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EVERGREEN PLACES SO DEAR TO MY HEART
A True “Grits and Greens” Southern Girl
Written November 11, 2008
View from my Sanctuary Tree Home, on Signal Mountain, Tennessee
Here it is . Once again Indian summer in my beloved South. A gleaming golden fall. Fox fire on the mountains. I hear acorns pelting on my roof from the majestic old oak trees that surround my home. I am sitting here in my great room, drinking Russian tea, in my “Tree House” sanctuary on Signal Mountain, Tennessee, looking at the city of Chattanooga and the lazy winding Tennessee River below.
I have been praying and deeply contemplating what I will write as my treasured friend, Ann Platz, has so graciously asked me to contribute to a new book about the South, she is writing. I consider this a great honor coming from one of the most eloquent, refined, gracious, graceful and loving Southern women I have ever known. Ann’s character, dignity, standards, integrity and grace fully reflect the epitome of true Southern charm and hospitality and the love of Jesus.
Born and raised in the deep South, I love those ‘many dear hearts and gentle,and gentile people’, who have so greatly touched and irrevocably changed my life forever, leaving indelible impressions on my heart. I am so very thankful to God for my Mother, who raised me and my four sisters to be Southern Belles - and other Southern women, like Ann, godly mentors and teachers, who have so greatly influenced my life. Among them I am so thankful for Betty Griffin, a beautiful and charming lady, close friend and mentor in Turkey, who has gone on home to be with the Lord.
And there are two other Betty’s in my life, who helped me to love to teach the Word of God, Betty Martin and Betty Insley, and who taught me so much about the love
The teaching and solid foundation of God’s Word, knowing Who He is, His love for me, and who He created me to be..... and Southern standards, values and rich family tradition passed down from generation to generation have made me who and what I am today. For this and to so many people, I am forever grateful for this rich and precious heritage. Also I would be very remiss if I didn’t say ‘Thank-You” to all the precious pastors and teachers in my young life growing up in a small town in Alabama, for their insight, wisdom, love, encouragement and support.
As a young woman, I lived and traveled all over the world and have been on stages from Taiwan to Turkey. And then years ago, I returned back to my beloved Tennessee. No where else on God’s green earth, would I rather be now in my golden years. For many years I have mentored many younger women, one on one, and many groups, through teaching classes in church ministry and seminars. And now, I thank God for the opportunity to mentor other women through ASPIRE MINISTRIES. God has so greatly blessed as we are coming upon our Second Anniversary February, 2009, ASPIRE messages have reached thousands of women all over the world.
I am thinking back in time, remembering nostalgic misty water colored memories. Those ‘evergreen’ places in my heart. Looking from my windows, overlooking the beautiful Tennessee, a river of many moods that embraces the vista of the valley below, I understand why the Cherokee Indians called this valley “Enchanted Ground.” In fact, the entire South to me is somewhat ‘enchanted’ and makes my heart sing.
The slowly winding Tennessee River below makes me think of walking on the banks of many rivers and the shorelines of many oceans and seas in far away exotic lands all over the world. I remember the gracefully domed mosques with slender minarets, reflected in the Bosporus Sea between the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara. Building sand castles with my beautiful baby daughter and son beside the Mediterranean Sea. Strolling the cobble stone streets beside the River Thames in London. And the beautiful Seine River in Paris, the gleaming“City of Lights”. Watching golden glistening graceful sampans sailing on the rivers and seas in the mysterious Orient. The glistening dome of European cathedrals, grand architect of magnificent palaces and famous museums, reminders bringing the past into the present. The smells of sidewalk cafes, bistros, and open air fruit and flower markets.
I am so thankful that God opened up these windows of the world to me. As a Southern girl I excitedly reached out and touched the big wide wonderful world God created. The wonderful cultures, art, music, languages and especially the gracious people everywhere touched my heart. God expanded my perspective on life, attitudes, views, boundaries and horizons, as did all these unforgettable cherished friends.
RETURNING TO MY SOUTHERN ROOTS
When I returned from overseas to my beloved home and family here in the South it was with amazement, as I saw a ‘Re-Invention of the South”, transformed in many ways, on the move to more modern ways! So many things had changed. We now had shopping malls. Fashions had greatly changed. And lifestyles in the South seemed less traditional, rigid and more relaxed.
But the peace, harmony, grace and ease of the South, still soothed my soul and lifted my spirits. And again I rediscovered my roots and introduced my baby daughter, who was born in Ankara, Turkey to the South that I so loved and cherished.
Some of you women will also laugh and relate to this very personal thing! I loved taking off my uncomfortable long line bra and girdle, which our Mother had taught us to wear, from our teens, for all four seasons, (which I love in the South - Fall, Winter, Spring, and the very long hot Summers) - even though my sisters and I were all very slim then! (Smile.) And how freeing to let my hair down literally! For years overseas I had worn the teased, sprayed stiff, hair piled high ‘bee hive’, ‘love locks’ and French twist hair styles! I loved taking off my hose, (fastened to the girdle/garter belt) and actually going bare legged! What freedom!
