Category Archives: southern

Wednesday Weirdness: Coon Dog Cemetery

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My husband and I are not dog people. This is kind of an accident of genetics and environment, because Southerners in general, and my family more specifically, are generally dog lovers. As I have been writing my Southern-fried Romances, I’ve had to include dogs – what kind of fish bait store doesn’t have a redbone or bluetick lying on the porch? So I’ve been researching and getting to know a little bit about the breeds (and mutts) popular down here.

In poking around the Internet, I ran across a weird yet cool site that is now on my list of places I just have to visit – The Coon Hound Cemetery in Colbert County, Alabama.

Coon hunting is a big tradition in the South, although not one that I’ve ever personally felt the need to participate in personally. But down here, you will find a number of gentlemen — and some ladies, too — who think of their coon dog as a member of the family. Back in 1937, Mr. Key Underwood certainly felt that way about his dog, Troop. They’d been hunting partners and best friends for over 15 years, and when Troop died, Key just couldn’t let him be forgotten.

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He took Troop back up to a hunting camp near Tuscumbia, Alabama, where they had shared some of their happiest times. Key buried his coon dog right there in the wilderness, and marked his grave with Troop’s name and dates. Key had no plans to establish any kind of cemetery; he just wanted to pay his respects to a special friend. But over time, more hunters honored their canine companions by laying them to rest near Troop, and the Key Underwood Memorial Coon Dog Cemetery began.

Nowadays, over 185 markers memorialize coon dogs such as Preacher, Smoky, and Famous Amos, and the cemetery has become something of a tourist attraction. But you Yankees and city folk needn’t think about asking to lay your poodles or bichon frises in the sacred ground of the Coon Dog Cemetery. As a former caretaker put it, “We have stipulations on this thing. A dog can’t run no deer, possum — nothing like that. He’s got to be a straight coon dog, and he’s got to be full hound. Couldn’t be a mixed up breed dog, a house dog.”

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If you think your pet has the right coon dog stuff, you can apply for a plot via information found on the official website: http://www.coondogcemetery.com. And if you don’t have any plans this Labor Day, you might want to attend the annual Coon Dog Cemetery Celebration, which includes music, story-telling, and booths selling Official Coon Dog Cemetery Merchandise.

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Southern Weekend: Arabella’s Nanner Pudding

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Good Morning, my lovelies! It has been a month of Sundays since I wrote a post here, hasn’t it? I can only plead my commitment to getting the current rewrite of my WIP done (aka “the edits that would not end”), and trying to keep everything on an even keel in the home, family, and day job.

But excuses aside, I want to share something really important with you today, to kick off another Southern Weekend. As a true child of the South, there is nothing more important to me than the cuisine of my homeland. Yankees don’t seem to care as much about food as we do – I have yet to hear about the citizens of Northern states running decades-long feuds over the proper ingredients of their favorite foods, but it is a common thing in the South. Don’t ever put a Carolinian and a Texan on the committee to plan a barbecue, for instance.

Now, I agree with some of the people who hold strong beliefs about proper preparation of Southern specialities. I believe that grits should never be instant, that cornbread dressing does not deserve to be called “stuffing” and crammed up a bird’s butt, and that green Key lime pie is an abomination before The Lord. These are nonnegotiable positions, and I do believe that they are mentioned in the King James Bible — right after Jesus decreed that egg salad sandwiches are the official reception food of the Methodist Church.

But I am not a Luddite. I will accept modern innovations, and one of my favorite new-fangled foodstuffs is instant pudding. You can take a package of instant pudding and add it to a cake, put it in a congealed salad, or any number of adventurous uses. And while my Grandma Holley made her nanner pudding the old fashioned way, with cornstarch and milk, and lots of time over a hot stove, I use instant pudding to make something that I think can hold its puddingly little head up with pride. Here’s my recipe for nature’s perfect food, Arabella’s Nanner Pudding:

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, whipped up all fluffy

1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk

1 package instant pudding (banana is best, but vanilla if its all you can get)

3 cups of real cold milk (use whole milk – don’t try to cut calories by using skim — if you’re on a diet, just eat the banana plain and forget about pudding)

1 tub (8 oz) of Cool Whip

3 Bananas (really ripe, but not gone over), sliced into coins

Vanilla Wafers to taste (I use about 3/4 of a box of Nilla brand)

Take your whipped cream cheese, and beat in the Eagle milk, pudding mix, & milk. Then carefully fold in about half of the Cool Whip, followed by the bananas and some of the vanilla wafers.

Get a pretty bowl and line it with vanilla wafers. This is kind of tricky – you may need to put in some wafers & hold them in place with pudding in stages until you fill up the bowl.

