How Southern am I? You Decide…

How Southern am I? You Decide…

I have lived my entire life (35 years) in the South. Sure, I’ve traveled the world, spending weeks at a time in Thailand, South Korea, New Zealand, Trinidad, and Equator… but as far as permanent residence, I was born and raised in Fort Payne, Alabama; and only lived in the South.

After I graduated high school, having just turned 18, I went to college in Hudson, Florida and then Lynchburg, Virginia. Then I moved to Nashville, Tennessee; where I’ve been for over 11 years now.

The very first “record” I ever heard was by the Country group, Alabama (who happen to be from my hometown). It was their 1984 Roll On album that I would lip sync to as I walked around on my parents’ bed, pretending it was my stage.

I am a Southerner. It’s true.

But… how Southern am I?

Here’s the evidence I’ve got going against me.

First off, I don’t have a strong Southern accent. It’s there if you’re looking for it, but it’s never been enough to convince anyone I’m actually from Alabama.


Then I explain to people: My mom moved from Buffalo, New York (which is near the Canadian border) when she was 15. Eight years later, when she was 23, I was born. In other words, I was pretty much born to a Yankee mother; at least, she was at the time.

Plus, her parents were the grandparents I was around the most, as they only lived a few miles away: A full-blooded Italian grandfather named Alberto Victoro Metallo from Kenosha, Wisconsin and a full-blooded Mexican grandmother whose maiden name was Delores “Lola” Gonzales Mendez from Buffalo, New York. Growing up in proximity to such Old World influence and foreign culture, it undeniably watered down the sweet tea of my Southern raising.

It ultimately gave me the ability to hear everyone else’s Alabama accent, which I likely disassociated myself from, subconsciously.

The Southern Accent became as noticeable to me as the Midwestern Accent, like I had heard on TV; meaning it sounded theatrical, not natural, to me.

But it’s not just in my more neutralized accent, it’s also in my detachment from Southern culture. I didn’t grow up watching sports, since my dad (who actually is a full Southerner himself) was into karate instead. Therefore, I wasn’t too interested in playing sports. Admittedly, I barely understand the basic rules of football.

Instead, I was interested in exploring the woods and riding my bike. I grew up in the mountains of northern Alabama, surrounded by DeSoto State Park, DeSoto Falls, and Little River Canyon.

However, going back more the way of the Southerner, I regularly attend monster truck shows. If I could own any vehicle, I would either choose a Toyota Tacoma or a Jeep Wrangler.

I’m in the midst of a minor identity crisis. How Southern am I?

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

5 years, 9 months.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Dear Jack,

This past Saturday you and Papa and I had a genuinely great time at my Cousin Jessica’s wedding. It was a once in a lifetime experience you will never forget- I’m sure of it.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Back a couple of months ago when our family was driving back from Atlanta on our first family of road trip as a family of 4, we took a minor detour to go visit my grandparents on Papa’s side. We didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last time we saw PawPaw Shell on this Earth.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Just a few weeks later, he passed away. You and I attended his funeral as part of our father and son road trip; while Mommy and baby Holly were visiting family in California.

To honor his life, my cousin Jessica had her wedding at PawPaw Shell’s farm in Sale Creek, Tennessee.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

I had never once in my life seen PawPaw wearing anything other than a flannel shirt and a pair of overalls. Never pants, never jeans, never shorts- just overalls. He was even buried in his overalls.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Undeniably, PawPaw Shell was one of the most Southern men I ever knew.

Therefore, for my Cousin Jessica to have a wedding that also honored our grandfather… it had to be unapologetically country. So it was.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

For the music, Jessica’s step-dad pulled up his truck to the barn and rolled down the windows, so everyone could hear the music.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

After the wedding, everyone lined up for the meal, which consisted of potluck. As for Papa and me, we brought the vegan pasta salad that Nonna made. There was also some vegan chili there as well.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

I found a cinder block for you to sit on to eat the mac-and-cheese Nonna packed for you. Had we realized though, mac-and-cheese was actually already a menu item on the barn buffet.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

A popular place to sit during the meal was in the bed of one of the many pick-up trucks there.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

You enjoyed your wedding favor, which was a children’s duck call.

After the meal, we walked down to the pond to go fishing. You had never actually been “real fishing” before, so this was a really big deal for you.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

No one brought bait, so it was a matter of digging for worms and catching grasshoppers…

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

My Cousin Jessica’s son Breyan was able to catch 3 fish right in a row! That was especially amazing, since he explained to me it was his first time fishing.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Unfortunately, you didn’t have such luck. You didn’t catch your first fish, but we will surely try again.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake! w18

As we made our way back to the barn to get you a piece of wedding cake, we saw my Cousin Angie’s son with a ball python around his snake.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake! w20

He explained it was his pet that he’s had for a year and a half. I decided to hold the snake, as I don’t necessarily remember holding one before at any point in my life.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

You decided to pass on the opportunity, which surprised me, since we go to the Repticon reptile show every year.

