Author does his part to keep 'The South' alive

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My new book is a memoir of sorts. I say "of sorts" because it's part true and part made up. It's a book about growing up in The South -- the childhood I had, the childhood I remember, and the childhood I wish I'd had.

Many of my Northwest friends think of "The South" as an exotic place.

That's understandable. It's a long ways from here. They've never been "down there." They know only what they've heard, or what they've read about the Civil War or slavery or racial integration, or what they saw on "Hee Haw" as a kid.

They ask a lot of questions about plantation life and grits. And now that I've written the definitive work on Southern life, I get even more questions.

"Do all Southern cops wear those mirrored sunglasses?" Jim wanted to know. "Like on 'Dukes of Hazard'?"

"Absolutely," I said. "You don't think TV folks would make up something like that do you?"

"Did you have alligators where you lived?"

"Sure," I said. "All us Southerners have alligators in our swamps. But they're no big deal. 'Gators don't mess with people much. Eat a lot of cats and yippy little dogs. Only ate one kid in my neighborhood ... I think ... I can only remember one."

"Really?"

"Yep."

Being from Nashville, I also get the hillbilly questions. Folks want to know whether I grew up with indoor plumbing, whether I play a banjo, whether I wear shoes.

Yep. Nope. Yep, most of the time.

"Do you know Dolly Parton?" Larry asked.

"Sure. Had dinner with her last week. She's getting along pretty well. Has a bad case of the sniffles."

"Did you have catfish?"

"Well, of course. And hushpuppies too. And coleslaw -- the kind with mustard in it. And pecan pie for dessert."

Larry scrunched up his nose like he couldn't possibly imagine eating any of that stuff.

A couple of days ago, my editor called from New York City. She wanted some pictures -- old family pictures from my fascinating Southern upbringing. She said some of the stuff in my memoir was not very believable.

"Well, there's a good reason for that," I said.

"So we need to put some pictures in the book," she said. "They make it look more real."

"OK," I said. "But I'll have to call my mom. Coco's got all the old family pictures."

So I called Coco and told her I needed some pictures -- Southern pictures. And I needed them fast to get them into the book before it goes to print.

"Like what?" she wanted to know.

"Got any pictures of watermelon?" I asked.

"Maybe. What else?"

"How about pictures of cotton or tobacco fields?"

"Why would I have any of those?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said. "But if you find any they'd be perfect."

"Do they have to be pictures of our family or will anybody do?"

"Anybody'll do as long as you can't identify them."

"Ooh, fun," Coco said.

It took mom a while, but she found some doozies. I'm sitting here at my desk with a whole folder full of Southern pictures -- a picture of a Kudzu-covered junker on cinderblocks in somebody's front yard, a giant Mississippi River mudcat draped over a boy's outstretched arms (really slimy, must be 5 feet long), three guys sitting on a log smoking corncob pipes with a jug on the ground at their feet, and an alligator wearing a Santa Claus hat.

"You know any of these people or places?" I asked.

"Heck no," Coco said. "But good pictures, huh?"

"Perfect," I said.

If you'd like to read more of Sam's musings, visit his Website at www.sammcleod.net or become his Facebook friend.

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