Come to this part of the United States and you’ll be greeted with a smile, maybe a handshake. You’ll be asked where you’re from and how in the world you got here, who your kin are and, more often than not, where you go to church. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions.
Should you stay here long, chances are good you’ll end up on somebody’s front porch. Never, ever decline such an invitation. There will be a swing and a few old rockers, and what you’ll do is have a seat and accept with a gracious smile anything that happens to be offered – a glass of sweet tea, a slice of pie, a nip from a bottle. And after? Well friend, just sit back and listen. That’s likely when the stories will begin.
That’s where I begin as well.
The poet Muriel Rukeyser once said the universe is made up of stories, not of atoms. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I know it’s true of the South. We are raised on stories here, and most of the good ones come right off those leaning wooden front porches. Tales of hope and sorrow, redemption and loss, all with a usual dose of magic thrown in if only to show what most of us here have long held as true: there are worlds other than our own, and the line between them is ever thin.
Those stories stuck with me as a child. They stick with me still. So much, in fact, that I’ve come to spin my own in that same grand tradition. So I invite you to step up on my porch here, and have a seat. Make yourself comfortable. I’ll offer you a jar or a bottle, whatever suits, and you just listen. We’ll watch the sun dip over the Blue Ridge and the world go to sleep, and I’ll tell you a tale. One of those good Southern ones. Not the good kind about how we’re all different, but the great kind about how we’re all the same.