By Jim Ewing. Special to The Clarion-Ledger
Wonderful tales beckon with Rick Bragg’s My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South. The language is sublime, the sentiments range from tragic to funny to thoughtful to biting.
Why people who live in the South like it is encapsulated in Bragg’s opening salvo, titled “Down Here.” It’s a place of lightning bugs and sawmills, buck dancing to bluegrass, biscuits and sausage gravy, recipes handed down from “the Yankee war.”
“We buff our beloved ancestors till they are smooth of sin,” Bragg writes, “and give our scoundrels a hard shake, though sometimes we cannot remember which is who.”
“We talk as if we’re tasting something.”
Some of the stories, like “Pretty Girl,” about his mother and brother saving a dog from death, will break your heart. They teach lessons that no soul is worth overlooking and the value of second chances.
Others are good for a belly laugh, like “Time for the Year’s Best Nap,” about Thanksgiving, when people “unburden themselves of all the fine gossip they have been holding onto since September, like money.”
Some provide poignant reverie, like “Endless Summer,” about a child and a mudhole during summer vacation “when time came in big buckets,” seemingly eternal, long gone.
Then, there are deadly serious topics, like “What Stands in a Storm,” about the deadly tornadoes that raked the South April 27, 2011, when “church sanctuaries, built on the Rock of Ages, tumbled into random piles of brick.”
He puts it into perspective, that despite all the destruction, lost lives and livelihoods, “as Southerners, we know that a man with a chainsaw is worth 10 with a clipboard, that there is no hurt in this world, even in the storm of the century, that cannot be comforted with a casserole.”
The book is divided into sections — Home, Table, Place, Craft, Spirit. There are 55 pages about food that will set any true Southerner’s mouth watering and stomach growling.
Bragg details how the South has changed and been besieged by social media, bizarre fashions, video games and other invasives infecting the rest of the country, but has endured and will endure as a separate region.
“The South,” Bragg writes, “like chiggers and divinity candy, is everlasting. It will always be, though it will not always be as we remember.”
For a writer, reading Bragg yields two thoughts simultaneously: to give up because Bragg can’t be beat; or, two, to keep writing and hope someday to write as well.
For readers, Bragg is a cornucopia of pure joy.
Jim Ewing, a former writer and editor at The Clarion-Ledger, is the author of seven books including Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them, now in bookstores.
Join us on Monday, September 21 at 5:00 for a signing and reading by Rick Bragg!