‘Forgotten’ Horseshoe Bend is a lesson for New Orleans’ Civil War monuments

HorseshoeBend Sing.jpg

The park welcomed me with a grand sign typical of the National Park Service’s careful attention to detail and rustic aesthetics. The next sign I read changed my perspective on the battle.

Third-grade Alabama history is the gift that keeps on giving, even 45 years on. (Thanks Mrs. Virginia Harless Cook!)

This time it was the inspiration for this opinion piece in The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina in which I apply the lessons I learned about the horror of an Andrew Jackson-led Indian massacre to what’s going on new in New Orleans and other places debating Civil War memorials.

Let me know what you think.

To learn from the past, keep its monuments




For essayist, Huntsville is the new town that became a hometown


When a new town becomes a hometown by Beth Thames

A lovely and thoughtful essay on the slow, steady process of adapting to the place you’ve moved to. It’s what I’m in the midst of trying to do in Chapel Hill, and all the more poignant since the place the essayist now calls home is the place I’ll never quite get over leaving. 

Southern accents do exist in Chapel Hill after all; Gaoo Heels!


Surrounded by Southern accents at the NCAA Super Regionals in Chapel Hill. By the way, UNC beat South Carolina 5-4 to advance to Omaha for the College World Series.

I mentioned in an earlier post, I feel like an island in a sea of non-Southerners here in Chapel Hill. Today, though, I discovered a sanctuary of Southern accents in the otherwise drawl desert that is Chapel Hill.

It was at today’s NCAA baseball Super Regional between UNC and South Carolina. The guy behind me, who was both loudly cheering and lovingly teaching the basics of baseball to a girl I assume was his daughter, at one point yelled, “Get anothern! Get anothern!” at a player who had earlier had a hit. It was nice to be among my people.

Unlike that guy, a lot of  what I heard was the slightly different (to my ear) North Carolina accent that says “go” like gaoo, “throw” like thraoo, “like” something like lahk and Carolina as CalAHNa.  But hey, what’s a little pronunciation among friends.

It was twangy music to my ears. Clearly, I need to spend more time at UNC sporting events.

Waving goodbye to a Southern tradition: Waving at passing cars


Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m trying to revive a Southern tradition one finger at a time.

When I was a boy and two oncoming cars met each other on most roads, the drivers waved. Not usually a big wave. Maybe a hand off the steering wheel, or one or two fingers up while the palm stayed put, but you almost never passed a car without a wave of some kind.

Where I lived, this applied to city and country driving, and if you were in the country, you also turned your head and gave a heartier wave to people sitting on their front porches.

It happens fast, especially when you and the car you’re meeting are going 55 mph or faster. You have to look into the windshield of every oncoming car, have your hand on top of the steering wheel ready to go up, and respond before the car has passed you. If someone waves and you don’t get at least a finger up until you’ve already passed, it’s like a snub. Very bad form.

By the time I learned to drive, the waving ritual was on the wane. Yet it still was a somewhat regular occurrence even in my fairly progressive hometown of Huntsville, Ala. (common retort: As a matter of fact, I am a rocket scientist).

My first post-college job was in Scottsboro, Ala. (common retort: Please don’t bring up the Scottsboro Boys) and not only did you wave at every passing vehicle, four-way stops were negotiated by waves of mutual agreement. (This actually drove me nuts. Just follow the rules, people. We’ll get through a lot faster.) After leaving Scottsboro, waving happened less and less.

These days waving at passing cars rarely happens — probably less here in Chapel Hill, N.C., (common retort: Go Heels) where I meet more people from California and New York than from the South. I’m sure there are lots of other reasons for the decline: Ever-widening roads, the interstate system and higher speed limits come to mind. Native Southern drivers who might be inclined to wave here probably don’t, assuming every oncoming car is driven by a transplanted Yankee who wouldn’t know what to make of being waved at anyway.

A few years ago I decided to put my graduate education to use and do a quantitative study of road waving. At the time, I drove a Ford Explorer which was helpful because drivers of trucks and truck-like vehicles seem to be the last keepers of the waving ritual. Here’s how the study went:

Method: I drove in three Southern states: Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. On uninterrupted stretches of two-lane highway, I checked my odometer and waved at every oncoming car I passed for 10 miles in each state, documenting how many waves were returned.

Limitations: It’s possible I might have missed some waves that happened after our cars had passed. (Folks open to but not expecting a wave sometimes don’t have their hands in position and can’t get a wave off fast enough, try as they might. )

Results: A 12-15 percent response rate in each state. (The differences between states weren’t statistically significant.)


• Of that 12-15 percent, about 80 percent of returned waves were from drivers of trucks of all kinds (pickups and semis).

• Seventy-five percent of waving drivers of trucks were white males and almost 25 percent were black males.

• Of the drivers of cars, the percentage of returned waves was about 20 percent.

• About 90 percent of car drivers who waved were men.

• The most common vehicles passed were cars driven by women, and very few women car drivers waved.

Anecdotal anomaly: I did get one wave from a black woman driving a pickup truck.

Clearly it’s going to be an uphill drive to bring this tradition back, but I’m going to give it a try. Just don’t wave at me at a four-way stop. You may get another finger for that.

What kind of accent is that? Apparently the kind that stands out in Chapel Hill but disappears in Alabama


My mom and I loved this book when I was a kid, although I’m pretty sure we both already knew how.

When people describe Southerners, I imagine accents are one of the first things that come to mind. (I like to identify people’s home states or regions by their accents, although I can only really do Southern and even then some better than others.)

When I worked in Florence, Alabama, I was sitting in the front passenger seat of police officer’s car (for a story, not an arrest), talking to him as he drove and, after a while got to the usual “where you from” stuff. After I told him I was from Huntsville, he said, “You don’t really have an Alabama accent.” I didn’t argue with him, and gave him my theory about why Huntsville accents are different.

That was one of dozens of times I’ve been told I don’t have an accent — not coincidentally, all in Alabama. Then I moved to Chapel Hill. I’d only been here a few weeks the first time something quite different happened. I was talking to a teacher in the noisy playground of my youngest son’s preschool when another parent overheard me, walked up from behind and said, “You must be the one from Alabama.”

The comment caught me off guard, but afterward I thought to myself, “The last time I checked, this is the South. You’re the one with the accent.”

I’ve been told the same thing a number of times now, although in different contexts. I kept my snappy comeback about this being the South to myself, until this week.

At my youngest son’s end-of-year wrestling party last Monday, I was enjoying a pleasant conversation with a friendly but loud dad whose tongue sounded Midwestern to me, and a soft-spoken mom, his wife, who I could tell was a native Spanish speaker even before I learned she was from Spain. Another mom who was listening asked me what kind of accent mine was and I decided now was the time turn the tables with my clever observation about who really had the accent.

After I said it, she looked at me sort of funny and said something in response that I don’t remember. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until it registered she dragged out “too” in a way that sounded more like “tyoo.” Then I realized I had used my smart-assed response on another Southerner. Next time I’ll just answer the question. Maybe I’ll throw in a “ma’am.”