I ain’t sure I’d know what to do if I couldn’t call my momma everyday. It’s not just that I love her and need to know that she’s ok, even though both of those things are true, but it’s also that no matter where I am in the world, my momma’s voice is a portal back to my roots. I could be at a comedy club in Buffalo, NY praying that the ice storm didn’t keep the 12 people who know me in that city from coming to the show, but one phone call to momma and instead the chill on my neck takes me back to all the christmases we had at my Grandmother’s house. I can see all the women of the family gathered round Grandmother’s ever growing “Christmas Village set” that in its infancy seemed like it could wrap around the equator twice. I can see my Aunt Teresa slapping the pockets of her faux leather jacket trying to find her misplaced Virgina Slim cigarettes with one foot out the door and the other propping it open. I’d find out near 15 years later that Teresa wasn’t actually my Aunt, just one of them real good friends of the family that no one knew what else to call. I never stopped calling her that.
I keep little memories like that tucked away for just such an occasion as I find myself road-worn and weary on the regular. In my travels I’ve found more curiosity in our similarities as people then in our differences and because of such I can be triggered bout anywhere I’m at in the world. I remember seeing two little boys in Woodside, Queens, NY ride their bicycles on a sidewalk alongside a very large and gorgeous Catholic Church. Maybe it was the three beer buzz I had going from spending my morning with my favorite bartenders at Donovan’s Pub, but those kids sure did look just like me and my buddy Matt Culbreth taking our bicycles down to Mrs. West’s house to see if Jesse was home. If we were feeling generous that day we’d let Matt’s little brothers ride on the back of our pegs so long as they promised to hush and let us “grown ups” talk. We had so much important stuff to talk about ya know… if Chipper Jones batted better leftie or righty, which little Debbie was the best, and of course which 5th grade teacher we reckon we’d have that year and if we thought being in separate classes would come between us as friends (it would not)
We’d ride back from Jesse’s disappointed to learn he’s gone to Paducah to see his daddy for the summer, but happy that we’d be passing Ed’s Grocery all the same and had just enough quarters to get a pack of sunflower seeds and a couple cans of root beer to split. We’d sit there on the old railroad ties that served as parking curbs getting sap or god knows what on some shorts that our momma’s cared more about than we did and suck them cold drinks down like we were Andy Dufresne’s work crew on top of the jail. Life was good, and I bet them two little New Yorker’s will have a similar story to tell when they get older. Even if they’ve never seen boiled peanuts or a Baptist church.
When I’m traveling, I don’t opt for the window seat on an airplane because my bladder is about the size of a local congressman’s brain and I don’t like to make the person I’m sitting next to get up every 30 minutes. After all, it’s not their fault I had to have 4 Bloody Marys in the lounge just to mentally prepare myself to fly to Spokane. Sometimes though I’m forced to sit in the window seat and I always enjoy looking out when we are about to land and seeing all the football stadiums and baseball fields. No matter where I’m at, when I see a baseball field I think of my dad because he was always my coach. I think of the 1993 5&6 Year Old Mighty Chickamauga Marlins who went undefeated thank you very much. My dad still has a plaque from that team on his desk to this day and I have a cigar box that was given to him with everyone on the teams name engraved in it. They are both two of our most prized possessions and we still talk about that team to this day. I think for a while it was just as a joke. A joke as in, why would two grown men still talk about the accomplishments of a 5 and 6 year old team? But at this point I think we both have to admit that all jokes have a little truth in them and we really are proud of what we did and the lifelong friendships we made with the people on that team. So when I’m flying over some place far away from home, for that brief moment I’m as close as i’ve ever been.
