A great many years ago, a freckled and buck-toothed Cletus first laid his young eyes upon a sea of cotton as he unwillingly migrated from the multicultural metropolis of Miami to the rustic farmland of rural Madison County, Alabama.
His parents had split — Mom won custody and decided to start a new life in the Deep South. The drive up, in the rusty, poorly air-conditioned Tercel was excruciatingly flat and straight, so Cletus was overjoyed when Mom took a drag off her cigarette and exhaled, “Here’s something you don’t see in Miami… let’s try this Waffle House place.”
“Your Cheatin’ Heart” was the surreal crooning melody in the background that was only interrupted by clanging pots and chain-smoking patrons and a waitress full of chattering, drawling charm. “Y’all ready to order?” she asked as she chewed a wad of gum. Well, inquisitive Cletus just had to ask, “What the heck are grits?”
The waitress laughed, “Lord have mercy, y’all ain’t from around here, are ya? Darlin’, they’re made ah corn and you’ll like ‘em. Let me git ya a bowl, honey.”
Cletus thought for a moment and figured he oughtta try them, but a bowl seemed excessive. He didn’t want to be wasteful if he didn’t like them. “How about if you just bring me just one, please? I would like to try a grit.”
To this day, they’re still cackling…
Over the next thirty years, Cletus learned a lot about grits and life in the Deep South. First, Cletus discovered that grits are stubbornly bland and that they are used primarily as a vehicle for other tastier substances like butter, honey, cheese or, hell, anything else that might give them some sort of flavor. Cletus also learned that grits must be served at breakfast no matter what. It is tradition. It has always been that way.
Yankees eat Farina; Southerners eat grits: an impenetrable culinary cultural divide.
Apparently, as described in great allegorical detail by one fervent country Baptist preacher, one of the worst things about going to Hell, aside from ubiquitous brimstone, is that grits are inexplicably scarce and Satan serves them with no butter. Hell, for sure. The only thing worse could be a black-out of Alabama football or a ban on sweet potato pie — shut yo’ mouth!
The very idea that the Devil would have the diabolical gall to serve grits without butter seems to automatically generate improved moral decision-making among many true believers. An apocalyptic threat of this magnitude must surely compel people who are the loudest in their evangelical zeal to avoid sin like dirty water flees from soap. Besides, there’s something morally wrong with them if they can stomach plain old grits for an eternity, just so they can wallow in nasty, sticky sin.
If you just act right, Heaven is a veritable, steaming grits buffet with more butter and bacon than you can imagine. Biscuits and gravy, too, some say.
So, through endless bowls of honey-buttered grits, Cletus learned the truth about a Southern collective delusion that is deeply rooted in theocratic tradition and defiantly ignores cultural progress and resists all forms of diversity. It is a philosophy that is academically titled, “Bless your little heart.”
Many who are stuck in this old South delusion still yearn for the second-coming of Mayberry and Scarlett O’Hara; both are unquestionable and historic in their literal truth. They honestly believe that there were no “queer folk” in Montgomery until Satan infiltrated America with color television, new math and integration. There was no divorce, folks weren’t “uppity” and everyone loved cotillion, “I do declare.” People may have been poor, but they were rich in spirit. The Bible was the only book required and the only real reason to learn to read, anyway. There was no problem, until the commie hippies took prayer out of our schools and let them foreigners take over. It’s all going to hell in a hand-basket now that “Muslim” is running the show and handing out food stamps to illegals like white on rice, or something like that.
Cletus has learned that the South is facing its greatest existential challenge as more people begin to question this dangerous delusion and, indeed, the very premise that “things have always been this way”. It is nothing more than a fevered stained-glass fantasy perpetuated by right-wing bigots and the evangelical self-righteous. The generation of grits is rapidly being replaced by the generation of huevos rancheros and no-fat bran muffins. Progressivism is rising because people crave prosperity and demand equal opportunity. They recognize the obvious and inherent evil of institutionalized wealth disparity and pervasive racism and classism.
Cletus brought a bit of Miami with him to Alabama and gathered others willing to stand up for progress and equality. The South may be finally learning that change is inevitable and that diversity is a sacred gift. The walls of cultural isolation and rigid religiosity are beginning to finally crumble.
Cletus never really was from here and, finally, he just quit trying to fit in… He learned that things aren’t always as they seem. “Things have always been this way” is no excuse to passively accept embedded cultural prejudices or remain politically inert in the face of a majority that seeks to oppress and divide.
Cletus quit eating grits and figured out that Satan never served them anyway. Although someone had been serving up a mess of intolerance and bigotry in the South for quite a long time, the portions are getting smaller but they’re still hard to swallow.
In that old church under the magnolias, the preacher slams his Big Book and hollers, “Get behind thee Satan!”
“And take my grit with ya!” Cletus shouts. And while Paula Deen cries in her kitchen, even the Devil has to laugh at that, y’all.