By Sam Burnham
There's a lot of talk in the news of late about laws passed by Southern legislatures. We find ourselves under assault by various and sundry groups who claim that they are standing for this group or that and promising to boycott the states involved. We've heard from Bruce Springsteen of New Jersey, Bryan Adams of Canada, and now Ringo Starr of...well...wherever Ringo Starr is living these days. A compelling argument could be assembled suggesting that the latter two performers made this decision to attract attention to the fact that they are still performing and even touring. At this point many folks might be asking if Adams was in the band Chicago and talking about Ringo being, after George Martin, the Fifth Beatle.
I'm not going to discuss the laws. They aren't what this article is about. I'm not going to talk about the ubiquitous accusations of "bigotry" and "prejudice" that seems to get attached to everything done in the South that does not line up with progressive liberal philosophy, no matter how frustrating that trend has become.
What I want to talk about is the coercive steps that are constantly taken by non-Southern institutions to try to dictate policy and culture in the South. Why is it that people from New Jersey, Canada, and Parts Unknown (to me anyway) feel the need to try to strong arm us with liberalism? Do you ever see a group of Southerners descend on New York and Los Angeles and demand that they lower taxes, restore the 2nd Amendment, or respect private property rights? No. When we say we don't care how they do it, we mean it.
That being said, we are at a point in history in which we need to search our own souls and decide how much influence we are going to allow outside groups to have in shaping our culture. Bruce Springsteen has likely not read the law he claims to oppose. He has also likely not thought about the fact that without the South and her traditions he would be just a dude named Bruce sitting at home after his state's bad economic policy forced his employer to move the factory to Mexico. Without those Southern gospel, blues, and jazz roots, there would be no rock and roll to put filet mignon on his table.
What we must decide is whether Born in the USA is worth compromising our beliefs. Do you really care if you never hear Ringo's live cover of Don't Be Cruel? Close your eyes and imagine Bryan Adams singing in his raspy voice, "You know it's true, everything I do, including feebly aspiring to wreck your economy by not playing a concert for a bunch of empty nesting former soccer mom tourists in Biloxi, I do it for you."
What should we do? On the music front, our task is a pleasant one. The South and Appalachia are the birthplaces of almost every respectable music form that is indigenous to America. Good American music evolved from Southern traditions. And good music is a tradition that thrives today. In fact, if you do a little searching, I'm sure you'll find, within an hour or so from your home, a singer or group you've never heard of that is far better than any of the singers threatening to blackmail your state right now. They are just waiting for us to discover them, appreciate local talent, and quit sending our entertainment budget to Canada or New Jersey.
And music is not all there is. This is an opportunity to reclaim our identity. We have plenty of ugly in our past. We shouldn't try to deny that nor should we excuse it. But neither should we wring our hands in fear every time someone accuses us of bigotry. We know the truth and we can't let external forces hold us hostage. Be proud of your home and the culture we have here.
This is the debut post for ABG contributor Dr. W. Matthew J. Simmons. I may get scolded for using his newly-acquired title in this intro but I figure a man that has successfully defended his dissertation is entitled to being addressed with it. You can find Matt's bio on the Contributors page.
By W. Matthew J. Simmons
Some time ago, the proprietor of this establishment penned a little piece in which he described something he called the “cornbread conservative.” To summarize (and, I admit, do a bit of interpretation of) Brother Burnham’s argument, the cornbread conservative is the man who recognizes that the conservation of things that point to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful can be accomplished through the cultivation and presentation of things that are, well, superfluous. That is, there is no necessary reason for a man to wear a blazer or a sports coat when he goes out of the house of a morning. But the cornbread conservative does do this, and he does it because he recognizes several interrelated things: that how we dress says something about personal discipline (either that we have it or lack it), that the public and private spheres are separate, that our personal comfort is not the be-all and end-all, and that not all practical considerations are immediately apparent. For example, I wear a jacket daily, and I have found that having something to give to my wife when she’s cold, as well as having all those extra pockets to hold the items that constitute my everyday carry, is really invaluable.
So then—the cornbread conservative, amongst other things, is he who recognizes the hidden uses, both esoteric and practical, in things that seem otherwise superfluous. Of course, many of these superfluous things also connect us to history and tradition as well. And if this is what a cornbread conservative is, and if the cornbread conservative is a Southerner, and if he be the kind of Southerner who responsibly enjoys the pleasures of drink, then his beverage is the julep. The mint julep.
