I wrote the following several years ago and it is one of my personal favorites. It has appeared as a column in both The New Albany Gazette and the Pontotoc Progress newspapers. Hope y'all enjoy it.
There simply exists no other culture on earth like that of the South. You will note that I use a capital "S" for South. The reason for this is, where Dixie is concerned, South isn’t a direction, it’s a place. Southern is a mind set; a way of life. Indeed, Southern is a culture.
For instance, we Southerners may share a common language with the unfortunate masses who live outside of The Land of Cotton, but we speak it with our own distinctive dialect. I never hear Southern English being spoken without pausing to listen for and to appreciate every syllable...or the exclusion thereof. Whenever I try to educate people who are from directions instead of being from the South (you know, "up north," "back east," or "out west") I always point out that to speak like a Southerner, one must insert syllables where they do not belong - as in ca-yab for cab - and omit syllables where they do belong - as in Miss-sippi for Mississippi.
Other than our language, another Southern distinction is our food. Oh sure there are "Boston baked beans" and "great northern beans," but how can beans ever hope to compete with Southern fried chicken, Mississippi fried catfish, Memphis barbecue, or a Louisiana crawfish boil? We Southerners take our eating seriously. The first thing a Southern family will want to do for their guests is to feed them. In fact, any and every event worth celebrating (birthdays, holidays, weekends, having all the young ’uns over, etc.) calls for what my late father-in-law called a "feed." Any true Southerner will tell you that a good "feed" involves cooking something outdoors, whether on a grill, in a fish cooker, or over an open fire. If it requires outdoor cookin’, then its sure to be good eatin’.
While we’re on the subject of Southern dining, I should also point out the that our beverages are as unique as our food. I’ll give a brief nod here to the mint julep, as well as to a certain elixir which is famously stored in Tennessee’s wooden barrels, but the beverage I have in mind has been called The house wine of the South. Of course, I am referring to sweet tea. I remember once while attending a conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, that while ordering lunch at a local restaurant, I quite innocently ordered sweet tea with my meal. The waitress looked at me as if I were from another country and informed me that the tea came unsweetened. She did however point out the white, pink, and blue packets on the table with which I could sweeten my own tea. Come to think of it, I guess I was there from another country. You can get your tea sweet or unsweet in Dixie. But if you want something other than tea, you can always order a co-cola. Not a pop, not a soda, but a coke. There are many varieties of cokes in the South. There’s Pepsi, Mt. Dew. Seb’m-Up, Sprite, RC. (RC is the required beverage if you’re eating a Moon Pie); we have all of these cokes and more down here. You can even get a Coca-Cola coke.
Then there is Southern music. Whether its Southern Gospel or Southern Rock, the sound is every bit as unique as the people who play it, sing it, and listen to it. To the Southerner, the term classical music means Elvis, B. B., Hank (Sr. and/or Jr.), Skynerd, and the Florida Boys. There are of course many, many other great Southern artists which time and space prohibit mentioning, and we also appreciate classical music in its traditional context: Beethoven, Bach, Chopan and the like, even tough those boys weren’t from the South. But music ranks right up there with family and food in Dixie.
Now, religion is another thing that shapes the Southern mind set. This is where family, food, and music all come together. Regardless of your denominational persuasion, your church experience is lacking if you have never attended an all-day singing with dinner on the ground. This is the Bible Belt, and that's how we we were raised (obey the Bible or get the belt).
Close to religion is Southern sports (sometimes its hard to tell them apart, except where nine people in black robes have the audacity to tell us not to pray). Everybody everywhere loves their teams, but Southerners seem to take it to the max. I have worked security for the Ole Miss vs. LSU game. I know what I’m talking about. And don’t forget that NASCAR is a Southern sport. There are too many more to mention.
It would be stating the obvious to say that I love the South, but I do love the South. I love slogans like, American by Birth, Southern by the Grace of God." I love the South without apology or hesitation. Whether its magnolias, fried chicken, cornbread, the Stars and Bars, or the South’s National Anthem, Dixie, I love all things Southern. Dixie always has been and always will be my homeland, and home just seems to mean a little more down South. That is, down South...with a capital "S."