My big royal redneck wedding

Prince William and Catherine Middleton
The prince and princess

While I type, NBC’s Today Show hosts talk breathlessly about the royal family members entering Westminster Abbey for the wedding of the decade. William and Catherine’s nuptials have created a media stir, drawing the obsessive attention of anglophiles and royalty voyeurs from around the world. It is reality TV at its most unreal.

As I contemplated a New South angle on this cultural phenomenon, I was reminded of another wedding-oriented reality TV experience I stumbled upon one night while channel surfing. No, it wasn’t “Bridezillas,”Say Yes to the Dress,” “Wedding SOS” or any of the nearly 20 other wedding reality shows.

Amber and John
Amber and John

“My Big Redneck Wedding” is a train wreck you can’t look away from. I would never seek this out again, but it did make me wonder if this was a Southern thing or a blue collar thing. It’s been well established that redneck culture knows no geographic boundaries.

We all know that “redneck” can be a derogatory term as well as a badge of honor. If you are a self-proclaimed “redneck” is it really an insult? Jeff Foxworthy is not an insult comic. He has tapped into the sense of pride so many feel in the redneck identity.

The themes of the redneck wedding reality show are familiar and cliché: lots of camouflage, farm implements as decorations, tractors and ATVs, horses and dogs, sports venues such as demolition derby tracks and a consistent emphasis on guns, shooting and hunting.

Demolition Derby wedding
A car wreck no matter how you look at it at this demolition derby wedding for Kelli and Ron.

What has undermined the concept of this particular reality TV is that several of the couples featured had “real weddings” and then staged these redneck affairs just for laughs. I won’t explore who is laughing at whom, but the whole thing is a little off-putting.

Southerners have traditionally been self-deprecating, and staging a redneck wedding would seem to be the height of self-deprecation. But what really seems to be at play here is desperation to be on television.

This “by any means necessary” approach cheapens their relationship, their culture and the wedding covenant.

I don’t think William and Catherine suffer from the “must be on TV” malady, and I don’t think anyone at the reception will be in camo. But it would be kind of fun if there was a demolition derby in Trafalgar Square.

My Easter bonnet

 

Some traditions die hard, and others, well, let’s just say they have a built-in expiration date.

It has long been a tradition for people, particularly religious people, to purchase new clothes at Easter. It was Irving Berlin who immortalized the wearing of Easter bonnets in song after observing the annual Easter parade in New York City. After Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the newly-frocked congregants would literally parade down the street in their fancy attire.

Easter parade
If you don't wear your bonnet to church, at least wear your church on your bonnet.

Formal and informal parading of new Easter clothes, particularly hats, has been a part of the Southern landscape as well. In fact, there’s a well-known and highly-anticipated event on Monument Avenue in Richmond every year that features a wide array of elaborate costumes and hats. The silliness notwithstanding, it does harken back to the bygone days when new clothes at Easter were symbolic of new beginnings, the budding of spring and the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

big bonnet
Don't put all your eggs in one bonnet.

But what about today? Where have all the bonnets gone? Frankly, where has all of the dressing up gone? Does anyone buy new clothes at Easter anymore?

Church attendance, even on Easter, is no longer a given. If you’re not going anywhere requiring new duds then you probably are as likely to buy spring clothes at the President’s Day sale as during the weeks leading up to Easter.

Also contributing to the disappearance of new clothes at Easter is the casualization of culture. It is rare to see men in neckties these days, and even more rare to see a woman under the age of 50 wearing hose. Except for politicians, funeral home employees and college presidents, most people feel dressed up in business casual.

There is no denying that my family is traditional. Every spring my wife starts scouring children’s stores to come up with matching or at least complementary ensembles for our boys to wear on Easter and throughout the summer. I’m not sure when I was included in this fashion synchronization, but this year while the boys are donning orange, I’ll be sporting a new, creamsicle orange plaid tie with my khaki suit on Easter.
Easter tie
Lance's tie for Easter 2011 by Nautica from Belk.

Don’t hear me complaining. It’s good to get a new tie every once in a while. Last year it was light green with circular fireworks of blue. The year before that it was a light blue tie covered in shapes resembling popcorn. Nothing livens up a khaki suite like a pastel tie.

I don’t have many opportunities to dress up anymore, but when I do, I’m going to have something new that matches my sons. With our matching outfits we’ll look like we just stepped out of the Easter parade.

So with apologies to Irving Berlin, here’s my adaptation of his song:

In your Easter tie,
which you’ll probably wear when you die,
you’ll be the most overdressed husband on Easter Sunday.

Happy Easter!

It doesn’t smell the same

bacon
Which one smells better? One of these two strips of meat is from a pig, the other a turkey. Can you tell by looking?

My Granny relished feeding her grandsons. I’m sure she would rather have been doing other things, but cooking took on a new pleasure when my brothers and I showed up each summer.

The smell of your grandmother’s house is unique, and everyone with a Granny can smell it in their mind’s nose at the suggestion. Whenever you catch a whiff of it, you are transported back to carefree days when the “Price is Right” was high drama and squirrels invading the tomato patch was an issue of national security.

Part of the smell of my Granny’s house on Beatrice Avenue in Columbus, Ga., was bacon. I don’t know if she fixed it all the time or just when we were there; but to me, the smell of cooking bacon always reminds me of Granny.

Curiously, this smell is growing more and more elusive.

You see, back in the early ‘70s heart attacks killed people randomly. Now, heart attacks kill people after years of smoking or eating bacon. So we don’t eat as much bacon as we used to. Oh, we eat substances called “bacon,” but it’s not authentic. It’s not deadly.

skillet
You can definitely tell the real thing before it starts to sizzle.

