I grew up in a very small town in North Carolina where we knew everyone on our street or down the road or up the road a ways. Everyone knew our parents, our grandparents, our aunts, and our uncles. Even our teachers, the banker, the grocery store owner knew our parents and grandparents, our aunts and uncles. Sometimes when we went into town, we were guaranteed to run into someone we knew. Our family met no strangers, especially my father who liked to chit chat with everyone he met.
I can remember on many occasions when my parents would go to town to pay a bill or to buy some groceries, which shouldn’t have taken more than an hour at the most, they would have to stop and chit chat with everyone they ran into: the grocery store clerk, our pastor, one of my teachers, the neighbor down the road, even a total stranger. That chit chat could last for hours, not something an antsy child wanted to stand around waiting on to end.
Sometimes my parents’ southern hospitality would be extended to newcomers to the town. If they ran into my parents, they definitely met no strangers. They would be welcomed with a wave of the hand or a nod of the head or a tip of the hat–that’s something my father always did–even if he never met the newcomers. The newcomers might even be invited over for supper.
Feeding people was another aspect of my parents’ southern hospitality. Family, friends, neighbors, particularly during pig picking time in the fall of the year, would be invited to come over and partake in the preparation of several fatted pigs, cleaned thoroughly and cut up and stored in smoke houses or freezers for the winter. Afterwards, what wasn’t stored or frozen would be cooked on a smoker, a large grill for barbecuing a pig. The skins of the pigs would be cooked in lard in large, black, cast iron vats. The chitterlings (chitlins) would be cleaned very well and cooked in boiling hot water–we learned the hard way to cook them outside because the smell would linger in the house for days–and then they would be seasoned with vinegar and hot sauce. The pork chops would be battered in flour and fried in the pig’s lard. Side dishes such as collard greens, potato salad, corn bread and hushpuppies, cole slaw, sweet tea, and lemonade would be served along with the hearty dishes. Everyone would indulge in the prepared foods, and my parents would prepare some of the meats for them to take home and put in their freezers so that they would have meat to eat during the winter months. The pig pickings were not only for our family, but they were also for our friends and neighbors; it was a way for my parents to show their appreciation to them for helping us out on the farm.
Southern hospitality was instilled in me as a child, and I still believe it lives on even in today’s hectic world. Go to any small southern town, and you will still see traces of it everywhere you go. From the hand waving or a head nod or a hat tip to a stranger, to a friendly “Hey, how ya doin’?,” to a friendly chit chat at the gas station while you’re pumping gas. You may even get an invite to supper. Things are changing, sometimes faster than we really want them to, but I hope southern hospitality never goes out of style.