A few years ago, the magazine I have long loved – Southern Living – changed. Like most Southerners, I have an aversion to change, which is why our traditions have such strangle-hold. We never let go.
Warily, I eyed it for the first couple of months. The layout changed, bringing a fresher, more modern feel while new features were added that included fashion and profiles yet retaining recipes, home decor, and gardening advice.
I was disappointed that the Book Section page that heralded new releases by Southern authors was dropped. Given the immediate choice, I would have begged them to return to what used to be. But it grew on me, and now I savor it every month, particularly enjoying a feature called “Napkin Interview” which spotlights a Southern celebrity.
Around the same time that Birmingham-based Southern Living (the largest regional living magazine in the nation) changed, a new editor came aboard which would probably signal that one had something to do with the other. His name is Lindsay Bierman. I was wary of him. Another trait of Southerners long grown in the region is our wariness. We’re always a bit suspicious of strangers who pop up in our territory (Lindsay hails from the northern part of the South).
However, he won me over.
It happened gradually. I read his monthly column, sharing his frustration as he searched at length for the perfect rug and his cautious excitement as he launched into building a weekend lake home. When he wrote his Top Ten decorating tips, I tore out the page and saved it.
Though unknown to him, Lindsay and I became friends. Then, recently, I became a full-fledged, unabashed fan. He began his column by quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
I immediately thought of my pronounced Southern accent and how, over the years, some outsiders have said, “If you lost the accent, people would take you more seriously.” I dug my high heels in and drawled even slower.
My friend, Lindsay, wrote about our Southern historic resistance to fitting in. “Amen!” I exclaimed though I was sitting on a plane westward bound. “Preach on, Brother Lindsay.”
“Now, more than ever,” he wrote, “we connect to our roots through a joy of cooking, a love of hospitality, a reverence for tradition, and a deep regional patriotism that can’t be diluted for mass consumption. Down here, you can honor and live by our rules or move somewhere else – but please don’t mock or patronize us for them.”
Not only could I have not said it better, I couldn’t have said it near as well. I thought of my dear Tink. Yankee born and bred, and a Los Angeles citizen for three decades, he has claimed the South for his home. He signed up for the church’s prayer chain call tree, developed a taste for buttermilk biscuits, grits and collard greens as well as all other things Southern. This is, he will quickly tell you, his beloved land.
“You should meet my friend, Lindsay,” I said to him one day after reading Lindsay’s monthly column.
“Lindsay?” he asked quizzically.
“Well, technically if you want to get right down to it, we’re not friends. We’ve never met. But we’re neighbors in the strongest sense of the word. We think alike. We have the same mindset.”
Now, as I think back on it, I hate that I didn’t welcome Lindsay with open arms. I didn’t give him the full benefit of my Southern hospitality.
Instead, I acted like a typical Southerner. I was wary of a newcomer whose ideas were different.
He has now left the magazine and moved on to other things, but while he was there, he certainly did the South mighty proud. Lindsay, thank you. I wish I had welcomed you from the start.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.]