It’s a funny thing about us Southerners. If a Yankee criticizes us, we haughtily disregard it, muttering over their ignorance.
But on the occasion that a Yankee compliments us, we happily embrace it and declare that we have found an enlightened Yankee.
Such was the case with me when a reporter from a Yankee newspaper called to interview me on the fine art of flirtation.
“Why did you call me?” I asked.
“Because everyone knows that Southern women are the best flirts,” she replied simply.
I loved enlightened Yankees. They are a joy to my soul.
That conversation led to an article that led me to writing a book about flirtation as practiced and patented by Southerners, especially our women. It is simply this: You can be a good storyteller without being a good flirt. But you cannot be a great flirt without being a terrific storyteller.
Storytelling is important to Southern people.
It is deep in the marrow of our bones, passed down from generations of Scotch, Irish and Scotch-Irish. At the start of the Civil War, about 75 percent of the South was Celtic. This is critical to understanding how a passionate penchant for storytelling was passed down through generations over the years.
When the poor Celts arrived in this country -- many of the Scotch-Irish were indentured slaves brought across the Atlantic and dumped unceremoniously around the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania -- they brought nothing. Nothing, that is, except three skills from their native land: Whisky-making, fiddle-playing and storytelling. My people, pure Scotch-Irish that they were, participated in all three.
Georgia-born writer Flannery O’Connor was once asked why Southerners wrote so much about freaks in their stories. “Because,” she replied in her typical no-nonsense way, “We are still able to recognize them.”
It’s the same with storytelling. To tell a good story, you must first be able to recognize a good story. The best storytellers find entertaining drama in ordinary events and common occurrences such as misplaced keys, misbehaving kids and misunderstood mothers-in-law.
To say the least, Southern women are dramatic. Our hair isn’t the only thing we like big. We like our stories to be grand, infusing them with overwrought drama that includes lots of expressions and embellishments.
My friend, Miss Virgie, a former Mississippi belle, was telling the story of being evacuated from her hillside home in Carson City, Nev., during a raging wild fire that took out many homes in her neighborhood.
“The smoke was so thick that I couldn’t see to drive out of my driveway. I was just feeling my way along. It was terrible,” she moaned. “Then, when I got out of the driveway, I was so close to the flames that they licked my cheek and burned the tiny facial hairs away. I was charred.”
Her husband, Bill, who had been in the car in front of her, started chuckling. “Oh, it was not. You were not that close to the fire.”
With a strong sense of urgency, she sat up straight, her blue eyes wide as platters. “Bill. I was, too. I am quite certain that I had at least second-degree burns.”
Of course, Miss Virgie was doing what she does best when she tells a story -- she was embellishing. But it sure made for a doggone good story, much better than if she had not been “charred” and suffered “at least second degree burns.”
That’s the way a Southern woman flirts best. She tells stories and holds her audience captive in the palm of her sweet little hand.
Who cares if we embellish to make the story bigger? No one seems to care if we tease our hair to make it bigger.
And, as far as we Southern women are concerned, embellishing is just as important as teasing.