Apologies for the brief hiatus. I needed to take a breather and just get out of town. There’s something about Atlanta in the summertime with the city’s haze, mugginess, and omnipresent traffic even if the schools are out, and it’s enough to make a girl downright claustrophobic. I decided to hit the road in honor of my 20-to-infinity birthday (I’ve stopped counting from here on out). Here’s the story of my Pretty Southern road trip.
I drove a little over 1,100 miles across the South through Georgia, the Carolinas, and southern Virginia. For those of y’all unfamiliar with the route, picture it like this: from Atlanta, hit I-85 North where Georgia’s hills give way to the wide waters of Lake Hartwell and Lake Keowee as your cross into South Carolina. For the next three hours you drive through barren valleys of I-85 dotted with peach trees, pecan farms, and the occasional outlet mall as you head on to Charlotte. After hitting the Queen City, you climb alongside the Appalachian mountains with exits pointing to some of the South’s most prestigious universities – The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, Elon University, and yeah that Duke school (sorry Dukies but my father grew up in Chapel Hill – Go Heels!) Just past Raleigh, you start to see towns with names like “Norlina” announcing the border with Virginia. As you get closer to the border, the foothills become lake country and farmland filled with green crops.
This part of the journey was a bit of a homecoming for me. I was born in Virginia. The first 10 years of my life were spent here, and yet I hadn’t been to the great VA in at least five years – back when I was still Lauren Morgan. Roughly 90% of my kin lives in this neck of the woods.
I do firmly believe that Virginia is for lovers. When my grandma says ‘Bless your heart’ she means it with all of hers.
My first night of the Pretty Southern road trip was spent at my grandmother’s house in the tiny town of Windsor, Va. It’s in the middle of nowhere along Highway 58 – which is basically the main road linking all the farm towns of southeast Virginia leading to the Atlantic Ocean. You drive through tiny tobacco towns until you finally hit Windsor. Blink and you’ll miss it. There’s maybe a dozen stoplights in the whole town, and that might be a stretch. Her house backs up to the baseball field of Windsor High School. She’s lived there since I was born and has a Southern accent as thick as molasses. Angela Sun pointed out that I say “If I had my druthers” a lot during the work week, and it turns out I have Granma to thank for that. Yes, that’s “Granma” because when she could still drive that’s what was on her license plate.
I spent the Night #1 with Granma and my uncle Jim noshing on a carry out pizza. For Day 2, I woke up at 7 a.m. on the morning of my 20-to-infinity birthday and went for a run in her backyard at the Windsor High School track. We drank coffee while she did a crossword and I read a Pat Conroy novel while movie reruns played in the background. For my birthday lunch, I treated us to Dairy Queen and rewarded myself to an M & M blizzard. Calories don’t count on your birthday. The past few months have been so busy with eating, drinking, and running around Atlanta that it was amazing to spend a few quiet moments with people I love.
That afternoon I said a tearful goodbye and headed west to meet my husband in Danville, Va. Along the way I made a pit stop in the lovely lakeside town of Clarksville. I’d done a bit of research and discovered that Buggs Island was surrounded by a beautiful river flanking beside Highway 58.
After spending some quiet time by the lake, I headed over into downtown Clarksville. I cruised down Main Street – with its antique stores, restaurants, and boutique hotels – then parked my car to do some exploring.
I saw a sign pointing to “English Gardens”. Growing up in a family of green thumbs, I was brought up to appreciate the beauty of a well-maintained garden. I found this lovely little garden beneath an arbor and white picket fence with an iron marquee advertising artisan jewelry and gifts. Considering I’d already logged over 500 miles, I thought I’d treat myself to a little birthday reward.
Now y’all this is one of my favorite things about the South – you just never know who you’ll meet when you’re on a journey. Once I walked inside, I discovered some of the coolest jewelry I’ve ever seen. Roses, wild flowers, hummingbirds, and other pretty objects were etched into pieces of acrylic. “You can see the artist at work” an elderly gentleman told me, pointing around the corner. Inside a small room, maybe a parlor or study once upon a time, sat the artist, Don Hall. He showed us how he etched into the acrylic with a diamond tipped blade to make careful engravings, which he then fills with special dyes he manufactures himself.