Let it sit in the fridge for a good couple of hours. Have the rest of the Cool Whip available for people to top their serving as desired. (But, for the love of all that is holy, DO NOT put the Cool Whip tub out on the table – put it in a proper bowl, like a civilized person.)

Now tell me that ain’t some fine nanner pudding!

It’s Yule, Y’all!

Merry Christmas from the Western Gate to the Sunshine State, where thousands live the way Millions wish they could!

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Friday Foto: Andrea Kicks Off the Season

And it will be fine with me if she’s the only one we get.

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Tunesday: Summertime

Summer is fast approaching here on the Gulf Coast. Just yesterday, it seems like, we were shivering and suffering in the bleak desolation of February’s 50-degree days. Yeah, okay, so winter isn’t that bad down here. But we make up for it between May and October.
Yesterday was not bad, by Emerald Coast standards — it was about 88, with 80% humidity. That’s going to seem downright pleasant in a few more weeks, when we regularly top out in the high 90’s, and the air is so wet you’d swear you can wring it out like a dishrag.
And every year, I know it’s getting to be summer when I catch myself singing that greatest of odes to the lazy, crazy days — Summertime. I’ll get in the car, turn the AC all the way down to “Frigid Wastelands of Siberia,” peel my collar off my neck, and realize that I’m humming about jumping catfish and good-lookin’ mamas.
Yesterday, as I was driving along, discussing my plot with Bridget, my muse, and my two main characters (schizophrenia works for me!), Mr. Gershwin’s lyrics kept sliding through my head. Oh, the cotton is so, so high.
Many of you know that I always have a soundtrack for my books — songs that help me get into the character’s heads and experience their emotions. My current WIP is a Southern romance/women’s fiction involving a city girl who ends up living at the family fish camp in rural South Georgia. Yesterday, it hit me — I am nothing if not obtuse — the absolutely perfect song for a story about long, hot days sitting on the dock with a cane pole and an ice-cold Co’Cola: Summertime, as performed by the South’s First Lady of Heartfelt Lyrics, Miz Janis Joplin of Port Arthur, Texas.Listen to it here.
Does that make you wanna grab an innertube and run jump in the nearest swimming hole, or what?

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Southern Weekend: Hurricane Season!

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The first day of June. A day that strikes fear into the hearts of the Florida native. (Yes, there are actually people who were born in Florida. And what’s more, we have Southern accents. Don’t get me started on that.)

You see, June 1 marks the beginning of hurricane season. Now, I have to say that Florida was fortunate in its assignment of natural disasters — hurricanes are pretty much limited to a finite season in the summer and fall, we have days and days of warning before they strike, and they move slowly enough that anyone who wants to run will have plenty of time to get out of the storm’s way. I couldn’t cope with California’s earthquakes — suddenly, without warning, the earth moves? Please. People shouldn’t have to live that way.

So aside from being the most beautiful section of the country, the Emerald Coast of Florida is blessed with a fairly manageable threat of natural disasters. But part of managing that threat is the reality that, as every June begins, we turn our thoughts toward storm prep. Because, really, if you wait until you see Jim Cantore broadcasting from the deck of your favorite seafood restaurant, it’s too late. You have to make your plans, lay in your supplies, and start praying well before a storm gets into the Gulf.

My grandmother was a wonder when it came to storm prep. She didn’t pay a bit of attention when storms started forming off the coast of Africa. But as soon as one got near the coast of Puerto Rico, she started checking her supplies. When the storm made it into the Caribbean, she’d pull out the flashlights and candles. And by the time one got into the Gulf of Mexico, Grandma Holley would be cooking up every bit of frozen or refrigerated food in the house.

Remember, any decent sized storm hitting the Central Gulf Coast will probably turn off the electricity for at least several hours, if not days. And for my frugal grandmother, the thought of throwing out food was anathema. For many years, my cousins and I thought that hurricanes were holidays, kind of like Thanksgiving or Christmas. We’d all gather up at Grandma’s house, stay up all night playing games by candlelight, and there would be enough food to feed a battalion.

Another thing Grandma did for hurricane prep was kind of bizarre — at the time, I just took it as what one did, but now I’m darned if I understand it. As a storm closed in on the Gulf Coast, Grandma would get one of her children (my mom or her brothers) to run to Winn-Dixie for supplies. There would, of course, be lots of canned goods and non-perishables, but without fail, Grandma would instruct them to invest heavily in two items that, she was convinced, would ensure our survival: light bread and Clorox.

“Light” bread, for the unlightened non-Southerners out there, is also called loaf bread. It’s what you Yankees most likely just call “bread” — the fluffy, sliced stuff that comes in wrappers from a commercial bakery. It’s not white bread, though. The word “light” refers to the texture/weight of the bread, and means that it was made with yeast. You can have white or whole-wheat light bread. Don’t know why we had to have several loaves on hand for a hurricane, but it was a rule Grandma stood by.

Clorox, of course, you know about, and grandmother, thrifty as she was, would accept no store-brand, generic substitute. There were two great name brands she lived by: Crisco shortening and Clorox Bleach. I’m not sure exactly what the Clorox had to do with hurricane prep, but she would never face a storm with less than three large bottles of bleach on hand.

Looking back, I don’t ever remember her opening the Clorox and using it, but then again, my cousins and I were so busy stuffing our faces that we didn’t pay attention. Only thing I can guess is that she used it for water purification. You see, out in the country, each family had its own water pump — no citified water utilities for us! So, with the pumps electric-powered, a hurricane meant no water. So while Momma or one of the Uncles went to pick up the light bread and Clorox, Grandma would have me and the cousins running madly from house to house, filling up every bathtub and available bucket with water. I guess Clorox would kill any nasty bugs lurking in the water after it sat around the house in the hot, humid un-air-conditioned days following a hurricane.
Truly, you haven’t lived until you’ve had to flush the john by scooping a cupful of water out of a bathtub in the dark.

I have a hurricane in my current WIP, so I guess there would be an upside to riding out a storm this year — veracity, and all that. But having been six weeks without power after Hurricane Ivan, I’d rather write that scene from distant memory!

But just to be careful, today, June 1, I will be stopping at the grocery — though being a yuppified child of the New South, it will be Fresh Market, not Winn-Dixie — to grab some bleach and bread. Happy Hurricane Season, y’all!

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Friday Foto:Save the Blue Angels!

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Friday Foto: Springtime Down South

My Momma loved the Japanese Magnolia we had in our side yard.

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Southern Weekend: Tombstone Twitch

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I had a wonderful weekend, my dears. Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day, one of those just-about-perfect April days we get here on the Emerald Coast (aka God’s Country, The Western Gate to the Sunshine State, Where Thousands Live the Way Millions Wish They Could) – sunny with a few puffy little cumulus clouds, 78 degrees, with a mild seabreeze off the bay. Heaven, I lives there. And I got to spend this glorious day doing one of the most cherished activities for well-raised Southern girls: hanging out in a cemetery, talking about dead people. Dear God, how I love it!!!

You have to understand, here in the South, we love cemeteries. Give me a good graveyard, especially one where I am related to some of the deceased (or at least know relatives of said deceased), and I am in hog heaven. I am obsessed with history and geneology, and nothing makes me happier than figuring out how and why long-dead people behaved the way they did. The fabulous Southern writer Florence King gave this craving for history and desire to spend our spare time gently wiping lichen off granite monuments a name: Tombstone Twitch. Yes, I actually get physical symptoms — rapid pulse, quickened breaths — when entering a good historical cemetery.

Saturday was “Get the Spirit Day” at Pensacola’s oldest cemetery, St. Michael’s. This lovely, eight-acre green space in downtown Pensacola is older than the United States itself, having been a burial ground since the mid-eighteenth century. It was officially designated as a cemetery by the King of Spain in 1807, though that was only a recognition that it was, in fact, the burial ground for the Spanish Colony at Pensacola.The oldest surviving markers at St. Michael’s date from the early eighteen hundreds. Unusually for a cemetery in the Deep South, St. Michael’s is not segregated; members of all races sleep peacefully together through the years.

I was one of the volunteers who told stories about the dear departed, and it was wonderful to see how many people came out to enjoy the beautiful day and learn about our town’s history. From 10 am to 2 pm, there was a steady stream of people wandering through St. Michael’s, and I told the story of Captain Joseph P. Fish, Scandinavian Sea Captain, over and over. Other volunteers were relating stories about Spanish Grandees, Irish adventurers, Scottish traders, African craftsmen, and German physicians. The ‘population’ (so to speak) of St. Michael’s Cemetery tells the story of America’s immigrant experience — all these people, from every corner of the globe, now united in death as Americans.

History is vital to our children’s education; if we don’t know where we came from, how will we know where we are headed? I’m glad that my Southern girl upbringing taught me to cherish the memories of the past and the resting places of our departed predecessors. Besides, St. Michael’s is one of the prettiest, most peaceful places in town. I love it.

Friday Foto: Southern Fast Food

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How many weight watcher points you reckon that is?