After we left the wedding, Papa drove us by the famous Spaceship House on Signal Mountain. PawPaw Shell helped build it, back in 1973.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Though it all may seem like a dream to you now, I promise, it was all real. That all really happened! From the fishing to the snake to the UFO house!



A Southern Fried, Sunday Afternoon Play Date

August 6, 2013 at 11:00 pm , by 

2 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack,

After testing out the adventure of taking you to the races at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway with us, we decided to invite your best friend Sophie and her parents along for the next race.

It was interesting because I could tell Sophie enjoyed watching the races just as much as you did, but in a slightly different way:

She is a highly verbal extrovert. You are a highly verbal introvert.

Sophie wanted to talk to you and share snacks.

You wanted to eat your own snacks and watch the race; as the “grumpy old man” look on your face in this picture clearly demonstrates.

I was actually surprised you let Sophie wear your skull and crossbones sunglasses… or as you call them, your robot glasses.

Basically, if it meant she didn’t get to eat your food, you were willing to sacrifice the shades.

It was funny when I asked Sophie’s mommy how she liked the races as we were leaving, because her response perfectly reflected my own: “That was different… but I had a good time.”

I must say that being at the races this weekend reminded me how truly Southern living in Nashville can be sometimes… or at least I should say, in some places in Nashville.

The races began with a prayer, which is fine by me. However, the prayer devolved quickly:

“Dear Lord, we thank you that we can all be here at the races today. We just ask that you will keep all these drivers safe today…”

So far so good. But then…

“And Lord, we pray that you will help these cars go faster than they ever have before, so that all the fans here today will be entertained like they never have before…”

{Insert record scratching sound effect here to imply a surprise in the story flow, like they do in cliche movie trailers.}

“And I just pray, oh Lord, that for all the people who decided to stay home today instead of coming out here to the races, that the next time they decide to not come to the races, you would make them feel bad and realize just what they’re missing by not being here with us today.”

That was the point where I stopped taking the prayer seriously, and started looking around, catching eye contact with Sophie’s parents, as to say, “This must be a joke, right?”

Nonetheless, the man ended his “prayer” like this, I kid you not:

“And I pray all this in Jesus’ name, boogity-boogity… AMEN!”

I felt like I needed to ask God for forgiveness simply just for being present for that.

(It actually reminded me of one of my favorite bands, Cake, with their 1998 song, “Satan Is My Motor”; which I interpret as a song about the dichotomy of impure motives versus good intentions.)

Perhaps the most confusing part of the opening prayer was the fact he prayed that the next time people decided to stay home, that God would essentially curse them, but not this time.

Sophie and her parents stayed about an hour after we left, which was at the end of the third race. I learned from Sophie’s mommy, that in the fourth race, two of the cars bumped into each other and the drivers got out of their cars to start fighting each other.

Fortunately, the drivers’ pit crews held them back from actually hitting each other in the face.

I think next time, the opening prayer needs to cover that too.




A Nice Civilized Family Meal At The Kitchen Table… With a Toddler

Teaching My Son To Be A Modern Day Southern Gentleman

August 23, 2012 at 10:47 pm , by 

21 months.

“Jack, be gentle.”

Every time I tell my son that in an effort to help him transition his playful hits into gentle pats, I feel that I should also tell him to be nimble, quick, and to jump over the candlestick.

Of course, somehow I don’t think my son is yet qualified to jump over a candlestick.

His most recent accomplishment is graduating from a focused obsession on Elmo; now also including Ernie and The Count as part of his Sesame Street favorites.

“Five. Ah. Ah. Ah.”

Jack always says it so seriously. And he never actually counts before or after the number 5. Just 5. About three times in a row.

I love teaching my son new things. And fortunately, he loves learning from me.

It’s only natural as a parent to want to prepare your child to become everything you wished you were by the proper age. In particular, I am very aware that I am always thinking of how I can instill in my son how to be an all around gentleman.

(Because we live in Nashville, I feel the need to add the word “Southern” in front of the word “gentleman” to get the full effect.)

Even if right now the greatest lesson I can teach him is to not hit his friends like he’s in some kind of Toddler Fight Club

I look forward to the day when I start giving him advice on how to talk to girls. Because let’s face it: I’m good at it. (That’s how I met his mother.)

And though my skills as a handyman aren’t much better than the token goofball 1980′s sitcom dad, I think it will be really fun to (try to) teach him how to fix stuff around the house.

Just as important as knowing how to use a wrench and a power drill, I believe, is knowing how to keep a tidy house.

I’ve read enough trendy Ecards on Facebook to know that being a true, relevant gentleman in today’s culture means being very active in the household chores.

