Thursday, August 04, 2011

Never judge a mag by its cover

When I saw the magazine in the racks while picking over the carcass of our local Borders last weekend, my first thought was whether I could pull off a credible northern Minnesota accent while laughing at "those people."

Actually, that's a lie. My first inclination upon spying
Garden & Gun amid our Borders death watch, was "Hey. y'all! Look at this!"

I suppressed it. That would have given me away as one of "those people."

Garden & Gun. Can't be good. Sounds like my redneck childhood in south Louisiana.

IT SOUNDS . . . it sounds . . . it sounds so damn "Hey, y'all! Look at this!"

I mean, it sounded about right in describing the South I knew in my youth, but still. . . . You know?

Of course, in the midst of working up a good snark, I made the horrible mistake of picking up the damned thing. Pssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhew. That was all the air going out of my smugness and superiority.

Sure, you have some of your self-congratulatory "moonlight and magnolias" clichés about the superiority of all things Southrun . . . like the Southern belle. (As a longtime resident of the Midwest and husband of an Omaha belle, I can tell you the Yankees can hold their own). But you also have elegant design, an impressive stable of writers like Clyde Edgerton, Roy Blount, Jr., and Julia Reed . . . and a publisher who used to run The New Yorker.

Don't tell Bubba that last thing.

AND IN THE the archives, in the June/July 2010 issue of Garden & Gun, you also have one of the truest things ever written about the region that birthed me and formed me. The thing -- if you're a Southerner inclined toward introspection --
that also haunts you and makes you think about things that still can get you in a lot of trouble in many quarters of America's peculiar quarter.

Alice Randall
wrote it. She herself got in a lot of
trouble in many quarters of America's peculiar quarter for taking on The Myth . . . and The Book that so perpetuates it, Gone With the Wind.

In an article by the name of A Letter from Harper Lee, she says this:

Back in the late nineties, I suggested Mockingbird for a mother-daughter book group that my daughter and I helped found. Together an integrated group of five mothers and five daughters discovered and rediscovered the truths of Lee’s pages: that Lee realized that black men could be desirable, that white women could be liars, and that girls were bold and curious. We noted how much more intelligent the domestic servant in Mockingbird was than Mammy in Gone with the Wind. We noted that the town drunk only pretended to be drunk so he could get away with loving a black woman. We learned that having a daddy who practices civil rights law can be terrifying.

When we had finished, my daughter wrote a series of poems in homage to Lee. One of the mothers baked a Lane cake. We started dreaming of a field trip. I will never know what Harper Lee would have done if we had shown up uninvited on her doorstep with a Lane cake and five eleven-year-old girls. I know that when I showed up in her life as an accused plagiarist, she stepped into the hullabaloo that engulfed me to stand by my side.

I will always be in her debt. Not because she wrote to the court and then exchanged six letters with me over a decade. Before she knew of my existence, I knew of hers. Her words made me braver than I might have been from near to my very beginning.

I was born in 1959. Mockingbird was published in 1960. I read it for the first time not long after reading Gone with the Wind. I have long divided the world into Scouts and Scarletts—and I have always wanted to be Scout.

And for every year of my life but the first, Mockingbird’s very existence, reader by reader, thirty million strong, has made the world a better place for me and for mine, just as before I was born and for every single year of my life Gone with the Wind has made the world more difficult for people like me.
I WAS BORN in 1961 into a world of people with less polish than Scarlett but with souls just as arrogant. Souls just ugly enough to see every blessed thing through the dirty lens of the South's original sin.

I, too, always have wanted to be Scout, because Atticus might be a bridge too far. God give me the strength to overcome my Southern upbringing of a certain age.

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