This post is an adapted excerpt from the meditation I shared at my dad’s funeral in December 2010.

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage” (Psalm 16:6).

My dad was a man of the Old South. Being Southern permeated his very being, touched every aspect of his life, and was the lens through which he saw the world.

Those who live in this region of the country know there’s so much more to the South than kudzu, sweet tea, and magnolias. More than a drawl or saying things like “Hey, y’all, Granddaddy’s fixin’ to carry me huntin’.” More than eating grits with your cornmeal-battered fried catfish or your shrimp or your country ham. More than a typical take on religion and/or politics.

Being Southern is first of all about heritage and history. One of the most characteristic Southern questions is “Who is your daddy? Who were your people?”

And that was definitely Daddy. He was so proud of his heritage, reaching back into the troubled Civil War era in North Augusta, South Carolina and in Tennessee. It connected Daddy to something greater than himself and stirred his passions.

Being Southern is next about a sense and pride of place. We are connected to buildings, stadiums, farms, rivers, schools, homes in a way that approaches religious devotion. We know that it is not true that one place is as good as any another, because only one place is home.

And, oh, Daddy loved his home. He spoke fondly when I was growing up about “the Old Place” whose location always remained ambiguous to me, appropriate to somewhere that took on mythical status. And he told tales of his childhood there. Not only the Old Place, but Albany, Georgia captured his heart. It was where he grew up, fell in love, went to work, reared children with Mama, and yes, faced loss. Death comes to us all, and if he had to die, I can think of no other place he would rather have passed on than in his own bed in Albany.

Finally, being Southern is about duty and honor. This was the place where Daddy’s regional identity meshed nicely with his military service. No doubt these were the greatest values I learned from Daddy: to keep your promises, to be a man of your word, to do the right thing even when it costs you dearly. I never knew Daddy to go back on a promise, and he had great disdain for those who did not keep theirs, especially politicians. I happen to believe that those who live with honor will receive honor, so I am certain he has heard the words of our Savior: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The historian C. Vann Woodward in 1960 titled a book The Burden of Southern History. I doubt Daddy ever saw his heritage as a burden. It was for him a privilege being Southern.

And it is.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham