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In the South, hard to see the forest for the weeds

You’ve got to admit, the South is a unique place. As grandpa used to say, “We do have our ways.” Several incidents lately have forced me to this conclusion. Here are a few examples.


I was in the beauty shop the other day, not to try to get beautified, mind you, just running an errand. You can get a lot of information in a beauty shop. A whole lot of information. But even though most beauty shops cater to male customers now, the women tend to clam up when a man enters their domain. You’d probably have to be in disguise to get any kind of useful information or at least know a woman who’d been allowed into the inner sanctum. When I walked in, the room suddenly grew quiet — you know, like when you walk into a gathering and they’ve all been talking about you or maybe you’ve got a piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe. 


I did manage to gain the confidence of one lady who was getting her nails done and talking with her is what reminded me how different we are in the South. Someone in her family had passed away and the family was in the funeral home preparing for the visitation. The widower was looking at all the plants and flowers when he suddenly exploded. 


“Someone has sent chigger weeds!” he fumed. The family gathered around to see what had upset him so. There, in an arrangement of mixed flowers, were the intricate and delicate white blossoms of Queen Anne’s Lace, known throughout the South as chigger weeds. 


Anyone who has ever walked through a field of chigger weeds knows what I’m talking about. The little critters will burrow into your most sensitive spots and cause an itching that hasn’t been equaled by even poison ivy. I remember just about exactly when I realized how pretty these blooms were. I must’ve been in my 20s. When you’re trying to avoid the darned things, it’s hard to appreciate their beauty. 


Now, I don’t know what the florists do to sanitize the flowers, but I take for granted the flower arrangements don’t give you chiggers. Maybe they pick them off before they ship them out. 


It goes to show you what prejudices we have. I remember Momma would always comment on the “outhouse lilies” that always grew beside the outhouses around the countryside. No self-respecting person would have had an orange daylily in their garden back then just as no one would have put Queen Anne’s Lace in a flower arrangement. It took me a long time to accept the fact that an orange daylily might be a pretty flower. 


It’s still difficult for farmers to find beauty in some of our wildflowers. A pretty field of wildflowers might be a headache to a farmer. Sometimes it’s hard to see the flowers for the weeds. 


Maybe we’re different in the South because we do have a rural heritage. Things are slower, we take more time, don’t mind sitting around on the front porch, or the beauty shop, telling stories.


I was sitting in a local eatery, this time with a table full of mostly men telling tall tales over coffee. Every restaurant has one or two tables like this every morning. These brain trusts run the country, sometimes from these restaurants, other times from country stores. In the mornings, they are fueled by free coffee refills; in the afternoons, Nabs and Cokes. 


One friend was talking about how his father had really disliked his name, Thaddeus. When his father had gotten to college, he despised the name even more because his friends would pick on him about it. So sometime before he turned 20, he had the name legally changed from Thaddeus to Thomas. Thomas was his father’s name, so it was a natural transition.


The only problem in the change was that Thomas, formerly Thaddeus, had a brother already named Thomas. So, from then on, it was Thomas 1 and Thomas 2. 


My friend laughed and remarked that it was much like Larry, Darrell and his other brother Darrell. Or George Foreman naming all his sons George. But in the South, you can do this and get away with it.  


Other friends were talking over dinner — or, as we should still say here in the South, supper. One mentioned that a local man had stopped by to see him that afternoon. Someone else asked him why. 


The friend began a circuitous and seemingly rambling explanation, beginning several weeks in the past and slowly working forward, with little hope of ever coming to a conclusion. 


His wife leaned over to me and explained, “If you ask him what time it is, he’ll tell you how to build a watch.” 


But in the South, we have the time to build a watch.