It has been a tough week in the Culture Wars. As one of the more incisive social media memes put it, “My Facebook feed looks like a battle broke out between the Confederates and a Skittles factory.”
With opinions as deeply ingrained as they are on the subjects of religion vs. civil rights and regional pride vs. symbol of white supremacy, mean-spirited albeit clever quotes and pictures aren’t likely to change anyone’s heart or mind. Being lectured by a wrongheaded bully is even less likely to effect a change of heart.
Instead, let’s focus on an aspect of Southern pride that is so grand and glorious that not even the most embittered Yankee can find fault with it. Not even the Yankees to which Charlie Daniels refers on his website; the ones who think that Southerners are “an inbred, backward, uneducated, slow-talking and slower-thinking people, with low morals and a propensity for incest.”
Having lived in the North for a number of years, I have to agree with Daniels. Except for the part about low morals. I’m not sure where that came from. It was my experience that New Yorkers found Southerners to be scrupulously honest. Dumb as a rock but completely trustworthy.
See how easy it is to leave the high road and veer into regional mudslinging? I started talking about Southern pride and the next thing you know I’m Yankee-bashing with Charlie Daniels. We all need to watch that. Civility is key. Civility after all, is a quality that we Southerners pride ourselves on.
And in the spirit of civility, I will restrict my comments to an object of Southern pride that is above reproach. This icon of the Southern summer is so very Southern that no one outside of the South even knows of its existence and would be mystified if word ever did leak out.
I am speaking, of course, of the tomato sandwich. No one in the North has any idea that a perfectly sublime sandwich can be made from just tomatoes, bread and mayo. It is our little secret. North of the Mason-Dixon Line, tomatoes are an optional addition to a sandwich, usually in combination with lettuce and mayonnaise and at an additional charge. They do have BLTs but bacon introduces meat and changes the whole dynamic. It’s not the same thing at all.
I’m talking about a sandwich where the tomato is the unquestioned star of the show. A sandwich that contains tomato, mayo and bread and nothing else, except maybe a little iceberg lettuce if you’re having company.
With fresh tomato season so close upon us, how is everyone maintaining such a laser focus on racial and regional intolerance? We all need to be watering the tomatoes because only a homegrown tomato can bear the weight of the pride of an entire region.
It’s alright if a friend or family member shares the bounty of their garden with you but a store-bought tomato just isn’t going to cut it. A tomato’s integrity is stained by the exchange of filthy lucre and your sandwiches will be sub-par and incapable of expressing your unyielding pride in your heritage.
Also using only homegrown tomatoes helps us keep this summer delight to ourselves. Much like Scarlett hiding the silver in the well and the pig in the swamp when marauding Yankees threatened Tara, we keep our tomato sandwiches to ourselves. Not on a restaurant menu where the prying eyes of Yankee tourists might chance upon our secret delight. We enjoy our tomato sandwiches in the privacy of our own homes with those we love most.
Restricting tomato sandwiches to the bosom of the family helps keep us from fighting over the great mayonnaise divide. The use of mayonnaise is mandatory but the brand of mayonnaise breaks down our regional unity. There are Duke’s people and then there are Kraft people and JFG people. Duke’s people are contemptuous of anyone who eats any other brand and non-Duke’s people say that “Duke’s is just nasty.” Like most things in the South, mayonnaise preference runs in families, is indoctrinated into young Southern minds at a very early age and is, by and large, unchangeable.
There are a few exceptions. Having been married to a woman from California for most of my life, I have been converted to Team Hellman’s but not to the extent that I am intolerant of the mayo choices of others. Since my mother was a very thrifty shopper and bought what was on sale, she never instilled in me a fierce mayo loyalty. Except I do think that Duke’s really is kind of nasty.
So while the Confederate battle flag is a symbol to some folks of a culture based on white supremacy and built on the backs of slaves while symbolizing to others nothing but sweet tea and barbecue, remember that a tomato sandwich is loved by everyone. Or at least everyone who is lucky enough to know of their existence.
Bill Colvard is lifestyle writer for The Mount Airy News and can be reached at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.