"The Social Network of the South"
In the South, we plant gardens for the same reason we pull our cars over for funerals or put peanuts in our Cokes. It’s just what we’ve been taught and that’s the way we do things. We plant way too many tomatoes, mountains of squash, and why we ever plant any zucchini at all, I’ll never know. And then it’s time to give it all away.
We hope our friends and neighbors will figure out what to do with the surplus we give them, but the problem is, they’re also trying to get rid of their own back yard bounty.
Whenever the big garden swap starts to take place, I’m always reminded of my husband’s Irish grandmother who was born and raised in New York City, then in later years moved to a suburb of NYC called Boynton Beach Florida.
Mimi, as we called her, eventually moved to Fairhope to be near us, and that’s when the fun began.
Mimi’s formal big - city - ways were tested time and again when total strangers would try to strike up a conversation. At first she thought I knew everyone in town, but then realized that we just talk to everyone. Mimi learned that in a long line, people in Alabama could make a new friend, swap a recipe and get witnessed to all before they reached the register. The poor woman was terrified.
But the incident I remember most about Mimi’s adjustment period was the day she became totally enraged when she discovered a recycled Winn-Dixie bag full of vegetables, hanging on her front door knob.
“Can you believe someone would think I need their old discarded food?” she cried. Mimi truly felt humiliated and offended that someone had offered her charity. “And on top of that,” she added, “you just don’t know where this food has been. Anyone could slip something into it.” Mimi was always mindful of the razorblade in the apple story from Halloween.
After looking into the bag that had been flung onto the kitchen counter, I found two ripe tomatoes, three glossy bell peppers and two innocent ears of corn. I explained the best I could that this was probably a gift from a neighbor or church member who had stopped by to check on her. It was a sign of friendship and neighborliness, not a handout.
The most puzzled and confused look came over her face, and then it was just like dirty New York snow melting in the warm sun of the South. Her heart grew three times that day and our dear Mimi learned the lesson of Southern hospitality at its finest.
We never discovered who left the gift from the garden that day, and little did they know that in addition to planting vegetables, they also planted the seed of friendship, trust and kindness.
And a new variety of transplanted Southern Belle began to grow.