Friday, July 9, 2010

Cast of Characters

The South has no scarcity of characters who do things just a little differently. Maybe they march to the beat of their own drum. Maybe they see things that other people don't quite see. Some people call it "crazy," and they mean it in a negative, cutting way. In the South, "crazy" doesn't mean they need to be locked up, or thrown away, or removed from polite society. It just means they are a little different, and everybody knows it, and life just goes on. Julia Sugarbaker explains it rather clearly:

"Designing Women" is one of my all-time favorite shows, because it shows Southern women who are smart, sassy, independent, and full of snappy come-backs.  My favorite character is Julie Sugarbaker, the older sister of Suzanne and the owner of the interior design company.  My daddy has always said that my sister and I are just like Julia and Suzanne... I'm the independent older one with the snappy one-liners, and Alaina is the ditsy former beauty queen who is always doing something so crazy that you just have to laugh.  I guess he's pretty much right.

I love this scene where Julia explains crazy people in the South, because she speaks the truth.  Every small town in the Southern United States has at least one major town character, and some have quite a few.  These are individuals who just do their own thing, in their own way, and everybody knows it and is fine with it.  Allow me to give you a few examples:

Tater Owens:  When my mama was growing up, there was an alcoholic painter that wandered around the community.  If he came to your house, you had to hide your vanilla extract and shoe polish because he was known to drink ANYTHING.  Once, while painting the bathroom, he drank my grandpa's Hai Karate Aftershave.  Everybody knew that's just how he was though, and everybody hired him to paint anyway.  One time my grandma asked him to stay for dinner, and when they passed him the plate of dinner rolls, he just stabbed one with his fork.  My uncle gave him a ride to the softball field one day to watch the church league game.  On the way, Tater imparted these words of wisdom:

"You better get you an education son, because that's one thing nobody can take away from you....... unless they shoot you in the head."


I think there's nothing more to be said about that!

Roscoe: Roscoe was an elderly African-American man who lived in my hometown and wandered around town wearing about 10 layers of shirts and coats even in the summer, pushing a lawn mower everywhere.  He cut grass for a living, and pretty much everybody let him cut their grass.  My great-grandpa and grandpa had both sort of looked out for him over the years, and he came over a lot.  Sometimes, his lawn mower would break down and he would just go into my grandpa's garage when he wasn't home, get Papa's lawn mover and push it down the street, cut some grass with it, and then push it back.  He saw nothing wrong with doing this, and my Papa just let him keep doing it.

One time, when I was young, my daddy got Roscoe to come cut our grass.  Daddy picked him up in the truck and brought him over, and he spent about 30 minutes sitting down and drinking lemonade.  Then he started cutting, and he cut so slowly that if he had gone one bit slower, he would have been standing still.  He stopped for several more long lemonade breaks.  While he was sitting there, he admired our hanging ferns. 

"I sure do like that fern," he kept saying, so Mama finally said, "Well, Roscoe, would you like to take it home?" 

"I believe I would," he said.

Then Roscoe discovered that we had a plastic garden frog that had a sensor in it, so that when something passed in front of it, it would croak.  This delighted Roscoe to no end.  He walked back and forth in front of it until the battery went dead.

About this time, Mama had lunch ready.  Roscoe came in and we ate hotdogs.  Daddy came home for lunch, and saw that Roscoe had cut about 10% of the yard and he was never going to get done at this rate.  Daddy went out and cut the rest of the yard in less time than it had taken Roscoe to cut the 10%.

Then Roscoe finished his hot dogs.  And got his fern.  And Daddy paid him as if he had cut the whole yard and took him back home in the truck.

I'm thinking about taking up grass cutting for a living myself.

Ms. Tumblin:  My aunt used to know an old lady named Ms. Tumblin.  She used to see numbers running across the floor and call everybody telling them about it.  She said they were coming out of the heater, and she kept calling the electric company and telling them about it.

It was a gas heater.

The Monkey Lady: At a small country church just up the road, there was a lady who never could have any children.  Somehow, she came to own a chimpanzee.  She dressed it up in children's clothes, and brought it to church every Sunday.  It sat there with her on the pew, dressed up in clothes and wearing a diaper.  Nobody ever said anything about it, except one old man who was a little visually impaired.

He said, "I hate to say it, but that kid she keeps bringing to church is about the UGLIEST kid I've ever seen."

God bless the South!  God bless the people that accept these individuals who just do their own thing, and live their own way, and never really cause any harm to anybody.  Julia's right.  We don't hide our crazy people in the attic.  We bring them right out on the porch, or give them rides to the store, or serve them lemonade, or pretend we don't notice that they just brought a monkey to church.

We tell their stories.  And we thank God that we live in such a fascinating, eccentric, weird, and wonderful place!

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