The way things are s'posed to be
Last Monday as I sat at a lunch meeting I looked out the window and announced, "It's snowing!" No one could believe it, so we all got up from the table and took a closer look out the window. White flakes were indeed falling. How could this be? It's spring. As it turned out, we were watching a flurry of pear blossoms. How positively vernal.
As fate would have it, the very next morning as I got out of bed in my home in Ashland and looked out the window, my wife announced, "It's snowing!" No pretend pear blossom flakes this time. It was real live snow.
Of course, I really wasn't all that surprised. People who have lived here a long time will tell you they remember when it snowed on Mother's Day. But I knew it was going to snow for the simple reason that I had just taken my studded tires off three days before.
There are some things in life you can count on, and that's one of them. But there are also things in life that you used to take for granted, things that you never thought about much but have now changed or have fallen out of fashion and passed into the nether worlds of disuse.
For me, a lot of these notions come from my childhood memories of growing up in Virginia. Virginia is an odd place, historically. The capital of the Rebel Confederacy was in Richmond, which is also the state capital. And the capital of the Yankee Union, which is now the capital of the United States, is also partly in Virginia. I spent a good part of my life in this split world. I went to college in Richmond and we lived in northern Virginia, a short drive from Washington, D.C.
Living in Virginia you are on the cusp of what is known as "The South." People speak and act differently there. And they've been doing that for a long time. Even in my day, the young were taught to say "Yes, ma'am" and "Yes, sir." They were instructed to remove their hats when they went inside a building. To open doors for women and assist them getting into their chairs at restaurants. If a woman entered a room, we stood up. We gave our seats on busses to ladies and to our elders. We whispered in libraries and watched our language in public. No one thought much about it. We just did it.
Of course, nowadays, such gestures are read as insults by women who are understandably trying to throw off years of second-class citizenry and dismissiveness as the "weaker sex." More than one woman has called me to task for calling her "ma'am." So I'm learning new habits, even as I lament losing the old ones.
I was reminded of the world of the South recently for two reasons. The first was because Oregon Stage Works is presenting Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird." The play visits Alabama in the 1930s, a place we used to call the "Deep South." Alabama — and indeed much of the South — has changed considerably over the years. But back when Harper Lee was a young child, Alabama was known as much for the rawness of its bigotry and violence as it was for its genteel Southern charm. That's part of my memory, too.
The other occasion that brought me back to the South of my childhood was attending a concert by Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group at the Craterian. First there was the music. It's now called "Americana" but I remember it as folk. Lots of great harmonies, guitar, banjo, mandolin and bass. All that was missing was a fiddle.
In between songs, the patter was rich in old Southern "jawin'." When the bass player's previous band memberships were mentioned, some of the people in the audience registered their recognition and appreciation by clapping. To which Robin Williams quipped, "Now that's what I would call a textbook example of a 'smattering.'"
Later, Linda Williams talked about her relatives and those great old-fashioned names they had. There were the "botanicals," women named after flowers. And there were other names you hardly hear any more. My mother's "people" came from Kentucky, so she and her relatives had some of those names. She was Esther Gertrude, her sister, was my Aunt Marian and her brothers, my uncles Clyde and Louie.
One of Linda Williams' aunts was named Annabelle Lavender. On hearing that, her husband chimed in: "Annabelle Lavender, put that opossum down! You don't know where it's been." Ah, good ole Southern humor. Like "Stay away from that wheelbarrow, Clarence! You know you don't know nothin' about machinery."
It just so happens, the Williams' live in rural Virginia. Hearing the gentle twang in their voices and the lush melodies of their songs, I felt like I was sitting on their front porch, a lot younger and in less-complicated times. And if Linda Williams were to ask me if I wanted a slice of freshly baked Shenandoah apple pie, I believe I'd answer, without a moment's hesitation, "Yes ma'am."