I have a black eye this week. I lifted my suitcase down from a high shelf, forgetting that I had hidden a heavy framed photograph on top of it when a real estate agent was bringing somebody around to look at the house. The photo slid off and smacked me in the face. Now my left eye is interestingly ringed in deep violet, in exactly the way I would have applied it if I wore deep violet eyeshadow. This all occurred just in time for me to board a plane for Tennessee, where I had hoped to make a good impression.
But nobody here has mentioned my shiner yet -- my hope is that this is because I was successful in shadowing the other eye to match it, more or less, and not because they were too polite to draw attention to it.
Because this is the South. People are kind here. They will let you get a good ways down the road to public humiliation before they'll bring it up to your face, and what people might be saying behind your back need not concern you, any more than what you may be saying behind theirs should concern them. People have to talk about something, and one another is a topic that never fails to please.
Then the sound system in the church where I was preaching malfunctioned, causing first one, then a second and finally a third microphone to fail in the project of sending my hollow voice into every crevice of the nave. I was forced to fall back on what these old churches were built to do -- their architects assumed that an unamplified human voice would issue from the pulpit, and they factored that into their plans.
Of course, we are no longer the stentorian preachers of the nineteenth century, when a good pair of lungs could keep it up for forty-five minutes or an hour, and people settled back as much as their hard pews would allow to enjoy the show. Often the sermon was printed in the paper the next day, in case somebody didn't make it to church and missed all the fun. Short, sweet and intimate is the ticket today, and our voices have shrunk accordingly -- we've become accustomed to the microphone picking up our slightest murmur, and we're spoiled. In any case, I did the best I could, and again people were kind, pretending that they had heard me clearly.
I like it here. The accents are beautiful and varied, the greetings leisurely before getting down to business. The countryside is lush and green. Back roads wind into hidden places just around the corner. It is hot -- supposed to have been 100 degrees today -- but there's a lot that can be done about that: you can drink plenty of tea, you can stay in the shade, you can not run around in the middle of the day like a fool.
I had fried green tomatoes yesterday -- read about them all my life but had never eaten one.
"They're very good," I told Buddy in a text message. "Lots of fried stuff down here, huh?"
"Yes," he said, "look out for fried tea soon. It'll be the next rage."
Tall tales, absurd pairings of words: people run up a stump, get in a swivet, make no nevermind and a lot of other things we don't do up north. The best American writers have mostly been from down here, people who grew up hearing that rich blend of hyperbole and understatement. It trained them well in what words can do.
Fried tea, huh? I'll have to try me some.