All She Wrote: A Connecticut Yankee in King Cotton’s court

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Nicole_Crewsby Nicole Crews

My xenophobic godfather James: Joann, you can’t let Nicole go to school in Boston. She’ll end up marrying some Ah-rish Cath-uh-lic.

Mother: James, what are you worried about the most – the Irish or the Catholic?

James: They’re all Papist paupers, aren’t they?

Mother: James, you do realize that I’m Greek, right? And was raised Greek Orthodox. And that’s essentially Catholicism without the guilt.

James: That explains the olive oil and the gah-lic.

Mother: Well she’s also applying to Columbia.

James: And may God have mercy on our souls.

And so it came to pass that despite attending college in North Carolina my first serious boyfriend ended up being just that — an Irish Catholic Yankee. In reality he was more First Family Virginia (FFV) and a descendent of the state’s first governor, but being proletariat of nature he liked to stress the maternal Irish side of his blood kin. Plus he liked to drink so aligning himself with the Irish just seemed natural. He was vetted by my godfather and passed muster thanks to the Virginia hooey, an Ivy League pedigree and a fine set of table manners. The only hitch in the giddy-up was that he had recently sold his first book. Apparently in the South, unless your name is Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner or Eudora Welty, being a writer is about two shakes above horse thief.

James: Oh good Lord. He’s written a nah-val. What’s it about? And is THIS what he’s gonna do? Or is he gonna get a job?

Mother: James, you do realize that your goddaughter wants to be a writer too.

James: Exactly mah point. You can’t have TWO of them in the family.

I hate to say it, but James may have been right. It’s kind of like that Scottie Fitzgerald line about her famous parents that goes something like, sitting next to a writer at a dinner party is fun, but you wouldn’t want to live with them. I’ve lived by that line for quite a few years but flash forward to the present and here I am, breaking the “no writer rule.” This time there’s a Connecticut lad come a courting and he’s both a writer and quite the Yankee Doodle Dandy (YDD).

YDD, driving South: You have quite a few universities jam packed along the highway here, don’t you.

Me: Yep, the Harvards of the Highway. That’s us.

YDD: I’m getting close, I just passed “Elan” University.

Me: You might get an ass whupping down here if you call it that. We say E-lon, like Eeyore. Same goes for A-rab.

YDD: I have much to learn.

Me: Indeed you do.

It’s feeding time so I offer up the regional fixins: barbecue, biscuits or country cooking. Wisely, he opts for Greensboro’s famed Country BBQ.

YDD: What is Brunswick Stew? Does it have anything  to do with the Duke of Brunswick?

Me: It’s a county in Virginia and a city in Georgia, but mostly it’s just good. They used to make it with squirrel.

YDD: Ah. Well I want to try the barbecue but I’m wary of slaw after that story you told.

Me: You mean about Big Bump getting salmonella at a chicken joint and then singing “I fought the slaw, and the slaw won” when he recovered?

YDD: That’s the one.

Me: No worries, this is red slaw. No mayonnaise within a mile of here — except maybe at the strip club next door.

YDD: Is that a Southern thing?

Me: Strip clubs next to BBQ joints? It might just be. Tomorrow we are getting you a cat head biscuit. That decidedly is a Southern thing.

The next day we venture to Smith Street Diner in my neighborhood. I tuck into a bowl of gumbo smothered in collards and YDD orders French toast.

Me (to waitress): Oh no! We forgot to order a biscuit. I wanted him to see how big they are.

Waitress: I’ll bring one over. Just for fun.

YDD: That’s what I like about the South. Y’all know how to have fun.