Yes, I want my son to be able to caulk a bathroom sink. But I also want him to be a natural at cleaning that sink along with the shower and toilets.

As for myself, I feel that I am really good at a couple things, and am fairly clueless on the rest.

That’s not how I want it to be for my son. I want him to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of some.

On top of that, I believe it’s also largely up to me to teach him how to treat people with respect; thinking of them before himself, while at the same time being able to stand up and fight for himself when necessary.

I figure, too, that in my attempts to teach him all these things, I can become better at them myself.

The Real South: More Like Andy Griffith, Less Like The Beverly Hillbillies

Because I’m used to talking to hundreds of people every week at work calling from all across the country, I can usually correctly figure out what state the person is calling me from based on their accent over the phone. American accents fascinate me. Because everyone’s got one. Even if it’s simply the official “flat accent” (covers the area from Omaha, NE to Des Moines, IA to Peoria, IL) which is how news broadcasters are taught to speak. Since I am so keen to pick up on a person’s accent, I’ve noticed an odd thing about movies and TV shows. A major lack of Southern characters and the Southern accent.

First I thought it was no big deal. That maybe less people speak with a Southern accent than any other accent. Wrong. According US Census Bureau, more people live in the South than any other particular region of the country. To be exact: 36%.

It’s official: More people speak with a Southern accent in our country than any other accent, even those who have “no accent”.

Most TV shows take place in the Northeast and California. So I understand the lack of the Southern accent because of that. But if most people live in the South, why not simply make more shows that take place in the South? Is it because the other 64% of the country won’t be able to see past the stereotypes they have in their own minds? When a show does have Southern character or setting, it’s completely written into the script as a unique feature in of itself.

A few movie exceptions come to mind: Reality Bites takes place in the country’s 4th largest city: Houston, TX. And amazingly, no cliché Southern references to be found. They just made a good movie that just happens to take place in the South. And one of my favorite movies of the 2000’s is Big Fish. It takes place in Alabama, yet if the Southern accents were removed, the movie would still be the same movie. In other words, the fact it took place in the South didn’t add or take away from the movie. And that’s what I want to see more of. Just simply make more movies in the South, not movies about the South. Why not cater to the majority every once in a while?

With TV shows, this concept of “being Southern but not being blatant about it” is much rarer. The Andy Griffith Show (Mayberry, NC) and King of the Hill (Arlen, TX)l are rare examples. Take away the accents and they’re still a charming shows pointing out the quirks of life in a small town.

I will give credit to LOST. Sawyer is from Jasper, AL. He’s not portrayed as a “dumb Southerner”. In fact, his con artist lifestyle shows he’s actually a pretty clever guy.

While the Southern accent and its many unique features like “ya’ll” and “fixin’ to” may sound ignorant to others, if the Southern accent (and language) is the majority then why must it continue to be treating like the minority?

We Southerners breed the rocket scientists that send people to outer space and the moon. Florida, Alabama, and Texas contain the headquarters for our country’s space programs. We also have Atlanta which blesses the nation with fine networks including The Weather Channel, The Cartoon Network, CNN, TBS, and TNT. Plus, we don’t like unions, so we build foreign cars here providing jobs for our residents: Hyundai, Mercedes, Nissan, and BMW.

“White trash” societies are everywhere, as the Jerry Springer show proved well. But somewhere all the way because of our racist past and slower speech patterns the South has become a believable stereotype of lower class of people to many onlookers.

In my version of growing up in the South, the only racist tension I experienced was the fact that the illegal Mexicans were taking the jobs the rest of us didn’t want. And that’s everywhere. As for a different way of talking, it’s just as easy to pick on the accents of Midwesterners or New Englanders.

Beyond the branded ideas of Elvis, Dolly Parton, fried chicken, and beat-up old pick-up trucks, there lies the Real South. In closing, I have provided a tip of the iceberg list of non-stereotypical Southern people and companies:

Abraham Lincoln: born and raised in Hardin County, KY until age 21
Brad Pitt: born in Shawnee, OK; raised in Springfield, MO
Johnny Depp: Owensboro, KY
George Clooney: Lexington, KY
Dave Matthews: moved to Charlottesville, VA at age 19 (from Johannesburg, South Africa)
Jason Mraz: Mechanicsville, VA
Ed Helms and Brian Baumgartner (“Andy” and “Kevin” from The Office): Atlanta, GA
Stephen Colbert: Charleston, SC
Courtney Cox-Arquette (“Monica” from Friends): Mountain Brook, AL
Owen Wilson: Dallas, TX
Renee Zellweger: Katy, TX
Ben Folds: Winston-Salem, NC
Justin Timberlake: Memphis, TN
R.E.M.: Athens, GA
Better Than Ezra: New Orleans, LA