Mr. Hall is 90 years old. His accent is the loveliest mix of the Queen’s English and Southern drawl. Mr. Hall spent the formidable years of his life in England moving to Canada in 1947, then to Raleigh, North Carolina in 1953 to work with Westinghouse Electric Corp. Retiring as Senior Mfg. Engineer – Rototics Automation & Mechanization. There he met his wife and love of his life Rebecca, married in 1973. He took early retirement in 1985, bought an RV and took to the Craft and International Jewelry shows with the hand carved Australian Opal and Acrylic art work.
Fast forward to 2014. Don and his wife Rebecca run Hall’s Lakeside Gallery. His artwork is one of a kind. Cast acrylic was developed for windshields used in the bomber airplanes in World War II. After the war, he was looking for a gift for his mother — something incorporating red roses. He was inspired to make her the first piece which he still has today.
Don showed me a china cabinet in his workshop filled with pictures and mementos from his past including photos of him when he was a little boy with his sisters, his war hero days, the fantastic moments from his life with Rebecca. I learned an important lesson that day in his shop – when you find something you love, you never retire from it. At 90, Don still wakes up everyday to come to his gallery and create more art. I shared with him that my husband’s grandfather, also named Don, is turning 90 this August. “Well it must be a good sign,” he smiled.
I would have stayed for hours at the Hall’s gallery but I had to get a move on. After another hour-or-so on Highway 58, I arrived in Danville, Va. I cruised through the downtown historic district scoping out potential places for my birthday dinner. Danville is a neat little town hugged by the Dan River just across the border from North Carolina. I kept my eyes peeled for a liquor store hoping to find something for my birthday toast but I ended up at a Piggly Wiggly. Obviously, there wasn’t much of a wine section and I had to settle for a screw top. That was partly my fault. I knew better and should’ve packed a corkscrew. It’s a road trip essential, right up there with Q-tips, a journal, pen, and proper pillow (you just never know).
I found heaven in this part of the South. It’s called Biscuitville.
I finally got to see my husband, as he and his Exomotive team were preparing for the Ultimate Track Car Challenge the next day. By the time the sun went down we were all starving. For my birthday dinner, wouldn’t you know it we ended up at the Olive Garden. I’ve been blessed to eat a lot of amazing meals over the past few months, so I was pretty gung ho for breadsticks, salad and the Tour of Italy. On the way home, I spotted my first Biscuitville. I screamed “Oh my gosh honey! There’s a place called Biscuitville! We are so going there tomorrow morning.”
Day 3 – The next morning I got up early to investigate the biscuit situation. For folks from the metro Atlanta area who are blessed to know Martin’s famous biscuits, imagine if they served a pimento cheese and bacon biscuit. I also met some of the nicest people while waiting in line for biscuits. Talk about Southern hospitality. To the nice folks who own Biscuitville, will y’all please open an Atlanta location? Pretty please?
After picking up biscuits for the crew, I headed out to Virginia International Raceway to see the Exomotive team in action. For those of y’all unfamiliar with the Exomotive Exocets, these bad boys are made in Atlanta – including all of the steel. The boys rocked it that day thanks to awesome engineering and a stellar driver, Zack Skolnick from Driven Steering Wheels.
Day 4 – it was time to finally go home. After logging several hundred miles across four states, I felt like my 20-to-infinity was off on the right start. I cruised down I-85 for the six hours singing Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, The Pistol Annies, pretty much the entire “Nashville” soundtrack, and even a bit of Alan Jackson at the top of my lungs. I met some amazing people, spent time with my loved ones, saw some of the best scenery the South had to offer, watched some spectacular racing, drank about three gallons of sweet tea, and learned about the wonderful pimento cheese & bacon biscuit.
The South is an enchanting place, quite unlike anything in the world. Accents are sweeter, folks are more willing to strike up a conversation, and even share their life story. I do firmly believe Southern hospitality, chivalry, and grace do exist because they are embodied in every decent human being. We just have to be reminded of it, even if it’s by asking a simple question…
Where ya from, honey? Where ya heading to?
Lauren Patrick is the editor of Pretty Southern.com, a native Southerner, UGA graduate, and Georgia Bulldogs fan. When she’s not hitting the road exploring the South, y’all can find her writing, wining, and dining in Atlanta. Keep up with her & Pretty Southern on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
If y’all haven’t been keeping up with the Southern blogosphere, then you missed the launch of The Bitter Southerner. One such gentleman named Chuck Reece, a writer and editor with more than 30-plus years of penmanship, was fed up with the great stories of the South going undocumented, so he set out to do just that. Every Tuesday from now ’til the Rapture (Lord willing) the Bitter Southerner will bring y’all another great story from the South. Y’all can read his first stellar interviews with Holeman & Finch’s Greg Best and Patterson Hood, frontman for Drive-by Truckers. Here’s what Reece had to say about launching The Bitter Southerner:
This whole thing got started because I got pissed off. Bitter, as it were.
