In my early travels outside of the South, I was astounded to discover that people had never heard of kudzu. After all, Southerners have been battling to gain the upper hand of the rapidly growing plant since the 1800s.
With my first book, I guested on a show in Los Angeles hosted by the likeable, legendary Dick Clark. “Ronda,” he began, “What is it about Southern women that we love so?” He put his hand against his heart and closed his eyes, swooning. “They just melt my heart. What makes Southern women different?”
“Well, kudzu and Southern women have a lot in common,” I replied. His brow burrowed. “What is kudzu?” He asked.
There on national television was the first time I learned that there were actually people who didn’t know about the power that the bright green vine with big leaves holds over us. It took me aback for a second but I tried to quickly recover and explain to Mr. Clark that it is an insidious plant that covers over a million acres of Southern soil, having been introduced here by the Japanese. Southern farmers were paid $8 an acre by the government to plant it for erosion problems. That was neither the first or last time that the government has tried to choke the South.
“So,” I continued after the explanation. “Southern women and kudzu have a lot in common: Both are practically indestructible, thrive in Southern soil and both refuse to be controlled by man.” It got a big laugh from Dick Clark and his dimpled co-host Mario Lopez who, at the time, was engaged to a former Miss Louisiana.
In truth, I have rarely found kudzu to be a laughing matter. I spend much of the summer trying to outrun it. In a matter of weeks — it grows a foot a day — it can cover trees, the bridge that spans the creek and, worse of all, our driveway.
I thought I pretty much disliked kudzu until I read an article where a young science student at the University of Georgia has found a way to destroy kudzu and win the land back from the embattled South. Everyone is bragging on him and a patent is in the works. You would think I’d be happy but my heart sank. Life without kudzu? Life without thinking about it every day during the spring and summer and smiling in
December when I realize that kudzu entanglement is not a problem I have in the winter. Freezing water lines, yes, but not kudzu.
It boils down to this: I don’t like change. Especially when the change rips out from under me the things that I’ve known since childhood. I already had to give up mud pies, butter churning, clothes line and floral funeral wreaths that hung on someone’s front door to notify the community that a family member was dead. That used to be a topic of conversation. “Why’s a wreath on the Holliman place? Who died?”
I even miss corded phones because they kept me tethered to a small area and caused me to really focus on the conversation rather than talking while I’m pumping gas, planting flowers or walking into the grocery store. Recently, our bank drastically redesigned its monthly statements — not an improvement in my eyes — and I’ve considered changing banks over it. If there’s going to be change, it might as well be for something I like such as luggage with wheels which I was all for since I was the one toting my bags.
But the end of kudzu? No more telephone poles and abandoned shacks covered in it and creating what really amounts to works of art? I’m not ready for that.
I’d rather be strangled alive with it than say good-byes to one of the South’s mightiest foes because it has come to feel like an old, reliable friend who is simply contrary and set in his ways.
Just like me.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of There’s A Better Day A-Comin’. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.