It’s been a long few months and I’m not about to apologize for not posting. Instead of posting, I’ve put the final (I mean it this time) on my travel narrative about Florida’s backroads, due out from the University Press of Florida in October, and I started working at Creative Loafing, editing the Arts & Entertainment section.
I’ve kept busy, OK? But I miss writing (I always come back to it) and our most recent road trip reminded me that posting on Facebook doesn’t tell the whole story. And so I’ll jump right in without further apology, except to say this post is more flexing a muscle than making a grand point.
We went to Louisville this week and roamed around. On our last day — the day we checked out of the hotel in Indiana, which was a weird thing where I accidentally reserved a hotel on the Indiana side of the Ohio River (it’s too many states, OK? I can’t be expected to keep them all straight) — we debated a few options: Check out the Jim Beam distillery, head to Mammoth Caves, or take the long way through Alabama. Bonus with Option Number Three: The Coon Dog Cemetery.
I’ll give you three guesses which option we took.
I will never regret not going to a distillery, and I’m not sure, after a gas stop at the exit by the national park and all its carnie glory, I’ll regret not seeing the caves. I am, however, so glad we took a lengthy detour through northwest Alabama to see this cemetery.
We don’t road trip like a lot of people, I know. We drove through pouring rain, way, way, way off the beaten path, not sure what to expect. Finally, we found the cemetery — about eight miles off the main(ish) road and on the edge of a hill, tiny gravestones — some makeshift, some clearly done professionally — marking the final resting place of people’s trusted companions.
I’m not much for burying dead humans, but this place touched me. You have to prove your dog was a coon hound — and papers don’t suffice, someone associated with the cemetery has to attest to the breed — and they will not bend on this. The Coon Dog Cemetery sits on the edge of a hill, with a picnic shelter, guest book, and a spring. What a perfect place to bring your best friend for their final rest. The raw emotion on the headstones, even when the only emotion came from a weathered collar looped around a cross crudely fashioned from pieces of rough wood, overcame me.
I spent the whole of our time there crying, the kind of crying you do because something makes you sad (why do dogs have to die, anyway?) but also feels good. It was a catharsis, because along with all the good things that have happened over the past few months, some things have been tough. Now’s not the place to discuss what those were, or why. The point is, our visit here reminded me that it’s OK to cry and be sad and I don’t have to keep pushing forward all the time, I can stop and reflect and if I collapse into tears the world won’t end and things will push ever on.
And here’s the point of the post: I want to talk (OK, rant, really) about the South and how people like to make fun. I’m sure at least one of you rolled your eyes at the idea of a cemetery for a specific breed of dog.
There’s some debate as to whether Kentucky is part of the South. Well, not for me, because, um, no, but for others. It’s pretty (because apparently places other than the South can be pretty) but it isn’t the South. Cave Hill Cemetery, the final resting place of Colonel Sanders (not a real colonel, by the way), has a Union cemetery and a smaller… area… for Confederate veterans.
The South proper, though, gets made fun of — a lot. It has a tough history, because for some, it’s the only time America lost a war (I guess we still count Vietnam as a draw, eh?) and that’s kind of embarrassing for us. How can we be an awesome superpower if we lost a war? Slavery didn’t help, either, because what legacy that leaves the South is a black population historically disenfranchised and still trying to catch up. And, of course, we have a different terrain, different food, and we talk funny.
That’s OK. Life is different down here — in the Deep South and Florida. We all talk funny, unless we’re from Somewhere Else. We do have different terrain, and also, humidity. It changes how you look at life. I can’t explain it, but it does. We move slower; it’s hard to get excited when it’s 95º in April and awful damn moist out there to boot. We have a connectedness to the land (or the sea) you don’t see in, say, Indiana. That’s no disrespect to Indiana, but please, until you’ve been wholly and completely at the mercy of a hurricane or watched the sun break over the Everglades, you don’t get us.
And then we have to deal with you making fun of us. We’re funny, right? We eat grits, Florida has all these weird-ass criminals, you’ll see rebel flags flying and what the hell does that “Forget, hell!” bumper sticker mean, anyway? We’re backwards bigots, right? Just a bunch of Southern assholes who all vote for Donald Trump and aren’t smart enough to fight our way out of a paper bag.
None of these things are true of every Southerner or every Floridian. But I will grant you this: We live life different down here. You don’t get it. That’s cool. We’re a bit off. I get that. What you may not realize is that the South was settled by a different sort of European. I could get all history on you about how different European migrations found different parts of America, and I could tell you to read David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, which details in beautiful, excruciatingly exacting language, why the South is different than, say, Pennsylvania, and why it has hunting dogs and Pennsylvania has Quakers (I know, I know, people in Pennsylvania have hunting dogs, but it isn’t quite the same, now, is it?)… but I won’t. The least you need to know is this: Like the rest of America, Southerners are not like everyone else. Southerners are flawed and exquisite people, and they have their own cultural history.
And that history is why Southerners have a coon dog cemetery. So you can make all the jokes you want, but until you can understand the beauty of a special cemetery for their (sometimes) hunting dogs, you don’t get the South. #EndRant