In the South food equals gracious hospitality


It happened again. Dixie Dew, my dachshund who is a strong candidate for Weight Watchers, returned from a four-day stay at her grandmother’s with a belly so round and hard that it felt like she had swallowed a large rock.

Despite my commands and pleas, Mama will not stop feeding her. But Mama is a true Southern woman, which means that anyone, including a dog, who enters her house will eat home-cooked food from the moment of arrival until departure. Then, the guest will take a sack full of food home.

I’m not one to give up easily but this is a battle I’ve lost. I can’t fight a strong-willed Southern woman who refuses to renege on her upbringing of graciousness.

In the South, food is the centerpiece of our hospitality. Even for dogs.

Dixie Dew’s vet does not understand this and continues to insist that she lose weight. I explained that she adheres strictly to a proper diet and exercise when I’m home.

The problem comes when I travel, which is quite a bit, and she is happily embedded in the non-stop feast of Mama’s abode.

The vet listened and then kindly but sternly said, “Then, you need to get control of your mama about this.”

That was the biggest piece of nonsense that ever came out of an educated man’s mouth.

I leaned across the stainless steel table and replied, “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you get control of my mother on this? And when you do that, I’ve got a few more things I need you to get control of her on.”

He backed down, displaying the wisdom that he had previously lacked.

There’s always food at Mama’s house. High-calorie, artery-clogging, fat-adding food. The best kind of food in the world.

Mama fries everything, including biscuits, cornbread and grits. I’m not kidding. If she has left-over grits, she throws some butter in a pan and fries them up.

Let’s put it this way: Mama never met a member of any food group that she couldn’t fry.

Mama, like all the women of her generation — the last group of wives who didn’t put a majority into the work force but chose, instead, to be strictly homemakers — always has a stovetop filled with food and a dessert waiting for drop-in visitors.

That’s another characteristic of Mama’s generation: Folks drop by to say “hello” or drop off a sack of something from their garden. They don’t call ahead or put it in their calendar. They just do the “neighborly” thing.

And, when they leave, Mama and her kind scrounge up something for them to carry home such as a can of homemade preserves, jelly or a freezer carton of garden-grown corn.

I was leaving Sue’s house one day when she rushed to the kitchen and returned with a jar of homemade relish and a small bag of new potatoes fresh from the garden.

“This was all I could come up with on short notice,” she said sheepishly. I had dropped by unexpectedly. It didn’t bother me because I knew I would be welcomed. I was.

So, Mama treats Dixie Dew just like she treats all the other guests welcomed into her home. Dew is offered big hot meals, a place to rest peacefully and arms full of love and Southern hospitality. I just wish, though, she didn’t come home drenched in the smell of Crisco.

[Ronda Rich is the author of “What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)” and “My Life In The Pits.” She lives just north of here in Gainesville.]

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