That frying pan did more than fry chicken that night.
Ninny Threadgoode, Fried Green Tomatoes
The Southern Kitchen Witch is sick as a dog. I mean shakin’, rattlin’ and rollin’ sick, only crackers for sustenance for three days, lost five pounds during the holidays sick. With a cherry on top. It took me three hours to get my bum to the computer in this shape–despite my tribe’s pleas for me to just lay my ass in the bed, please–but that’s not the way I roll. It’s a warrior-type mentality that has kept me alive and sane for almost forty-six years and kept food, love and a little piece of money on our table. Not about to lay down yet. And, as I reach for a glass of wine that I can only hope will annihilate the virus sprinting gleefully through my veins, it occurs to me yet again: not everyone does this, Seba. As my six-year-old nephew, Ian, likes to say: let me ‘splain sumpin to you.
Southern women are about as hard-core as you can get. We’ve been squatting out babies and bleeding on cotton forever, blood still drying on our aprons as we stir our greens for supper. It’s way less romantic than you would suspect, but it’s all we’ve got. Warrior mentality. All that Cherokee and Celt blood got sopped up down here with a little African-American nobility on a biscuit. I was chatting with a friend one night ’round ten years ago on the phone about her being tired when I stepped right over the line with my size eight. Lessee, I had three babes, a full-time job, was knee-deep in a dissertation and had a serious case of OCD (meaning: you could eat off my linoleum) when I chimed in. Her response was clear: not everyone is as tough as you. Huh. Why, you could have knocked me down with a chicken feather. It’s a choice? Sumbitch. (Now, she was tired. Soul tired. But I reckon’ I invalidated that feeling with my warrior mentality. Not cool.) Turns out, I’m a might uppity about this warrior thing, running around all: where are your balls? Get your ass up. Fight till there’s nothing left. Let’s examine this notion and see if it has any rightful seat at a dinner table.
Warrior mentality has little, if anything, to do with true courage (although it has a helluvalot to do with true grit). John Wayne was famous for saying: “Courage is being scared shitless and riding into town anyway,” and that’s just the meat of it. It occurs to me, however, that not all of us throw our gunbelts on and ride into town at the drop of a hat. Naw, some of us stay at the house watching the yard, kids and gardens and few know that those women have a shotgun behind the door. I call these women Homestead Warriors. Let’s work this one out for a spell.
Remember Fried Green Tomatoes? Ol’ Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth? Well, there you have it: the perfect semblance of Southern women, split into two souls. One tobacco-spitting-tough-gun-toting-rough ass of a gal and one feminine-sweet-talkin’-sugar-momma of a lass rode across a page of fiction that smacked of truth. Both were strong-in different ways. Both were Southern. But–as tough as Idgie was, it was the homestead folk that took care of business when a black cur dawg showed up late one night to steal Ruth’s baby. Made for succulent barbecue and a fine story. Even so, the part that stung my soul was when Ruth riled herself up Homestead Warrior style and wrote to Idgie: “And Ruth said: “Whither thou goest, I will go. Where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people.” Not an easy thing, that letter. Took some damn fine courage, albeit scared shitless, and it’s this kind of Southern Warrior mentality that saves us. It’s just the categories that fuck us up (yes, I finally said fuck in a post.) Feminine often does not equal tough, tough does not allow for feminine and before you know it, we are dealing in strange lands of sexual inequities and myths. Let’s turn to history for a little backscratching.
Within the Cherokee Nation, there existed these two factions of divine females: the ones who stayed near the tents, raised babies, created fire and food and carved spear-heads for war. Now, if you traipsed your happy ass in there unannounced, you could count on being What’s For Dinner, the other white meat. There were also those women who painted their faces, trained for bloodshed and fought alongside menfolk with a thirst and passion that rivaled the gods. While this might look like an abomination of gender, it actually represents our Great Mother in her entirety: for once God was a Woman. malevolent and benevolent, sexual and maternal, sweet and enraged, creator and destroyer of all, she refused fracture even for the lowly human minds who could not fathom her. Cherokee people understood this, took account of it and allowed her multiple facets to flourish within the community in full show. Sad, isn’t it, that we are still so shattered from ourselves? That we need words like “butch” and “femme” to describe the kaleidoscope of womanhood, to categorize ourselves in these ways. But, perhaps, it’s the only way in which our brains can grasp the Divine. Of course, some of us inhabit one side of the Goddess more than the other –and this fact is neither one of shame nor exultation.
In my own soul, I am the painted Warrior. Now, this doesn’t mean that I do not value my maternal life, my home and (as most of you already know) my kitchen. I can sling my ass into some fried chicken with a baby on my hip, slap on some red lipstick and seduce my man out of his Wranglers before you can say boy-howdy. It’s in my nature, however, to saddle up and ride into town if I hear trouble–and then I’m the trouble you’re looking for. I have a sister who is a Hearth Warrior. She keeps her ass round her own fire, never looks for a cock fight, is loathe to confront someone (lessen they are in immanent danger of losing their soul) and knows that I have her back, guns-a-blazin. Does this make her less of a warrior? Hell, naw. It makes her dangerous. No one ever sees her coming, at least not until they have stepped way over tribal land. Me? I’m on the hill in plain sight. Perfect balance.
I’ve been told I ask too much. I reckon that has some truth shoved up it, as I’m often the one who tells the menfolk to grow a pair, get their ass on the hill and act like a warrior. I know no other way than to fight, no other path than the one I carve and no other sensibility than to grab my bootstraps and pull. Nothing I can do about this. Call me John Wayne. (Must be why my sister loves me, that damn crush she has on that old man.) Thank Goddess, when I’m done taking heads with my tomahawk, she’s always a’ waiting there, supper still hot and land still ours.
Final thoughts: As in I am sick as a dog (why are dogs always the ones?), this post will be revised when my fever subsides. Expect a spacklin’ of ball-taking, when we give them back to our deserving men and the various recipes for those who have little other use than in a frydaddy.