Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's (Not) a Joke, Son!


At last, we come to the tried and true, the traditional, the reason for most of these Confederate Memorials that pepper our Southern landscape.

For those of you who haven't lived in the South or visited the South, almost every southern city, town, or village has at least one standing memorial to either the Confederacy itself, or to the men who fought for it, or sometimes to specific individuals or armies. Next time you're off the Interstate and riding through a small town, just take a look. Usually they're located either on, or near county courthouse property. But sometimes they're put in more imaginative spots.

The defenders--I say--the Defenders of State Sovereignty, sir!

I hear there are a lot of them in New England, too. For the Union soldiers, of course. But they're around.

A few years ago I read an article about a pair of monuments that had been standing in the wrong towns for about 100 years. The statues were made by the same company and one was sent to a town in South Carolina and one to a town in Maine. Only the company screwed up the manifest and sent the Confederate one to Maine and the
Union one to South Carolina. And nobody noticed for about nine decades. Finally a New Englander (it would be the Yankee) noticed the "CSA" letters on his statue's marble belt buckle.

Official communications twixt nawth and souf were exchanged. I think each town let it lie. Which is saying something, if you think about it.

I grew up with a dad who would often say something negative about Yankees. But as my mom was a Yankee, and with the sarcastic voice my dad would use, I always knew that he was kidding. I thought everyone made jokes like that. It was only after spending time with one of my dad's older brothers that I realized that there really were Southerners around who still hated Northerners. It wasn't a Kenny Delmar "That's A Joke, Son" funny, but the real deal. A lot of Southerners who grew up directly in the shadow of the Civil War really did hate Yankees.

It was sobering as a kid to discover this sad fact as I did on a trip to visit one of my dad's brothers in Florida.

My uncle Ersley was a master fisherman. I mean, if there was anyone better at fishing than he was...well, I don't believe there was, so there! The guy was a magician. If he'd waved his arms over the water and the fish jumped out into his arms I wouldn't have blinked. He was that good.

Once my dad and I were visiting him at his home at Sebastian Inlet in Florida. We were on a pier casting our lines out and reeling in one fish after another. Of course we had Ersley to coach us and tell us what kind of bait to use, where to cast, etc.

After a while, a father and son who were standing farther down the dock and watching enviously as we filled our buckets with fresh fish came over. The dad approached my father (luckily it was my dad he chose and not my Uncle Ersley) and asked him how we were catching so many fish. So I stood there while my father explained how to do it. My dad told the guy that he and his son were using the wrong bait and rigs and explained what kind of hook to use and to switch to shrimp as bait. He told the fellow to walk down to the end of the dock and the bait shop would sell him some white shrimp. Soon the guy and his little boy were catching many fish. He thanked my dad.

But my Uncle Ersley was livid. I watched in horror as he walked up to my father and dressed him down, just short of violence. "WHY DID YOU TELL THAT GODDAMNED YANKEE HOW TO CATCH FISH??!! DON'T YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN, GODDAMN IT!"

He was serious. He was not kidding. He did not like the idea of that Yankee catching our southern fish. What a tool.

For my dad, the "damn Yankee" thing was a joke. After all, my mom was not only a New York-born Yankee, but half-Jewish, too! For my uncle, the Yankee-hatred was a harsh and unending reality.

This is the only photo I have of my Uncle Ersley. With a big fucking bobcat he killt on his property at Sebastian's Inlet. He bought that acreage in the days when that part of Florida was lightly populated, and he scowled constantly as it became surrounded over the years by new homes. "Goddamned Yankees!" He'd tell me, cursing them one and all. I kept my mouth shut. After all, I was half-Yankee!

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