But I still hold dear, many Southern traditions. I drink Southern iced tea - all seasons - even in a winter snow blizzard! I could never get enough ice in drinks overseas. I remember my first dinner out with our Embassy friends in a Turkish restaurant with our interpreter. I asked him to order me a coke, with a lot of ice. Cokes were a real commodity and very expensive! There were times we paid four or five dollars for one! I was sometimes afraid to order iced tea, because of the unclean, impure water. And I did not drink alcohol. When I heard Selgik order my coke, with ‘choke booze’, I said, “Oh, no! I do not want ‘booze’ in my coke!” And he laughed and said, “choke booze” means “ a lot of ice!” First lesson in Turkish language!
My Mother, true to her Southern fashion in 1970, wore her hair piled high in ‘ love locks’ with a hair piece. She came to visit me in Turkey when my daughter was born. She bravely went to the hair salon, her first outing by herself without me. When she came back, she was accompanied by an angry ‘domish’ driver. (Turkish taxis which were old American station wagons.) My maid, Sultan, laughingly told me that my Mother had refused to get out of the domish, which ran on a scheduled route, and did not come up to our lovely modern apartment, which was across the street from the pink Presidential Palace. Mother, a very strong willed Southern Lady, would not get out of the domish, until the driver brought her to my front door!
I looked at her, noted her frustration, and saw that her hair was not the usual ‘piled’ high style. I asked her what had happened, and she said, “I don’t really know! I kept telling the Turkish hair dresser to pile my hair ‘Higher! Higher!’ and she kept making it lower and lower! And she got very upset with me!” Sultan laughed again, and said, “Madam, ‘higher’ in Turkish means ‘NO!’
PORTRAIT OF THE SOUTH - GRASS ROOTS IMPRESSIONS
Sunlight, long shadows and fox fire in forest, in the Indian summer, golden fallsSpringtime in the majestic Appalachian, Smokies and Blue Ridge Mountains
TRUE SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY
Entertaining, protocol, social graces, charm, beauty and etiquette- good manners.
I think we are greatly challenged today as true Southern Hospitality is becoming in some places a thing of the past. A lost art. I was very surprised to find when I wrote and taught Christian Charm and Etiquette courses to tots and teens, that many of their mothers, women in their 30's and 40's did not even know how to set a proper table! And so they ask me to write and give seminars for them, which I did gladly.
Mothers teach your daughters and granddaughters! When I kept my beautiful grand daughter when she was only two and three, I loved having afternoon teas with her with real china tea cups and a silver tea service I gave to her. She especially loved this time together of dressing up and make believe. We’d have picnics- sometimes even indoors on rainy days and I would spread out a colorful table cloth on the floor where we would sit for hours.
Many evenings I still have romantic candlelight dinners alone with my husband, for no occasion because I do believe that wives should help keep romance in their marriage. I set the table with our finest china, crystal and silver. And place fresh roses or sometimes wild flowers in a lovely favorite antique vase that belonged to his Mother. Or my Waterford Crystal vase I bought myself because I love beautiful lasting enduring quality. I use all the different lovely antique sets of china and crystal handed down from my husband’s Mother. I do not save them just for company. And I always, always use real cloth napkins! Never paper napkins!
And true to my Southern roots and upbringing I always make my chicken salad with white meat, never dark, and use ‘real mayonaise!’ May I add though, that I do not take casseroles made with canned soup to Church and social functions. Nor to dear friends homes whom have lost their loved ones! I also do not make salads or desserts out of Jello! As a gourmet cook, I pride myself in always using fresh, never frozen or canned items. (Smile.)
How fortunate I was to grow up with a Mother who not only was a great Southern cook but taught me to love cooking and entertaining.. And her best friend, who was like a surrogate Mother to us, was well known as the best Southern cook in North Alabama, including all the Tennessee Sequatchee Valley! She lovingly and patiently taught me and my sisters how to bake Lane Cake and Orange Cake with old-fashioned homemade Divinity icing. Homemade hot potato yeast rolls. Decadent divine chocolate cake, with delicious home-made chocolate fudge icing. Monkey Bread. And countless other baked goodies.
My Mother taught me how to prepare the most delicious Thanksgiving and Christmas feast! Complete with Turkey, Ham, cornbread dressing, sweet potato yams, squash casserole, broccoli casserole, fresh green beans, potato salad, green English peas, Southern ambrosia with fresh oranges, coconut and pecans, fresh cranberry and orange relish, cold slaw, hot rolls, Southern pecan pie, (my Aunt Era’s recipe), derby and pumpkin pies, apricot torte, carrot cake, to name a few desserts.
On one such occasion while living in Ankara, Turkey, I prepared a Thanksgiving feast for about thirty of our friends. I had a second pan of uncooked cornbread dressing in the kitchen ready to bake. We had all finished eating lunch, but I found one of our friends, a big tall Texan, eating the uncooked dressing with a big serving spoon. He looked up sheepishly when I entered the kitchen, and said, “Sandra, this is the best dressing I have ever put in my mouth! I can’t get enough of it!”
