It started out as a lovely, hot summer evening with academic friends. I didn’t realize until much later that the heat was, in part, related to the pyre already smoking in the room.
Let’s see, how to begin. Hmmm. Maybe something like: hi. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Southerner, raised with several themes firmly in place around my little body like support beams. Jesus was groovy, Cherokee lineage matters, family comes first, catfish must be battered in cornmeal, no one measures when making biscuits/tea/cobbler, always kiss your momma goodnight, girls are bitches, never wear white after Labor Day (ever), get a new dress around Easter, a new sweater in September and new pink toenail polish in June. Wine you made your-ownself is not a sin, as long as you smoke in private you will be forgiven, the truth does matter and traversing that line will cost you (now, this one is loaded, but true, and there’s only one way to find out), fair food does not get included in the calorie countdown, real Christmas trees are required until you are at least fifty, land is everything, crazy folks belong out front on the porch (shotgun optional) and scuppernongs are sour until you add sugar. Most of your neighbors are Republican and Baptist, but if you are born into Democrats they probably looked more like Republicans 50 years ago. Southerners have always believed in magic; it’s part of their daily lives.
And so? I’m Southern. Strangely enough, most of my colleagues are not, most of them would like to live anywhere but here and make quite a skunk over it after a few drinks. I’m also Pagan; they represent the tapestry of Christian faith in its true glory. They knew I was Southern . . . but laws, my faith was another story.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Something’s burning. So there I sit, naively thinking that it’s cool. I’m a Democrat, an academic, a momma, a cook, and all of the things that would insure my safety in a Southern circle, regardless of the one thing I am not: Christian. Sigh. Looking back on this moment, there were two static characteristics of the room: no Southerners, no Pagans. Now, I still have a delicate diamond cross in my jewelry box, a black leather Bible with my name inscribed in gold leaf across the base and a lifetime of understanding that you do the right thing. Surrounded and loved by Christians of all denominations, I have never felt the need to wave the Pagan flag in their faces, nor defend it, when we all pretty much agree on everything critical in life: care about your fellow folk, cheating ain’t right, respect your Momma and Daddy. Most of us Cherokee lineage Pagans in the South don’t advertise or fool much with recruitment, mostly on account of it’s private.
But here I am. Not being very private in this piece of writing, am I? Maybe the dust mites got to me in this closet, perhaps the years of denying (much like the disciple, Peter) my religion burned the edges of my good sense down a bit, or maybe, just maybe, I’d like to be loved and accepted for the truth of me. Naive? We’ve already covered that. Forty-four years and I still want to be picked for dodgeball. Damn it.
So there I sit, wine in hand, looking all respectable-like on a couch with two women, one of whom I love dearly and one I barely know. The latter turns to me and asks (accuses) with a trill that could only have come from that small body: So, you are a practicing Pagan? (Insert “witch” here). It really is all about the verb. Practicing. Hmm. So, if I were only Pagan, perhaps lost, perhaps confused . . . but practicing? Well. Therein lies the sin. Needless to say, the area grew quite, um, quiet.
I’m sure that it is simple paranoia that informed my perception of the rest. I was no longer in the running for a teaching opportunity in my field (email notification, very sweetly put), two broken lunch dates with fellow faculty and the distinct smell of smoldering pine. Ah. It took a while for me to locate the irony of the geographical location of famous witch hunts. This time, the witch was an Alabama gal.
I reckon we take a lot of flack down here. Who can blame ’em when the local news successfully mines out the trailer dude with one tooth, jacked up on Jack, to recap the local tornado’s havoc? The slow, musical, maple syrup drawl of our language? Our tendency to concede to our history, while others throw down a nice polyurethane sheet on theirs and call it “historical?” Ya’ll know we’re quaint, though, right? Give a tenured academic five minutes and they will string up our wares on a wall and call it an event, invite folks, have tea and nod knowingly. There. See? We have given meaning to their hobbies. We have gone to their Syrup Soppin’ Fest and found it entertaining. Bullshit. Bullshit bullshit bullshit.
Make art out of that.
And it occurs to me that, in being drug unladylike out of the proverbial closet, I have brought with me a few other items of interest. I like being Southern. I like that my Grandma would “wrench” out her clothes and meet up with her kin down “yonder.” That my Great Aunt (at the time quite great in years) made biscuits from lard and homemade wine, had a separate bathtub stained with muscadines and hard water and that my family continues to have goat stews, fireworks, and built their own church out in the country. I like it. Seems very nonapologetic, to me anyways.
And they were and still are, save my Cherokee kin years and years back, Christians. Salt of the earth folks, just like me. Here, in this heritage fraught with worked hands, spilt blood, the love of the Great Spirit, the magic of a tribe, and damn tasty biscuits, I thrive. I’m dragging it all out, clamor and all. Damn sight better, if you ask me. In fact, I might just do it on a broom.