That’s why we cherish memories I guess. If nothing else they are a temporary fantasy to help us escape whatever our current situation is, and hopefully be happy in a moment where that otherwise seems impossible. After writing that last paragraph I ain’t lying when I tell you that I can smell the fresh cut grass of Dan Mcnally Field and if I try even harder I can taste one of Big Larry’s famous “Larry Burgers” covered in that canned nacho cheese and washed down with a cold blue sports drink, whichever brand the rec field had a deal with that year. All of my memories as a child in the south are associated with some smell or some taste, or even the sound the bat made when my buddy Rodrick hit a homer. One time he hit it over the train tracks. You can go back there today and think thats impossible but we seen it just the same as my daddy saw a 100 lb rabbit when he was a kid and their ain’t a damn thing you can do to change our minds.
My memories are so vibrant and so wonderful and comforting that I tear up a little bit knowing that I get to share them with y’all, even if you don’t understand half of what Im saying. Hell, I don’t understand half of what I’m saying sometimes. There’s also one other thing that I don’t quite understand.. to my knowledge I grew up in the same south that everyone else did, yet not one of my childhood memories has a damn thing to do with some old flag with stars and bars on it. Don’t get me wrong, it was there, but it didn’t make anything better. Not one of my childhood memories would be any less precious were the kids I was riding bikes with from a house with two dads, and not one of my childhood memories was made better because when you called the bank they didn’t ask you to press 1 for English.
I could make the argument, however, that the more we progress as a country, the more of a chance it is that kids who weren’t raised straight and white in the south will have better odds of having some of the same wonderful memories that I have, because they felt more included and loved. I am very tired of the notion that the only way you can be a true southerner in some peoples eyes is if you subscribe to the Golden-Age-Era thinking that the 60’s in America were better, and any attempt to move forward is radical communism. I am so sick of the notion that any attempts made to correct a huge imbalance of power in this country is seen as being a blood traitor. Mainly I am sick of people thinking that admitting you were wrong about something means that you are some how ruining your childhood.
If not flying that stupid flag ruins your childhood, you never had one. If not doing the “tomahawk chop” means you aren’t a Braves fan you never were one. If your love of the south would be tarnished by learning the whole truth about it then you never loved it like I did.
There is no longer room for hate in my heritage.
Thanks for reading
You are such a good writer that when I read this I hear your voice with that twang in my head. God has blessed you with many gifts & one is your ability to make people think. I know, I know, you’re a comedian, a very good one I might add, but you are a peacemaker. You urge people to focus on what’s right, fair and realistic. I did not have the childhood you had, but my childhood made me acutely aware of the person I wanted to be and the world I wanted to live in. I want everyone to have your childhood & I want to help create that world. Your videos, tweets and articles remind and reinforce me. As a Southerner myself I must tell you that you represent us well. There’s a whole lot of wisdom behind that twang. Thanks for your hard work. Did you write this 2 nights ago when you were going sleep med free for the 1st time in a long time? Just checking…you are loved…
You are somewhat younger than me (by several decades) and a good 80 miles NW, but I can't tell you how reassuring your words often are - because I hear in your words, mostly the south I grew up in. I've seen/heard/lived the same stereotypes - I know they are sourced in a great deal of truth, but they aren't the only truths of growing up southern, and the ones I hold dearest are the one that include rather than exclude. Making the purple hosta blooms pop, digging up moss under the pines and crabapples to build fairy forts, riding our bikes along the edges of the golf course none of our parents could afford to be members of; and yes, letting the screen door slam at the corner store, where every penny or nickel or lucky quarter we might have found walking two and from school would be spent on zots, sweet-tarts, and if you were lucky that week and found 2 quarters, a cold bottle of Yoo-hoo from the cooler. Or when every family trip in the car started with a wax-paper lined shoebox full of Grammy's biscuits made three ways; with butter, with cheese, and with country ham, (6 people, 18 biscuits, and the big thermos of coffee.) Same treat whether it was the 2 hours to Monroe or the 4 hours to Blue Ridge, or the 6 hours to Savannah.
It's been a long time for me - but every time I read or listen to you, you bring it right back. I'm an old woman - you make me feel young again, sir.