Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

I Have Found It!
by James Glaser
August 1, 2009

I have been down here below the Mason Dixon Line for almost four years now, and it has taken me this long to find the real South—the South you read about in books, where the people are polite, where they wear a big smile, and where they have an accent that almost sounds like a foreign language if you are from the far North.

I know now you can't find the real South in a big Southern city. I don't think you can find it in a small Southern city. If you really want to find the true South you have heard about your whole life, you are going to have to go to the rural South that has not been—and there is not nice way to say this—has not been polluted with "snow birds and capitalists from the North.

Let's face it, if you increase the population of any city or town by a factor of two or more with foreigners, those foreigners are going to pollute the historical flavor of that city or town.

Restaurants are no longer going to feature fried fish and hush puppies. Heck, collard greens might not even be offered. When a Southern city loses it historical flavor, people will no longer greet you as you walk down the street.

But I'll tell you what. I have found that "Old South." It was just 50 miles east of Tallahassee, in the small town of Madison, Florida. In Madison (population 3,900), high school football is big. There are farm and logging trucks going down the main street, and cowboy hats are not out of place. Also, this being the South, seeing the name of Jesus on the back of a pickup is not out of place either.

They don't have many restaurants in Madison, but one we ate at had fried chicken just like Wanda remembers her Aunt Ruby making for her when she was a little girl. They had fish I never heard of before, like fried mullet, and down here they eat cat fish. There was steamed cabbage with ham, sweet potatoes, a couple of greens, corn bread, pulled pork, barbecued ribs, and lots of vegetables.

Now get this. This meal was a buffet, all you can eat, plus they had a salad bar, and desert—all this, plus your beverage, for seven dollars and fifty cents. When I left there I figured I spent about one third of a penny per calorie eaten. I also figured I better eat there only one time a month.

Southern cooking is not the only thing I have found in Madison. I have also found politeness, and believe it or not, I first found it at the county court house when I was trying to get information on building permits.

Court Houses are usually a source of frustration for me, but this time was different. I walked into the zoning office, and the lady behind the counter looked up, smiled, and said, "Can I help you?" I explained that I wanted to build myself an art studio on my property, and she got together all the forms I would need. Then surprise, surprise, she asked if I wanted to talk to the building inspector.

The building inspector told me that he would help me any way he could. Just that thought, a government employee offering to help me any way he could told me I was in a different place than I had ever been before.

It wasn't just the court house either. It was walking down the street, in any business, asking directions, almost any contact with local people turned out to be a real pleasure. Go figure, I'm a Yankee, and they still treated me nice.

So, Wanda and I have moved to the South, here in rural Madison, three miles out of town. I moved my last pickup load of furniture into the house yesterday. Of course we couldn't put everything away as fast as we could move it, and so we have a house filled with boxes. Our bedroom is about the only room that looks finished, and that helps in getting a good night's sleep.

As when I lived up North, we go to bed earlier and get up earlier here, too. Somehow, cities keep you up later. Yes, is it darker here at night, and the stars are brighter. There is a heavy dew in the morning that was absent in the city. That dew gives the plants and grass a bit of hydration, and they will need it in the heat of the afternoon. In the morning the moisture you see on the leaves and flowers make every color more vibrant, and the sunshine sparkles on everything. Looking out the windows as I write this, I see no concrete anywhere, but lots and lots of different shades of green.

Green is peaceful on your eyes. It is quiet here, which makes it easier to think clearly. There are no sirens, nor is there the background hum of noise that is constant in any city.

Last Sunday, Wanda and I went to the COTFP church. That would be the "Church of The Front Porch." We read out of the Book of Psalms, and thanked God for getting us here.

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