Here’s how it happened. My then-fiancée and I spent a week in New Orleans. We spent time with amazing barkeeps like Chris Hannah at Arnaud’s French 75, Kirk Estopinal at Cure and one of the granddaddies of the American cocktail revival, Chris McMillian at Bar Uncommon. We drank very well. We heard great stories. We learned.
Shortly after we returned, Drinks International released its list of the top 50 bars in the world. Not a single bar in New Orleans — or anywhere in the South — was on the list. I felt a familiar twinge of bitterness. I remembered the first time I moved away from the South, to New York City, and learned that my accent could trigger certain negative assumptions. To my new NYC acquaintances, my twang equaled “dumb” or “backward” or worse. Of course, when people discovered that I was reasonably intelligent and could speak in complete sentences, their assumptions quickly melted away. I learned a lesson: Sometimes, you just gotta show people.
I decided somebody needed to show the world our region’s drinking secrets. So I rounded up a gang of co-conspirators — designers, photographers, videographers, whiskey geeks — with a plan to hunt down the South’s finest barkeeps and ask them to tell their stories. We would give them their due.
Then we started thinking: There’s a larger point here, a bigger story to be told.
You see, the South is a curiosity to people who aren’t from here. Always has been. Open up your copy of Faulkner’s 1936 masterpiece, “Absalom, Absalom!” Find the spot where Quentin Compson’s puzzled Canadian roommate at Harvard says to him, “Tell about the South. What it’s like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.”
It always comes down to that last bit: With all our baggage, how do we live at all? A lot of people in the world believe that a lot of folks in the South are just dumb. Or backward. Just not worth their attention.
And you know what? If you live down here, sometimes you look around and think, “Those folks are right.” We do have people here who will argue, in all sincerity, that the Confederacy entered the Civil War only to defend the concept of states’ rights and that secession had nothing to do with the desire to keep slavery alive. We still become a national laughing stock because some small town somewhere has not figured out how to hold a high school prom that includes kids of all races.
If you are a person who buys the states’ rights argument … or you fly the rebel flag in your front yard … or you still think women look really nice in hoop skirts, we politely suggest you find other amusements on the web. The Bitter Southerner is not for you.
The Bitter Southerner is for the rest of us. It is about the South that the rest of us know: the one we live in today and the one we hope to create in the future.
According to Tracy Thompson’s brilliant “The New Mind of the South,” it’s been only two decades since Southern kids (including the entire Bitter Southerner crew) stopped learning history from censored textbooks, which uniformly glossed over our region’s terrible racial history. Even today, kids are studying texts that Thompson rightfully labels “milquetoast” in their treatment of Southern history.
And recent election results suggest that the Southern mind hasn’t evolved much, that we’re not much different from what we were in 1936, when Faulkner was struggling yet again with the moral weirdness of the South. Almost 80 years later, it’s still too damned easy for folks to draw the conclusion that we Southerners are hopelessly bound to tradition, too resistant to change.
But there is another South, the one that we know: a South that is full of people who do things that honor genuinely honorable traditions. Drinking. Cooking. Reading. Writing. Singing. Playing. Making things. It’s also full of people who face our region’s contradictions and are determined to throw our dishonorable traditions out the window. The Bitter Southerner is here for Southern people who do cool things, smart things, things that change the whole world, or just a few minds at a time.
The world knows too little about these people, which is, alas, another reason to be bitter. But it prompted us to create The Bitter Southerner™.
We’re talking here about people whose work embodies what my old buddy Patterson Hood once called, in a song, “the duality of the Southern thing.” The purpose of The Bitter Southerner is to explore, from every angle we can, the duality of the Southern thing.
Last time I saw Patterson, we sat in his van outside Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Ga. We were talking about how his view had changed in the dozen or so years since he’d written that song.
To him, the 2012 election results brought clear evidence that we are moving into a more progressive era, and that our southern home might actually be following, however slowly. “We may actually wind up living in a more enlightened country,” he said, and laughed a little.
