grandmother to the entire community came prayer and vigils for his safe return. Reading about the man’s escape and anticipated return home makes me happy for him but hearing about the prayerful hopes of the community makes me feel connected to them all.
There is a tie, a bond, a thread that weaves itself into the Beautiful South and joins the people that live among the Magnolias, Palmettos, and Peachtrees. Indeed, it’s a best-kept secret, but one that does not reveal itself quickly. It takes some time, like all good things Southern, but it is powerful and personal and passionate and, true to good things Southern, it comes from the Church.
Maybe it’s from drinkin’ sweet tea that I’ve begun to see this eternal beauty of The South. I think it has something to do with that, and the crickets and the muddy air and the grits and the Georgia Pines. They’re all pieces of something grand. Like instruments in a delta blues band. Lord knows their song has gone straight from my ears to my heart and there it can play all the day long. Sometimes I hear it from someone else’s heart, far, far away. Say, as far as Mississippi, and it sounds beautiful, and sweet like pecan pie.