Publisher - September 2023

“Growing up in the South isn’t really about the geographical location, it’s about the people, the pace and the perspective.”  — Me 

Looking back, I reckon I had an idyllic Southern childhood, except for the dysfunctional family part. But that didn’t matter, because what do they say in the South? “We don’t hide crazy, we put ‘em on the front porch so they can wave at everybody as they ride by.” I can definitely relate, I’m just glad I wasn’t the one they expected to do the waving.

I’m not just Southern, I’m Southern Southern. My mom’s family has steeped in the South Carolina red clay since the mid-1700s when they got off the ship in Charleston and made their way to what’s known as the Dutch Fork area, right outside of Columbia. I’m not sure when my dad’s descendants made it here, but from my understanding, they got here as quick as they could. Doesn’t everyone?

Actually, people love the South now, but when I was growing up, Southerners were depicted as dumb, slow, country and backwards. But people always put down what they don’t understand. Growing up in the South isn’t really about the geographical location, it’s about the people, the pace and the perspective.

There are tons of reasons not to move to South Carolina—snakes, mosquitos, not as many white-collar job opportunities, the summer heat, lower-ranked education systems, and did I mention it’s HOT? 101 degrees as I write this article! Yet people can’t get enough of us. Not only do they want to visit us, they want to stay. We must be doing something right.

So what made my childhood idyllic? I’ll tell you about my family and what we did, but I’m not claiming it’s typical. Both my parents came from very humble beginnings.
My mother was a country girl and my father was inner-city. They were a match not exactly made in heaven, but somehow it worked about as well as driving on a donut spare for 55 years—not the best ride, but it gets you where you’re going. With their varying backgrounds and upbringings—Mom a worker bee from her family’s small dairy farm, and Dad just doing his best to find trouble, you can only imagine the lessons I learned as a child. But they both were church-going and people loved them. Being gracious hosts at the lake, the beach and at home, Mom made sure everyone ate, and Dad made sure there was so much liquor available it would be hard to dry out in a drought in July. It all seemed to work since one of the adults was responsible. Thank you, Mom!

So far, I don’t think I’m convincing you of the idyllic part, but I’m going to try again. I’ve always said Charles Dickens knew the inner workings of my family because he described it so utterly perfect in the very first line of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” And, for me, it was.

So let’s just dwell on the best of times, because honestly, there’s very little I’d change about my parents if I got a do-over. I am thrilled to have the work ethic and meticulousness of Mom and the throw-caution-to-the-wind, talk-to-everybody, gregariousness of Dad. He actually behaved when Mom would host the garden club or church circle meetings in the formal living room of our home. He might even help serve punch if he was in the right mood.

The good times included learning and doing everything. Both of my parents were smart, and they weren’t stingy with their knowledge. They made me learn how to do things from a young age so I could help out. I don’t know if this is a Southern thing, but Dad always said, “Children should be seen but not heard.” That meant to be quiet and listen. He didn’t mind dealing me in on a poker hand, he just didn’t want me to become a nuisance or the center of attention because poker is for adults. I did not live in a child-centric home, and in hindsight, what a blessing. I learned all of Dad’s funny poker sayings as he would deal and turn up cards, such as if he dealt someone a nine, he would call it “Nina Ross”; an eight was “eight skate and donate”; a five was a “fever”. I don’t know if these were standard poker terms, but none of their friends were as colorful when it was their turn to deal. Mom played, too; she just wanted to win!

Our weekends were filled with friends no matter where we were. During the summer we went to the lake house almost every weekend and sometimes we vacationed there for a week. We never went anywhere other than Lake Murray or Edisto Island. I never went to Disney until I was in my 20s. I did fly once when I was 12-years-old to visit my cousin in Memphis, but I was the first one to fly in my family. Mom never got on a plane until she was in her 70s and they went to Hawaii, which my dad pronounced Huh-why-ya.

At the beach (Edisto) we would climb in the back of the truck and go crabbing on Store Creek with chicken necks and string. We’d practically fill up a 30-gallon trash can with crabs. When we got back to the beach house, Grace, who was Gullah, would cook and pick those crabs and make the best crab pies you ever tasted. She put my Mom’s cooking to shame, and Mom was a good cook—best fried chicken I’ve ever had!

Sure our house was filled with the cliched Southern icons like sweet tea, boiled peanuts, casseroles, hunting guns, pickup trucks and Southern twangs, but I never knew what we were doing was out of the ordinary. I guess I just thought everyone did stuff like us. Didn’t everyone float watermelons under the dock during the summer so they would stay cool? Didn’t most people have three or four family reunions each year where it was considered sacrilege not to attend? Didn’t everyone love their cousins like they were siblings and see them all the time? Didn’t every adult have carte blanch to discipline any child that stepped out of line? Didn’t everyone sit for hours and listen to the elders tell stories of days and people gone by.

Now that I’m an adult, I realize, no, everyone did not do the things we did, surrounded by great people, both friends and family, although in the South there isn’t much distinction, at a pace that encourages you to sip instead of gulp, with a perspective that shines through in warmth and friendliness. I’ve never wanted to leave South Carolina, and I never will. This is not only my home, it is me…forever.


Think Pink,
Elizabeth Millen