Still, the tension — the strain between pride and shame, that eternal duality of the Southern thing — remains. Lord knows, most folks outside the South believe — and rightly so — that most Southerners are kicking and screaming to keep the old South old. But many others, through the simple dignity of their work, are changing things.
We’re here to tell their stories. Over time, you’ll see many pieces about bartenders, because a) that’s where we started and b) we very much enjoy a great cocktail. After all, one Southern tradition worthy of honor is the act of drinking well. But we’ll also cover the musicians, cooks, designers, farmers, scientists, innovators, writers, thinkers and craftsmen. We’ll show you the spots that make the South a far better place than most folks think it is. You’ll also see essays, short stories and poems — pieces that Bitter Southerners like ourselves create as we wrestle with our region. And every now and then, we’ll give you a peek at the oddities that seem to happen only down here.
We hope you’ll enjoy The Bitter Southerner and spread the word about it. Help us round up other Bitter Southerners, no matter where they live.
We hope you’ll want to contribute to The Bitter Southerner. In fact, we need you to. Right now, we have no budget and a staff of volunteers, so we’re starting in our hometown of Atlanta. But we know there are others out there like us, people with the skills to capture a good story, or create one. Tell us your ideas. Let us know who you are.
The stories are out there, all over the South. They deserve to be told.
Until we tell them all, we will remain as bitter as Antoine Amedie Peychaud.
The Bitter Southerner offers only this promise: one great story from the South every week. More specifically, every Tuesday.
Why only one story a week? Well, that word “great” is the operative one. We want to make sure that every story you see on The Bitter Southerner’s site gets treated right. Like any good work, that takes some time.
We do promise to keep you entertained between stories. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter @bittersouth and/or Google+. We’ll keep you apprised of praiseworthy and interesting stuff going on in the South, with a little bit of Bitter Southerner interpretation for lagniappe.”
Chuck Reece has been a writer and editor for more than 30 years, beginning in journalism and then moving through politics, corporate communication and the consulting world. He hails from Elijay, Ga., and calls Atlanta home.
If there’s one thing every Southern lady has in her closet, it’s that favorite pair of faded blue jeans. Miss Kelli Eidson of Atlanta has parlayed her love of simple fashion into a new blog: Faded Blue Jeans And Pearls. As she was already doing so many fabulous things on Pinterest, Tumblr, and Twitter, she has, “finally gotten around to creating a blog about my beloved home.” Here’s a lovely post from Kelli about our honeysuckle ways…
“I am so incredibly blessed to consider myself a Southern girl. I delight in saying “yes ma’am” to my mother and saying “God bless” when something takes me aback. I involuntarily spit out any tea that is not as sweet as the day is long. I address strangers as sweetheart and dear without so much as a second thought. My hair is forced to suffer through the intensity of the heat and humidity in Georgia during the summertime, but I revel in it because it allows me to wear charming little sundresses.
I think we’re made a little differently down here. I was made to play outside as a child only to return home with my feet, face, and elbows a little dirty. It is widely accepted that Momma knows best whether I tend to like it or not. I am a God-fearing woman and happy about it.
Southern hospitality is not a myth. If you come to my home, you will be greeted with a genuine smile and a warm hug from me (and probably my Momma too). Life’s greatest lessons were put under the banner of “growing up things.”
If you live above the Mason-Dixon line, I am terribly sorry, but you are a Yankee. If you happen to show allegiance to any New York baseball team, you will always be a Damn Yankee in my eyes. Enough of you lost souls have managed to navigate your way down here and we take you. We’ll try to teach you a few things.
I don’t don as deep of a Southern accent as I did when I was younger, but you will hear me say “y’all” and “fixin’ to” on a fairly regular basis. I could sit on a porch swing for hours and watch the world go by without so much as a glimpse of anxiety.”
We totally agree. Keep up with all our @Pretty_Southern sayings using #LoveTheSouth, and be sure to keep up with Kelli on Twitter too!
Kelli Eidson is a true Southern girl hailing from Kennesaw, Ga. She’s an avid reader, cardigan aficionado and Braves fanatic. Y’all can follow her on Twitter, and on her blog Faded Blue Jeans And Pearls.
I recently found Lauren’s piece “Love The South” and wanted to try something in a similar fashion myself. So I thought, what better way to kick off my senior year at Virginia Tech than a tribute to the place I’ve spent the last three years of my life, and where a final year awaits
And so I present to y’all my profession of undying love to Hokie Land, “Love VT.” (more…)