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We begin 2019 with a tribute to our readers — particularly those who contribute stories to what has become one of our most popular attractions, our Folklore Project.

Soon after we started The Bitter Southerner in 2013, you good folks began sending us your stories. Of course, we got the submissions we expected from professional and aspiring writers. But we also got submissions from countless regular folks, people who believed their personal stories of life in the South might mean something to our readers.

When we launched the Folklore Project in mid-2015, I wrote, "It was as if we had put up a sign that said, 'Send Us Your Family Stories.'”

That was three and a half years ago. We've since published around 200 essays from our readers. To begin 2019, we want to pay tribute to the writers of those stories by publishing a list of our favorite 11 contributions to the Bitter Southerner Folklore Project in 2018.

These 11 essays cover a broad landscape: sexual harassment, Old South mythology, how to raise forward-thinking kids in Mississippi, how to break through the racial and cultural barriers in our lives and in our heads, how precisely to define where the South is, which mayonnaise is best in households down here, and how much we either hate or love Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird." We present them here in random order — except for the two sides of the #SkynyrdGate debate, which appear in tandem at the end of the list.

We hope these stories will help ease you into another year of work, as we all try to make the South a better place.

— Chuck Reece

 
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The Southern Code of Silence

Mary-Ann Anderson, Hazlehurst, Georgia

The passage that hooked us:

"Years ago, when I was trying to get myself through college, I worked as a secretary for a small company owned by one man. He had a friend, a married friend, who often stopped by to chat, and if my boss wasn’t in, he would stay to talk anyway, unabashedly staring at my ample bosom and telling me all about my supposed hotness. Back then I was an almost 6-foot-tall, bleach-bottle blonde who sported God-given DDs that just wouldn’t quit. That man — let me just call him Creep (there is a reason, which will I will soon reveal) — always made me feel icky. And cheap. Like I needed to be doused with soapy water after being around him."

Read On

 
 

 
 

Giving Up the Mayo of My Youth

J. Ross Blankenship, Atlanta, Georgia

The passage that hooked us:

“Until I tried Duke’s, I was a staunch Hellmann’s man, but I was converted in the blink of an eye.”

Read On

 
 

 
 

Life in D.C., Between Homeland and Diaspora

By Chantal James, Washington, D.C.

The passage that hooked us:

“Washington is a few blocks of majestic marble buildings and some monuments surrounded by a community that is in many ways small-townish — sleepy, even. Those buildings downtown were built with the blood and sweat of the enslaved, who were denied access to them except in servants' corridors. The descendants of enslaved Africans have always peopled the District. And in Washington’s history, it has always wrestled with identity markers we think of as Southern, like the institution of slavery and its the legacy of racism — so that the question of whether Southerners in D.C. are part of a Southern Diaspora, or whether they're still in the homeland, has always been real.”

Read On

 
 

 
 

R.E.M. and the Work of Mourning

T. Hugh Crawford, Atlanta, Georgia

The passage that hooked us:

“Music has a way of making, marking, and ultimately erasing time. It fixes a moment in a particular place, and lets you come back to stand there even after decades have slipped by.”

Read On

 
 

 
 

If My Son’s Going to Be From Mississippi

Catherine Gray, Jackson, Mississippi

The passage that hooked us:

“‘My challenge is for those of you in the audience,’ Myrlie Evers-Williams says. ‘Make use of these jewels that we have here. Walk through the halls and be able to put your fingers in the bullet holes…’ My son touches his finger to my eye. He’s been learning to name parts of the face and wants me to speak the words. ‘Eye.’ Yes, son, I see. I see the bullet holes. I see the names of those who died. I see how much we’ve hurt."

Read On

 
 

Lucille’s Diner

Jonathan Odell, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The passage that hooked us:

“Lucille stood there with her arms folded across her chest, now gazing out the window at the afternoon traffic as it lumbered by. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘long story short, I ended up going to the wedding, and now I got two coffee-colored grandbabies. Most precious things I got.’”

Read On

 
 

 
 

My Black Grandpa

David E. Phillips, South Bend, Indiana

The passage that hooked us:

“I know that when I was with him, I was seldom happier. He was kind to me. He loved me. I’m a little more open and capable of kindness myself because of him. That will have to do.”

Read On

 
 

 
 

The Life Cycle of an Azalea Belle

Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler, Wilmington, North Carolina

The passage that hooked us:

“Over the course of that weekend, I fended off lingering glances, wholly unsubtle, sloppy flirting, and occasionally downright baudy commentary from interchangeable drunken men, trying to have a little fun despite the indignity of being dragged on a garden tour by their blonde, seersucker wives. ‘You’re the prettiest flower in this garden,’ one man slurred in my ear. ‘I’d pick you if you weren’t so young.’”

Read On

 
 

Where Exactly Is the South?

Matt Shipman, Cary, North Carolina

The passage that hooked us:

“‘The South starts in Richmond’ is a phrase I heard so often growing up in southern Virginia I almost believed it myself. I now know it’s not quite that simple. When I moved to North Carolina, more than a decade ago, I was surprised to learn that the whole state of Virginia was not really part of the South, either. The commonwealth’s un-Southernness had apparently spread from the Washington suburbs to encompass everything from Martinsville to Norfolk. ... Nonetheless, folks in North Carolina were happy to welcome me to the South, since I hadn’t really grown up there.”

Read On

 
 

 
 

Why I Hate “Free Bird”

Warrington Williams, Liberty, Missouri

The passage that hooked us:

“And of course, there was the soundtrack, the damned thing that has fascinated and irritated me most of my life: effing ‘Free Bird,’ by the once talented band Lynyrd Skynyrd. It seems every time a cheesy movie about dead or dying rural white trash comes on, ‘Free Bird’ is not far behind.”

Read On

 
 

 
 

In Defense of “Free Bird”:
A Response to #Skynyrdgate

Rachel Bryan, Knoxville, Tennessee

The passage that hooked us:

“When I am the ‘dead or dying rural white trash’ I hope my family knows me well enough to put ‘Free Bird’ in my funeral video, followed only by ‘Poison Whiskey,’ as an homage to the way I’ll go out.”

Read On