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Essay Looking Back by Hodding Carter III When I went to work for Jimmy Carter, I left the South I had known. It's now been nineteen years since I came to perch here on the outer rim of northern Virginia , and no one is more aware than I of the multiple disconnections that have ensued. Time, distance, and death have all combined to fray ties and weaken memory . . . but not to sever abiding attachment. Southernness lies closer to the bone than I once recognized or acknowledged. Growing older, I find myself more openly receptive to the South's insistent pull and grateful for its lessons. Much like the South itself, I've abandoned old ways and taken on new, but there are veins of thought and instinct that, though mined, are far from depleted. Each trip south restores them. Each fresh reunion with friends from that southern past reminds me of how much I depend upon them for balance and ballast. This attachment could not be otherwise. In Greenville, Mississippi, where and when I grew up, the past was neither prologue nor even really past. It was absorbed whole as explanation and justification of the present, history Where and when I grew up, and life woven together by an the past was neither prologue unbroken thread of context. Our _?_ __?„ .„„n,T „„„* ¥* „t„„ nor even really past. It was South was a place of unchanged, , , , . , , ..., , absorbed whole as explanation unchanging, unchangeable same-r nessin itslivingpatternsandpopu- and justification of the present. lation. We southerners had shared a hard history over a long time, a history based on propositions that were openly at odds with the political and moral preachments of the larger society. We had held slaves and justified their existence in the face of the civilized world's condemnation . Our land had known military defeat and occupation. Growing up with the Lost Cause The Burden ofSouthern History, that seminal historian C. Vann Woodward called it, the burden of the Lost Cause with all its self-absorption and prickly defensiveness. It had a thousand manifestations, and I ingested them all, along with the family 282Southern Cultures heresies and dissent. To this day I will occasionally erupt with the traditional ditties of southern separation, songs I loved to sing to Yankee roommates and honky-tonk companions, songs passed on to my children (who remember none of them), songs still called forth late of an evening. They are simple, evocative, and, for me, unforgettable: One hundred thousand Yankees lie dead in southern dust. We got a hundred thousand, before they conquered us. They died of southern fever, of southern shell and shot. I wish we got a million, instead of what we got. Or, even more delightful for the ardent Johnny Reb: Jeff Davis rides a big white horse and Lincoln rides a mule. Jeff Davis is a very wise man and Lincoln is a fool. Finally, for the son of a New Orleans lady: When the Yankees came to New Orleans, they didn't mean to stay. But they fell in love with the southern gals and couldn't get away. Nor were all these songs learned in the South. In the early 1940s as a grammar-school student in wartime Silver Spring, Maryland, I learned the Civil War songs of both sides. "Just Before the Battle, Mother" was a particularly lachrymose favorite, with its opening line, "Just before the battle, Mother, I am thinking most of you." For that matter, Maryland's unreconstructed state anthem, "Maryland, My Maryland" was and is a proud repudiation of "the tyrant's foot," Washington's foot, a reminder that a clash in Baltimore between Union troops and would-be secessionists claimed the first lives of that shattering conflict. Most years of my family's annual summertime journey from Mississippi to Maine, we'd pass through Frederick, Maryland. Each time, without fail, Dad would recite his ribald parody of James Greenleaf Whittier's ode to Barbara Fritchie of Frederick, the redoubtable lady of legend who refused to pull down Old Glory on Stonewall Jackson's command. You know the refrain. "'Shoot if you must, this old gray head, but spare your country's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 281-293
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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