About every other morning I’ll pop a couple of strips of turkey bacon in the microwave. It does have a little bacony flavor, but it doesn’t smell the same. It doesn’t even sound the same… no crackling and popping in the cast iron skillet. Just the hum of the microwave and the faint sizzle in the paper towel. It’s nearly always a disappointment.

Granny’s bacon never disappointed, mostly because it was accompanied by buttermilk biscuits. I almost never smell those anymore either, and I eat them even more rarely. Those will definitely kill you. I distinctly recall the summer my brother and I spent two weeks at Granny’s and Paw Paw’s house. That was the summer my brother went from wearing “slim” Toughskin jeans to “husky.”

For those hoping for a bacon revival, Southern Living’s March issue presented 30 recipes that celebrate what they called a “Southern Staple.” I could smell Granny’s house just reading them.

What’s funny is that my own sons know the difference in bacon, too. At least once a year, usually while on vacation, Carla will cook actual bacon, though not in the skillet. With the bacon sizzling on the broiler in the oven, my oldest son will say something like this: “Are we having the good bacon today?”

Here’s hoping we’ve raised him well enough to know good bacon when he smells it.

Old school spring break

The Wallaces in West Palm Beach
The Wallaces in West Palm Beach, Fla., on spring break. Bob Perkins photo

Growing up in Dallas-Fort Worth, I can’t remember a single spring break vacation. That’s not to say we didn’t have any. I just can’t remember them. We were content to have a week off school, sleep late, watch cartoons and play outside. 

Now, it’s a different story. Spring break isn’t just for college students anymore. Families experience peer pressure to hit the road, too.  

An AOL travel survey this year revealed that 60 percent of people traveling during spring break will spend from $500 to $2,000. That’s more than my parents spent on spring break travel in my 18 years of living at home. 

The same survey showed 75 percent were staying in the U.S. with Florida the top destination. I can attest to the validity of this. I file this dispatch from West Palm Beach where we are wrapping up a week-long trip to the Sunshine State. The trip down I-75 was crowded with fellow Atlantans escaping the city for warmer climate, beaches and theme parks. Free investment tip: invest in Disney stock.

Video game fishing
Barron and PawPaw get in the only kind of fishing they could during Tuesday's rain.

But our spring break plans were modest this year: a visit to my parents in Central Florida, a day at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando (thanks to the generosity of friends who provided us with complimentary passes for the whole family), and a day of fishing with PawPaw.  We rounded out the week with a visit to Atlanta ex patriot friends Bob and Faith Perkins who provided quintessential South Florida hospitality: good food, beautiful weather and a day at the beach.

What I learned from this year’s edition of the now time-honored travel rites of spring is that old school wins.

Universal was fun and memorable but probably overwhelming to our two-year-old son who capped off the night by throwing up. And when a day of rain and thunderstorms postponed our fishing trip by a day, playing card games with their grandparents produced more laughs than the video games – even video game fishing.

Barron's first bass
Barron catches his first bass -- the non-virtual kind.

We had a great time at an impromptu campfire, roasting marshmallows and making s’mores. The older boys experienced absolute delight fishing in the breezy Florida sunshine with their grandfather. My five-year-old was so excited he couldn’t stop talking – before, during and after. My oldest hauled in his first bass, a 12-incher we had to throw back because of state law. For those of you who care about that sort of thing, he caught it on an 8-inch, Zoom Finesse watermelon seed worm. He was proud, but his daddy and granddaddy were even more proud.

And a day at the beach — digging a big pit, boogie boarding in the Atlantic, collecting shells and trying fruitlessly to send a Portuguese Man-of-War back to sea — proved more fun than avoiding a mechanical shark at Universal.

For authentic fun in the New South, mix in a little of the tried-and-true to make lasting memories. The Great Outdoors are a better incubator for quality family time than manufactured settings. And in an era of rediscovered austerity, it’s a better value, too.

Bottle fed

Baby goat
Poppy with his baby goat.

A few weeks ago, Carla and I took the boys to see her parents in Sandersville. A welcomed retreat from the suburbs to small town Southern life, these trips are especially meaningful to the boys. In Sandersville, they get to enjoy life in a different way.

On this particular visit, Nanny and Poppy had a couple of new additions to their household: two baby goats, only a couple of weeks old. Poppy raises goats as a hobby rather than an agribusiness, and, as he says, it gives him something to do. Twice a day he drives the dozen or so miles out to his farm and tends to them.

The arrival of these two babies was complicated somewhat by the disappearance of their mothers. So what’s a goat farmer to do with nursing baby goats and no mamas?

Bring them home and feed them from a bottle.

The smaller of the two, the brown one, was near death when they got him home. Nanny described him as looking like “an inner tube when all the air has gone out.” But on that warm February Saturday, he was prancing and hopping and running from our boys with vigor. Seems the bottle-feeding, petting and attentive nurturing he was getting did the trick.

I grew up in the city. I don’t have much experience with raising farm animals. In fact, I am embarrassingly ignorant on such matters and feel like a total city slicker when I go out to help my father-in-law at the farm. But it doesn’t seem to me that goat farmers used to be as nurturing. Maybe goat farmers have gone soft.

Oh, you can argue that Poppy was just protecting his investment. But how do you explain the petting? Or the big smile across his face when he describes how he brought the brown one back from the brink of death?

No, there is a connection here between this farmer and his goats. It’s not so strong that he won’t take them to the auction when it’s time, but it’s more of a relationship than a farmer may have had with his livestock a generation ago.

Soon, the two baby goats will be back at the farm, eating grass, hay and whatever they get in their mouths. Maybe their goat friends will mock them for being too soft. Or maybe, they’ll be welcomed into the extended goat family as two members who nearly didn’t make it.

Here’s to the bottle fed among us. A little nurturing can be the difference between and life and death.