birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Strange Land

I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and but for a brief 7 years or so when I lived in Boston, my 54 years have been right here in the heart of Dixie. There are so many conventions that go along with being a southerner, and all my life, I’ve been breaking them. Here are some of the rules I break:

I don’t like sweet tea. I don’t eat barbecue. I don’t like country music (contemporary). I don’t hunt or take part in any hunting activities. I don’t drive a truck. I only wear my cowboy boots for working. I ride English. I don’t eat grits except every so often on hungover days when I go to Waffle House, seeking something I never find in the food, but find in the friendly “Welcome to Waffle House” they holler when I walk in and in the quiet din of clanking silverware once I settle in with coffee.

I’ve never fried a thing in my house except falafels. I will eat fried chicken, okra, fish, and pickles, but only on occasion and I’d never eat a fried Twinkie. I’m just not a southern eater; I like my vegetables with a little crunch, and it wouldn’t occur to me to put Cheeze-Its on my broccoli casserole. Though I admit I had some the other day and it was delicious, along with those home grown tomatoes and squash.

I don’t monogram things except my lockets and my informals, which I use to write my thank you notes because I may be a rebel against being a rebel, but I do write my thank you notes. Can I get an amen?

My children don’t say ma’am or sir, and they call all my friends by their real first names, without the Miss or Mr., and I insist on being called by my real name, Mary. The grandbabies came up with Mimi on their own. But listen to this: my girls call their grandparents by their first names. Except my dad, who became Papa to all of us.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. I don’t go to church. Period. I don’t have the first bit of conventional religious belief in my soul. When I said as much to a co-worker at lunch once, she patted my arm and said, “Oh honey, yes you do, yes you do,” as if I had said I was ugly and she was trying to convince me I was pretty. Now I say that with conviction, but I am a member of the Episcopal Church, because sometimes I need a refuge and they don’t have a bee up their butt about homosexuality or taking care of the poor. Don’t even get me started on churches and hypocrisy. It turns my stomach.

Even though I live in an SEC town, I don’t really care about football. But I pretend. Some things you just can’t get away with, even if you are known for your unconventional ways.

I’m a yellow dog Democrat and voted for Bernie when I had the chance, and then Hillary, and I hate Donald Trump and his administration. I wouldn’t wave a damn Confederate flag for all the tea in China. I brought one home as a joke (it was given to me by someone manning The Dixie Store in Anniston, where I stopped one day to take pictures with assurances that I was only there to gawk and not to purchase, and in the spirit of Southern manners I guess they gave me a flag on my way out, and I left them arguing about whether Virginia was really a Confederate State and none of them had ever even heard of Bernie Sanders) and my husband, a Yankee from Massachusetts, burned it in the driveway and I approved.

God, the list goes on. I’m a stranger in a strange land, my husband even stranger than this stranger, our children, all girls who didn’t dress up for prom and who don’t wear make-up or have interest in pageants or sororities, are strangers too. They’re half breeds. I wonder if they consider themselves “southern.”

But look, here’s the day, morning heralded by the rasping, rolling, trill of cicadas singing their hearts out in undulating waves across the pine trees, and the sweet, sweet smell of fresh cut hay is calling in the field where we walk the dogs.

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