American Idol has been dominated by Southerners. Not only is host Ryan Seacrest from Dunwoody, GA, but for all except two seasons (the Season 9 winner was Lee DeWyze from Mount Prospect, IL, and the runner up was Crystal Bowersox from Elliston, OH), the winner and/or runner-up was from the South, and the one only who ended up during Country Music was Carrie Underwood:

Season 1: Kelly Clarkson (Fort Worth, TX)
2: Ruben Studdard (Birmingham, AL), Clay Aiken (Raleigh, NC)
3: Fantasia Barrino (High Point, NC); Diana Degarmo (Snellville, GA); Top 3 Finalist, Melinda Doolittle (Brentwood, TN)
4: Carrie Underwood (Muskogee, OK); Bo Bice (Huntsville, AL)
5: Taylor Hicks (Birmingham, AL); Top 6 Finalist, Kellie Pickler (Ablemarle, NC)
6: the exception- Jordin Sparks (Glendale, AZ)
7: David Cook (Tulsa, OK)
8: Kris Allen (Jacksonville, AR)

Coca-Cola: Atlanta, GA
Dr. Pepper: Waco, TX
Fed-Ex: Memphis, TN
UPS: Sandy Springs, GA
Wal-Mart: Rogers, AR
Disney World: Orlando, FL

Country Music vs. Rap Music

There are two kinds of people in the world- those who are more prone to listen to Country, and those who are more prone to listen to Rap.  Either way, I do think that those who equally like them both are kinda weird.

My hometown is Fort Payne, Alabama.  When I was born, the town wasn’t even on the map yet.  But Fort Payne had a secret weapon that would shortly change that for us- a country music band that by 1983 would be a force to be reckoned with: Alabama.  The lead singer’s son was in my grade (192 graduating seniors for the entire city) and Randy Owen and the other band members would often drop off their kids at school themselves.  And even today, my parents’ house is only a few miles away from a few of the band member’s houses.

Needless to say, I grew up listening to Country music.  Not only Country music though- it was just something that got thrown in the mix with everything else.  Sort of like the way country music is perceived in Australia and other foreign countries that have a large country music fan base.  It’s not so much a mindset that Country music is its own entity- instead, it’s just American music that happens to be recorded in Nashville and Southern-flavored.

The Closer You Get (1983)

And that’s what Country music is to me.  Just like any other genre of music- some of it’s really good, some of it’s okay, and some of it is pretty horrible.  Some artists are classier, like George Strait and Lady Antebellum; while there are also the self-proclaimed rednecks like Hank Williams, Jr. and Toby Keith.  And just for the record, I like certain Country artists from each level of the spectrum.  I’m not too sophisticated for “Let’s Talk about Me”, assuming the song is meant to be funny.

Something I have observed is that when you ask a person what kind of music they like, you’ll generally get an answer like this: “Oh, I like pretty much all of it- classic rock, oldies, Motown, hard rock, alternative.  I even like a little (Country or Rap), but definitely not (Country or Rap).”

The people who like a little Country music tend to be the ones that will not listen to Rap; the ones that tend to like a little Rap music typically won’t listen to Country.  In other words, both Country and Rap music are polar opposites of each other, but the thing they both have in common is that they are both on the edges of mainstream.  Of course, there are people out there who pretty much only listen to Country, or only listen to Rap, but I’m talking about everyone else- people like me.

Downtown Fort Payne

Of the two examples I mentioned, I personally am the kind of person that will say, “I even like a little Country, but definitely not Rap.”  It’s not that I don’t think Rap sounds good or that rappers don’t have real talent because they typically don’t play instruments.  It doesn’t even bother me that Rap songs often use the choruses of hits from the ‘80’s, instead of coming up with their own.

For me personally, the lyrical content of Rap music is largely irrelevant to my life.  It comes across angry, violent, degrading to women, and obsessed with material possessions (I’m overaware I’m not the first person to say that).  But for all the millions of Rap fans in the world, there are obviously themes that ring true and connect to their listeners.  Rap music is relevant to millions; I’ve just not one of them.

South End of Fort Payne

While I didn’t grow up on a farm and wear Wranglers, there is much I can relate to in Country music, like its common themes of love, family, God, and simple living.  And as content as I am to listen to John Mayer and Guster and Phil Collins on a 4 hour road trip, it’s always a given that I have to slip in a Brad Paisley album into the mix.  Country music provides a lyrical grounding for me in the midst of rock songs which I love, but are better left vague in their meaning (like pretty much anything by Stone Temple Pilots or Smashing Pumpkins).

So there’s my biased opinion.  Which is it for you, though?  Which musical extreme do you identify with most- Country or Rap?  (You can either answer quietly to yourself or in the form of a passionate and/or angry comment below.) I think it’s a pretty interesting and revealing question to ask someone.  Like simply asking a person “Batman or Superman?