We love it down here. Why move to a place you don’t love? We could have moved to any one of the 50 states but we chose Virginia. And so we embraced it. I promptly set all the dials on the radios to Super Country and ordered a subscription to Progressive Farmer. I started watching RFD-TV, just so I could learn the ins and outs of important things like steam engines and corn chowder and square dancing. I planted a garden and made Pearl promise to tell me if she saw me doing something wrong. “Don’t be shy now,” I told her. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” That was an understatement—the only thing I ever planted before was a hyacinth I got on Easter. It came in a plastic pot wrapped in pink foil. It was dead by Mother’s Day.
In addition to the proper reading material and music, and a good garden full of turnip greens, in order to get the full southern experience, one’s activities should include: listening to bluegrass music down at the Dairy Queen; shopping at Wal-Mart (that’s a given); attending the Moonshiner’s Jamboree; and going to a pig roast where the pork will be served with cold slaw on a hamburger bun.
You should go to church and say “Amen” out loud when the preacher recites something you find particularly meaningful. Don’t say it half-heartedly like you don’t really mean it or you’re going to take it back if the wind changes direction. No. Bellow it out to show your agreement with whatever it was Pastor Lonnie said that was so inspiring. Say it like you’re mad and nod with conviction. It’s a very heady experience. Next thing you know, you will consider joining the choir and maybe even getting saved. All very southern acts.
You should take advantage of the pancake supper down at the firehouse, almost as good as ordering a pizza, which is impossible to do in the country. Never again will you be able to stomp into the house dead tired, shaking with hunger, kick your shoes off and walk zombie-like to the phone, where you will dial Tony’s Pizza, on speed dial, and order a large pie with pepperoni and extra cheese that will appear at your door in twenty minutes flat. Nope. You’re getting pancakes. Or frozen pizzas and sandwiches on those nights you can’t bear to cook and thank God, that at least, you can get Thumann’s cold-cuts around here. Because your delivery days are over sister.
Shooting guns is required. Even if you’re against killing animals like I am, just shoot the gun at a tree or something. Or the rifle or whatever it is. Any of these things will put you in touch with your inner redneck.
You can also go see NASCAR.
Now that’s the grand poobah of all southern experiences. Listen, I’ll admit it takes a lot to float my boat. I’m the one who fell asleep at the circus during a presentation of humans being shot out of cannons. I’ve seen a lot in my life. Perhaps I’ve seen it all. So maybe I’m hard to please. There were 63,000 people there. 63,000 people can’t be wrong. But, truth be told, I just don’t get it. And perhaps, if I cannot appreciate the roar of the engines on a half-mile track surrounded by beer guzzling fans giving the finger to and throwing cans at the drivers who pass that aren’t theirs, I will never fully assimilate.
I admit, the first hundred laps were exciting. You see all the people that are on TV and I thought I caught a glimpse of Jeff Gordon’s arm through the car window and I could swear Junior waved at me. There are big screen TVs like at concerts and pit crews all decked out in their sponsors’ colors and they go running out there and change the tires lickety-split just like you see on ESPN and then the race car guy peels out.
The last hundred laps were also good because I could finally figure out what was going on. I perked up when I realized my guy was vying for the lead. Kelly and I picked Jimmie Johnson because he wears a cowboy hat. I found out his number was 48 and kept an eye on his car so I wouldn’t lose track even though it was making me dizzy. But I kept getting distracted by the Lowe’s logo. I made a mental note in my head of everything I need and they just sent out one of those no-interest-no-payments coupons so I might as well get that screen door I’ve been thinking of and a new light fixture for the dining room while I’m at it. I’m also out of bug spray and I need bone meal and weed-and-feed and some black paint for my wagon wheels. Then I saw the bullseye on the Target car and I remembered I wanted to get some new curtains for the bedroom and perhaps one of those vases covered in mosaic made out of broken mirrors and a leather ottoman shaped like a cube that you can put a tray on with drinks and cheese-and-crackers like I saw on Design on a Dime. Fantasy shopping and watching my guy maneuver himself into first place kept me busy for a while.
Kurt’s guy was in eighth place. Kurt likes Dale Jr. because he used to root for his father so he just switched over to the kid because he’s a loyal kind of guy. I don’t know who the rest of our group wanted but I suspect it was also Junior because that’s who everybody goes for around here. People have his number decaled on their car windows, on flags flapping from their porch railings, draped over mailboxes and on t-shirts, jackets and caps. Someone even wrote a book called St. Dale and if he isn’t a God, he might as well be, for all the worshipping the locals do. And southern fans can be rabid, let me tell you. Just so you know, it would be in your best interests, especially if you’re trying to fit in, not to bring the subject up if you are voting for someone else due to a cowboy hat or cute buns or because you saw him on Regis and Kelly (which is why I almost chose Jeff Gordon). I would keep a lid on it. Kind of like religion and politics. Some things you shouldn’t talk about if you want any friends. At least in the south.
Anyway, it was the middle three hundred laps that almost put me in a coma. I couldn’t tell what the heck was going on and I couldn’t ask anybody because you couldn’t hear anything. Even if you scream in your husband’s ear and make motions like you know sign language. He’ll just look at you, shrug his shoulders, and keep smiling. Even if you get up and climb over everybody to go out to the concession stands. If you want a Dr. Pepper, you have to point. Mouths were moving but nothing was coming out. So I couldn’t ask a question. Like, how can you tell who is in front? How come they keep stopping the race? Do they keep their same positions when it starts up again? And is it safe to cheer when Number 48 goes by?
When the race was over, I did hear something. The woman behind me leaned over, practically climbed onto our laps, and said, “Jimmie Johnson’s a loser.”
When I told Kurt what she said when we were walking out to the car, he laughed and said, “Did you tell her ‘not today?’” (For those of you not from around these parts and don't know because you couldn't care less, Johnson won the race.)
Nah. What’s the point of arguing with a class act like that? Luckily she’s not the typical southern experience. One of the ladies in the long line for the bathroom saw me dancing from foot to foot (that irritable bladder, you know) and she insisted that I take her place in line. That’s what I embrace. That’s why I love this place. And the pig roasts.