A few years ago, a gentleman went to a lot of trouble to write me a simple letter that he sent to the newspaper where he reads this column, which the newspaper then mailed to me.
There were no more than two or three lines to the letter but it said something like this: “Stop using the word Yankee. I am a retired military man from the North and I hate that word.”
He will probably hate this column more. If he still reads me, that is.
I refer to my husband quite often as a Yankee. I introduce him as a Yankee. I say things like, “In the South we do it this way. Not the way you Yankees do it.”
He is not ruffled by it at all. He is, above all, a decent man with a huge heart, a sense of humor and the education to know he is a Yankee. His people arrived on the Mayflower, so that would be close to 20 generations of New Englanders, I suppose. He grew up in Connecticut, then moved to Hollywood. Being from Hollywood is worse than being a Yankee. That’s what he says, anyway.
It was in the lovely Delta town of Greenwood, Miss., that my adorable Yankee met a cranky Yankee. I would just like to say that observing this provided one of the most delightful evenings of my life. After all, we Southerners complain mightily when a Yankee is rude to us, but it never occurred to us that they were actually rude to each other. I thought it was a society of some kind and they stuck together always. That’s what we Southerners do.
We had just checked into the Alluvian, one of our favorite hotels. We wandered out in the unusually humid-free early summer evening and stopped two doors down at Turnrow Books, truly one of the best independent book stores in the nation. There was a book event going on, so we went in to listen to the author, a novelist, who was talking about a historical novel he had written. We joined the other seven people in attendance.
He was a Yankee from Vermont. “By the way,” he said, “You are only a Yankee if you go back five or six generations.”
I squeezed Tink’s hand. That, by my figuring, has him to be a genuine, antique Yankee. In fact, he could probably be registered by the Historical Society. Anyway, we both know that book signings, especially those with a few people, can be hard. So we asked questions and did our best to extend Southern hospitality.
When the author concluded, Tink thoughtfully bought his book. I found that odd because it wasn’t the kind of book that Tink reads, but I’m all for supporting the folks at Turnrow and other independents so it was fine with me. We need to encourage bookstores.
The moment we left the store and were out of earshot, my husband, who rarely says a word against anyone, turned and said, “What a jerk. A complete jerk.”
I had missed it but Tink, the only person to actually buy a copy of the book, wasn’t treated like he has seen me treat people at book signings. I personally think it’s pretty special when someone plunks down some hard-earned money for something I’ve written, so no matter how long my line, I take a couple of minutes with everyone. I look them in the eye and thank them sincerely.
“He didn’t even look at me,” he said, indignant. “Didn’t thank me, didn’t make any conversation. I did all the talking.” Tink was fuming in a gentlemanly way. He carried on — as much as a Yankee can carry on about something — for two hours. He was really put out.
But that got me to thinking: If only we could have divided them like that during the Civil War, we might have won.