Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Southern Hospitality

During the early months of the Korean War, I was stationed at Camp Rucker, Alabama.  This post had been boarded up since the end of World War II. The only inhabitants in place were rattlesnakes, and there were plenty of them.

Rucker was just outside the little town of Ozark billed as “The Peanut Capital of the World”. There were few bright lights in Ozark.  Anything in the way of excitement called for getting over to the medium size city of Dothan. There was not much to do in Dothan either, although it did boast of being “The Home of the Early Bird”, a popular program on its radio station.

I have some pleasant memories of my time serving at   posts in Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia.  Many of them were centered around culinary delights such as barbecued shrimp, grits, biscuits and sausage gravy.  I also have some very unpleasant recollections of those months, starting with my first trip using public transportation when the driver yelled to me: “Hey soldier, you get up front now or this bus isn't going to move!” I quickly understood that my hoped-for spot in the rear was where the “colored” sat. Then in rapid fire notice: “Colored entrance”, “Colored fountain”, on and on. Sooner or later we all got the bigger message: There was White. There was Colored.

Flashing forward a half century, things have changed in a big way. Last week my wife and I were in Georgia to celebrate a granddaughter's wedding. In the dining room of our hotel blacks and whites intermingled for breakfast.  There was no fuss. Same in the swimming pool area. I am sure there are many reasons for modern-day Southern Hospitality, including legal ones.  But I suggest that “good manners” as we used to know them are also a big factor.  All across the board men are called “sir” and women addressed as “ma'am”.  Some may do so with fixed smiles and clenched teeth, but in the main the average person in the 2016 South seems to understand that it is just good business to be friendly and well mannered.

It's nice to be nice.  It benefits all of us.