Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Southern-Fried Earth Day

I love the South, I grew up in the South, I married a Southerner, the South and I get along just fine. 'Kay? And I think the old stereotypes about southern provincialism and backwardness are boring. Which in the Suburban Matron worldview, is even worse than being wrong. But. . .

One April weekend long ago, in the last century even, I found myself sojourning in Selma, Alabama. It happened to be the weekend of their annual reenactment of the Battle of Selma. So thither to the battlefield we went to see this spectacle with our own eyes. From reading their website, it looks like the reenactment has become a bigger event than it was that year. What we saw was no cast-of-thousands epic, but a few dozen reenactors, with costumes--some blue, some gray--and horses. We sat on aluminum bleachers, and an announcer on the PA system tried to tell us what was going on.

The US Civil War's Battle of Selma, in April of 1865, was part of the Union General James H. Wilson's raid through Alabama and then Georgia. He laid siege to Selma, the site of a big arsenal and munitions. The city was defended by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was already a big celebrity. The South lost, Forrest was wounded, and only escaped by swimming across the Alabama River. He lived to do other stuff like help found the KKK. I'm doing violence to a rich and complicated history here, but that's the bottom line.

So the main battle was in the city all along its fortifications; I guess what we were seeing in that field was a little skirmish moment on the outskirts. It was vague. But whatever, there were dudes riding horses really fast, and snacks, and even though I feared for my complexion, as I had mislaid my parasol, it was all very diverting. The announcer kept telling us that we were in for a treat, a "major artillery demonstration." The battle reached its climax, and the announcer warned us that we may want to cover our ears. I clamped my hands to my head just as a big tree exploded in the middle of the field. They had wired it with dynamite. Louder than hell, and dirt and wood flew everywhere. It smelled like the world's biggest firecracker.

As the smoke cleared a little, the sight of the blasted tree stump reminded me: it was Earth Day.

So that's my story of how I went to South Alabama and they blew up a tree. On Earth Day. Y'all.

Hope your day was a happy one, and lacking in flying dirt!

18 comments:

Amy said...

That there story encapsulates so much of what is uniquely Southern. Great recounting! And I agree--the old stereotypes of backwardness are tired, even if there are pockets of the South where they still hold true.

Oh my! Your parasol--where ever could it have been?

Casey said...

Wow, talk about kicking an earth while it's down! Happy Earth Day!

Keely said...

Hahhahhahhah! That's hilarious. Poor mother earth.

Drama Queen Jenner said...

Maybe the re-enactors were into irony?

Fantastic Forrest said...

As a For(r)est, I find this highly disturbing.

This reminds me of the scene in Lord of the Rings where Saruman tells the Orcs to "Rip them all down!" and they obediently destroy the woods.

Did those Alabama guys look orc-like?

Just wondering.

bsouth said...

Sounds like fun but I'm not sure about blowing up trees!

My Earth Day was much quieter than that.

The Dental Maven said...

Nobody can blow up a tree like the Southerners! And what better day to showcase that kind of skill than on Earthday?

Bren said...

A perfect story for one of This American Life's "60
stories in 60 minutes" shows. I kept hearing Ira interrupt you as I read it.

Jenni said...

that is too funny!

Bex said...

how did you cope with spending earth day amongst the devastation of nature AND the a reenactment of the seeds of the KKK? i hope the rest of your day consisted of ice cream or beer - or both!

Kate said...

Love this post.

And I second how boring it is to hear someone explain why they don't like the South...yawn.

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

I hope that parasol was in a drink!

So Selma had a history before Rosa Parks. I never knew. Thanks for the fill-in.

Michele Renee said...

I am hearing Nick Nolte in The Prince of Tides say, "And that's what I love about the South"!
Can I tell you that I carried a parasol (closed) as I walked down the aisle of my outdoor wedding? i opened it later on for the reception! What was I thinking?

A Day That is Dessert said...

I can't believe you blew up a tree on earth day :)

The Stiletto Mom said...

I love that they blew up a tree on earth day...how very Southern to do that!

Coffee with Cathy said...

Becky -- Great post! Poor tree! I once took part in a reenactment for a magazine article. I even got to shoot a cannon -- after which I promptly (practically) passed out from wearing a wool uniform in the 95-degree Mississippi weather. But I got a good story, so well worth it.

Camp Papa said...

I remember that day...the reenactment, not the original battle. The only mitigation I will offer about the whole affair is that it walao my a slash pine, and we grow 'em like corn stalks down here. So don't you fret. It would just wrinkle that unblemished brow.

Michele said...

That event sounds like something we would come across on any given road trip. The South is nothing if not interesting.