I live in St. Louis, a city that I always say should call itself
the Gateway to the South rather than the Gateway to the West.
Missouri was a border state during the Civil War, the locals all
say "soda" rather than "pop," and we even have our own brand of
rednecks, except we call them "hoosiers." No offense intended to
all those of the Indiana persuasion. After living here for ten
years, I feel that I finally have a handle on our
Well, bless your heart, I have a feeling author Celia Rivenbark
would say, "You just don't know nothin'."
Rivenbark, a newspaper columnist from Wilmington, North Carolina,
has penned a volume of essays explaining all things Southern to
Yankees like me. Topics include the importance of saving your bacon
grease and drinking your Cheerwine --- or is it, drinking your
bacon grease and saving your Cheerwine?
She explains such Southernisms as "mama and them's" --- and before
the punctuation police set out, she says that is the correct plural
possessive. " 'Them' is Daddy, usually, but it can also encompass
every bony-ribbed yard cat that might be hanging around at the time
or whatever siblings and assorted Aunt Ola Mays or Pee Paws or Mee
Maws might be found rocking on the porch now and again."
It seems that family is an especially important theme to Rivenbark
as many of her essays revolve around her extended family ---
including her husband's elderly auntie who lives at the Shady Haven
Garden of Despair, and one of her cousins who needs to "get hitched
sometime before we see the head."
The essays are certainly funny but many have a bit of a bite to
them. You get the feeling that Rivenbark doesn't suffer fools
gladly and you might want to get out of her way once she fires up
her behemoth of an SUV, which she kindly refers to as "Bubette."
She launches a tirade at her daughter Sophie's preschool teacher
for daring to ask the little darlin' what she eats for breakfast.
It's a Nutri-Grain bar, by the way, unwrapped and eaten on the way
to school. But afraid of the "granola moms" at school, she
instructs the child to "tell the teacher that you had two scrambled
eggs, a bowl of real oatmeal --- the kind you have to cook on top
of the uh, you know, stove…" Sophie laughs so hard that a
SweeTart (a nutritious fruit-juice flavored SweeTart) flies right
out of her nose.
While I'm not sure that every essay is "laugh out loud funny," like
the blurb on the back cover promises, I do think that Rivenbark has
a wicked sense of humor and a sharp observational eye. At times,
the essays read a bit too much like a stand-up comedy routine and
are too meandering to serve any purpose other than a quick giggle.
A story about installing an oversized television ends up describing
the absurdity of modern-day soap opera plots, which I guess is
different from the absurdity of "old school" soap opera
The best essays are those describing Southern life. I feel that I
finally have some insight into the personality of my mother-in-law,
born and raised in the heart of North Carolina. I'll have to try
out my newfound knowledge the next time we go to visit her "and
Reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran on January 24, 2011