Lessons from Fathers
Each summer, around the beginning of June, I compile a ridiculously long list of books that I hope to read over the next three months. My summer reading list usually includes a mixture of fiction and non-fiction recommendations from friends, summer reading I did not get to last summer, and a new Harry Potter book (too bad that ended last summer). Rarely do I choose to read a book that I have read before, but there is one book that marks my summer reading and will continue to mark this time each year. That book is To Kill a Mockingbird.
When I recently began it once again, (I first read it the summer before my 8th grade) I was immediately reminded why this book is the perfect novel to begin my summer. Harper Lee’s descriptions do a wonderful job of getting me into a summertime mood.
“Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it. Somehow, it was hotter then. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning; ladies bathed before noon, after their 3 o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating and sweet talcum. The day was twenty-four hours long, but it seemed longer,” write Lee.
Though I grew up in the South on Signal Mountain, I don’t think I ever really experienced the true Southern life that seeps through the descriptions in the pages of Lee’s book. Scout and Jem Finch’s southern childhoods were spent lazily on their front porch, in the neighbor’s garden, or with other children in their imaginary worlds. Though I spent a good amount of time outside when I was younger, I also stayed busy with activities like swim lessons, soccer practices, and summer camp. Children today seem even busier.
I enjoy the stories of simpler days which have been passed on to me by my parents and grandparents. Both my father and father-in-law grew up in the deep South in the late ‘40s early ‘50s. My father grew up in Macon, Georgia, at a time when Macon was much smaller, and he knew most everyone. Similarly, my father-in-law grew up in Evergreen, Alabama, a tiny town near other tiny towns with names like Pineapple or Burnt Corn (the entire region is often referred to as ‘’LA.’’ Not Los Angeles. Lower Alabama).
Evergreen is today, in many ways, the same small town it was back in the ‘50s. My father-in-law likes to boast that it is much like Harper Lee’s descriptions of Macomb in To Kill A Mockingbird. In fact, Ms. Lee lived just a few miles south of Evergreen, and the town square in Monroeville is rumored to have been her inspiration.
I have been blessed to grow up with a father who not only sold fine suits but also drank moonshine, a father who owns a tuxedo and still plants his sweet potatoes in tires; a father who is as comfortable at the Cotton Ball as he is at the Waffle House. To honor both men this Father’s Day, I want to include this list of lessons I have learned from them.
Take pride in your Southern accent. When you are around people from the north, take care to talk slowly and take several pauses and deep breaths for extra drama. Draw those vowels and drop your “rs.”
Food matters. Meals are meant not only for nourishment, but they are also an important statement about who you are. That is why I must never put ketchup on eggs or sugar on grits and never, ever, for any reason on God’s green earth do I order unsweetened iced tea.
Exaggerate your stories. My dad tells a great story involving some cousins who got kicked off the Incline. Another favorite is about a time when he hit a deer and kept it in his trunk on a balmy summer afternoon until he could get it to a butcher.
Care about the land around you.
Give your pets good Southern sounding names like Sugarfoot and Sweet Georgia Brown and when possible, have unusual animals as pets. Thanks to my dad, my brother and sister’s first pet growing up was a goat. He gave it to my mom for Mother’s Day and took great pleasure in riding with it in the back of the station wagon when he drove carpool.
My father-in-law tells great stories of how his father used to gather snakes, turtles and alligators in a pit outside the family business in an attempt to gain customers.
Care about your history. We are all connected to our pasts.
Front porches are necessary; as are rocking chairs.
Long lines, large crowds, or airports are opportunities to make new friends. Call it “southern hospitality” or just good manners, but both my father and father-in-law have taught me that a little friendliness to strangers goes a long way. They are like impromptu, unofficial mayors, shaking hands and kissing babies and telling stories and slapping backs and bending low to help a grandmother cross the street.
Above all, my father and father-in-law have taught me that family is most important.
Care about all people. As Scout Finch learns in To Kill A Mockingbird, “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”
Both men grew up in a time in the South when most of the people were poor. There were no international airports in Atlanta, no condominiums in Destin, no Blockbusters or Walmarts or Ace Hardwares.
Harper Lee describes a similar time in her book, “There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go and nothing to buy… and no money to buy it with.”
In many ways, their lives were simpler because they did not have all of the conveniences we have today. This poverty (or wealth depending on your perspective) shaped both men, and in turn has shaped me. They would not be who they are today had they been rich.
Though I wouldn’t describe either my father or father-in-law as Atticus Finch-their personalities are very different from that serious and intellectual lawyer-they have both taught me valuable lessons, lessons that I hope to pass on to my own children.
Peach Hand Pies
Pie crust rolled out thinly.
Four cups peeled and sliced peaches, about 6-10 peaches depending on size.
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Preheat oven 375 degrees. Grease small muffin tin with butter or cooking spray. Use a round cookie cutter or a glass to cut small circles out of pie crust. Gently press into muffin pans. In a medium bowl, stir peaches, sugar and lemon juice. Spoon peaches into little pie crusts. Bake 40 minutes. Makes about 10.