While overseas we entertained and were entertained royally! I was so grateful for my Southern roots and being taught protocol and etiquette, as I attended formal, extravagant, elegant Embassy and State Department dinners. I not only studied the culture, languages, art, history and music in different countries, but I took cooking classes and became a gourmet cook. My friends called me “The Pearl Mesta of the Orient.” She was the Hospitality Director for State Department Events in Washington D.C. where we lived between our overseas tours. Our husbands were with the United States State Department’s, Agency for International Development, Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and other U. S. organizations and assigned to Embassy positions overseas.
I loved to entertain. And my American friends, as well as foreign friends, all loved not only the gourmet food I loved to prepare and serve them, but the rich traditional Southern foods.
I smile to this day when I remember a time years after I returned to the States, and recall inviting to dinner, the president of a recording studio where I taught vocal and stage performance as well as helped to write and produce television and radio jingles. He and his wife had been in our home so many times to partake of all the different exotic gourmet meals - French. Chinese. Greek. Italian. Spanish. Mediterranean. One day he called to see what I was having for dinner and I told him I was preparing a true Southern meal of fried chicken, slaw, fresh green beans, fried okra, squash, garlic cheese mashed potatoes, fresh sliced garden tomatoes, pinto beans and cornbread. And to top it all off, I was serving a fresh peach cobbler with home made vanilla ice cream for dessert.
As he was sitting there obviously relishing every bite, he looked at me and said, “Sandra, this is one of the best meals I have ever had in my life! I DIDN’T KNOW YOU COULD COOK LIKE THIS!” After all the gourmet meals, he loved the Southern cooking the best!
Another time I remember and just can’t stop smiling ......Speaking of friends overseas, we were all dining at an exclusive club one night in Ankara, Turkey. We were the only Southerners at the large table and the topic was “Food.” Others from all over the States, and our Turkish friends, were asking me questions about Southern Food. And in the passing conversation I mentioned something about being a true “Grits and Greens, Southern Belle.” So then people asked me about how I cooked and served grits. And one of the women from Wisconsin spoke up from across the table and said, “Why you know, I never ever had A GRIT!” Everyone began to laugh uproariously, so I explained to her the obvious from her comment!
BASKING IN GOD’S PRESENCE. BABIES. BAKING.
One of my greatest joys, taught and instilled within my Southern roots is cooking and entertaining. Basking in Gods Glory. Baking. And babies. My rich southern culture and family traditions are the ‘evergreen places in my heart.’ To remember my upbringing, and being raised in the Bible Belt, with deep foundations in God’s Word, keeps me balanced, and grounded spiritually, emotionally and physically.
For many years I wrote and taught Social Graces and Manners curriculum from tots to teens. When I taught “Manners and Modeling” I would ask the children, “Do you know what the meaning of ‘Etiquette’ is?” None usually knew the answer nor were they familiar with the word. I would tell them that it meant, “The Golden Rule.” “Do unto others the way you would have them do unto you.”
I thank my Mother who presented me and my sisters with Amy Vanderbilt’s Book of Etiquette when we were very young. I still have the original copy. And I have worn the pages out! I always advise all parents to give their daughters an Etiquette book.
NEW MOVEMENT ON THE HORIZON. WOMEN OF GOD’S GRACE.
Six years ago, I attended “Mentoring Virtuous Women”, a conference presented by Ann Platz in Atlanta, Georgia. Ann said, “As a mentor I am aware of a new movement on the horizon. God is calling mature ‘spiritual mothers’, women of wisdom, to come forward in the body of Christ. This movement is outside the walls of the church - it is in the neighborhoods and homes.
As this point in time, we as women of influence, need to take our positions as spiritual Deborah’s, seasoned women who will do the work. Titus 2 women understand the scriptural calling to invest principles of God into others through mentoring. Younger women in the faith desire to have mentor-encouragers; a woman of wisdom and grace, speaking powerfully into their lives.”
Since that time, I have seen a multitude of women from the North, South, East and West of our great and beloved America, raised up - equipped and empowered to love and mentor other women.
I thank God that He allowed this little Southern girl to journey all around the world as He opened doors for me to learn lasting life lessons from loving and gracious people everywhere. But I am most thankful for my Southern roots and rich heritage. I am so grateful to have been rooted and grounded in God’s Word. And to have been taught growing up in the Southern Bible Belt, that we each have a rich inheritance in God’s everlasting perfect love, and He wants us to walk in great hope, confidence, courage and spread His love to everyone we meet.
And I especially thank God for each and every one of you precious women from all over the states and around the world, for allowing and welcoming ASPIRE MINISTRIES into your homes and lives. We pray God’s blessings for you.
Thank you my treasured friend Ann Platz. Thank you so much for imparting words of knowledge to me, helping to awaken and stir spiritual gifts within me, to further equip, empower and encourage me, to pursue the mentoring vision God had given me a few years before we met. Not only are you the very epitome of Southern charm, passing on the Southern legacy, traditions and rich heritage of social graces from generation to generation, but you are a shining example of God’s Grace and Love. I deeply appreciate your vision, wisdom, understanding and these values.
Blessings and much love,
You may subscribe here to InJesus,
our additional site,
for weekly encouraging words
from Aspire Ministries.
Author Sandy Cox