Perhaps the greatest video on the internet is this video of a bartender named Chris McMillan making a mint julep, along with describing its history, the etymology of the word “julep,” and connecting it to poetry. Watch this, and then come back and hear me out for a few more minutes, friends:
Do you see what this beverage is? It is a beverage that grounds us in time, and in the process and movement of the seasons. It is a beverage we crave through the winter, that we first enjoy in that first bloom of false summer that mid-March brings to the South, when it’s suddenly 85 for a week and everything thaws and all is green and bright. We know this is false, this is spring flirting with us, that next week it will be late winter’s cold again, and then come April the real spring, with the azaleas and the dogwoods blooming, will come, and we will then be enjoying this drink—cold, strong, tasting of the sweetness of our joy and the minty brightness of our soil—again and again, until the days grow short once more. In the whiskey we taste time, the history of Southern bourbon, the distilling traditions our ancestors brought from the old world. For these same reasons, it is a beverage that grounds us in place; where we are, and from whence we came.
But it is more than that. The traditional cup, as McMillan points out, has its subtle practicalities, though it seems (and perhaps ultimately and truly is) superfluous. And the beverage itself is certainly superfluous and unnecessary—no one needs drink a julep to survive, however much it may be a great balm of the soul. But the julep makes us feel alive, in that it demands we use all five senses: we drink and taste it, surely. But we also see it in the cup, and it is beautiful to behold. We smell its fragrance, and the wonderful scent of the mint with each sip. The cup is cold in our hands, demanding we sip it slowly (and if you make it as strong as I do, that is a good thing indeed). And we hear the crushed ice squeal and crack as it melts, resettling clumsily in the cup after each sip. The English philosopher Roger Scruton, a cornbread conservative himself, thinks of beauty as something like an ineffable quality inherent to a thing that forces us outside of ourselves, connects us to the fullness of the world and time beyond ourselves, if only for a temporary moment. The julep certainly does that, and it is truly beautiful.
Cheers, y’all. It’s time to fix a julep.
By Sam Burnham
The search for stories, photos, adventure, and vintage goods carries us all over this state and beyond. Ringgold, near the Tennessee line is a frequent destination. This quaint Southern town has a vibrant downtown in which shops, businesses, and restaurants fill the historic downtown buildings.
On our last visit there, we asked the cashier The Ringgold Feed & Seed where we should eat. We wanted somewhere locally owned and operated. Her recommendation carried us to Richard's.
Richard's is one of those places every Southern town should have. The waitresses, quick with a "sweetheart", run around working like bees but, when asked about it, claim that they don't have very much to do.
The menu rotates. Oh you can get a burger or pork chop any day of the week but each day has two entrees and if you want one of them, you go on that day. The sides rotate somewhat as well to correspond with the meat of the day.
I wasn't hankering for meatloaf or Italian roasted chicken, so I took those fried pork chops from the everyday menu. As much as I like applesauce with my pork chops, the fried okra and mashed potatoes with white gravy called out and I went with that. Leigha took the meatloaf and the same sides, hold the gravy. I think she was disappointed that I didn't choose different sides so we could critique further but now we can offer two votes for the fried okra and mashed potatoes. Especially the okra, which was not mushy or messy. It was crisp like it should be. very tasty. The mashed potatoes were tasty as well.
The meatloaf was moist, they are generous with the onion and ketchup. It was very flavorful. Leigha says it was just how she likes it. The pork chops were a generous portion. They were breaded and cooked in a manner so that they didn't reduce to meat and mush once I started cutting them. They we delicious and I would definitely choose them again. Cornbread muffins and sweet tea rounded the meal out well.
The friendly atmosphere and the locals on a first name basis with the wait staff combined with an excellent meal and an great price (we both ate for under $20) make Richard's worth the short drive past the Cracker Barrel and other chain joints that sit just off the interstate. If you are hungry in the Ringgold area, get off at Exit 348, drive on into town and give them a try.
Richard's Restaurant and Catering is located at 906 Lafayette St in Ringgold. They are open Mon-Fri 6:30 am to 8 pm and Saturday 7 am -11 am.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire