Stupefied, Not Stupid

Photo by RSM Wayne Franklin

Picture a map of the United States. Now, in your mind pick out two places with the dumbest men you can think of. My guess is that most of you went straight to the South. That’s just too easy.

I’m not quite as sure of your second choice, but I’m guessing if you could count the linemen on your favorite football team as a region, many of you would pick them. Have you ever stopped to think that maybe we Southerners and those hulks on the line aren’t dumb at all, but just hot?

You see, slow and hot is nothing like fast and dumb. I’m not talking about the choices some 17-year old guys make to decide the best prom date. If you don’t understand the difference between moving slow and being dumb, clearly you’ve never lived a summer in the South.

Growing up in Mississippi, my home was air conditioned. Most of my schools, however, were not. I remember Algebra class in August. There was one fan in the room, and it was pointed at the teacher. Always. The room was a stifling 85 degrees. Always. All I could think about was the sweat trickling down my back. I wasn’t thinking about the quadratic formula. I wasn’t focused on calculations. I ended up being valedictorian, but at those moments, as was dumb as post.

In that kind of Mississippi heat, you don’t think fast, you don’t move fast, and you don’t talk fast. The heat stupefies you. Sweat clogs your neurons. The brain is non-functional. If you’ve never been in that kind of muggy delirium, don’t judge. Just trust me. Survival means slow. You become stupefied, but you’re not stupid.

Photo by RSM David Reber's Hammer Photography

In the days before air conditioning, the South crawled to a stop in summer. My parents grew up in that time. My mother told me about summer nights in the Mississippi Delta. After supper, everyone would take their kitchen chairs outside where it was cooler. Now, it wasn’t cool at all. The key there is the “-er.” In the Delta, it can be 85 degrees and 100% humidity at 2:00 a.m.

Later, she had to go to bed while the adults stayed up and talked. It was misery. All she could do was lie there and sweat. Sleeping wasn’t an option.

Heat is why Southern men don’t move fast to this day. It’s a cultural thing, a survival skill. Darwin was right. Fast movers were selected out of the gene pool. Either they escaped North with the carpet-baggers or died young from heat stroke because they didn’t get the whole go-slow thing. We don’t even bother to point and laugh at people like that. Mockery takes way too much energy in the summer heat.

Freon has changed today’s South. We’re now home to more car manufacturers than I can keep up with. In Alabama, my new home state, they build rockets and missiles.  Apply air conditioning, and the whole Southern economy is set to rev into overdrive.

Photo by RSM David Reber's Hammer Photography

Culturally, though, the heat still haunts us. We still move slower. We still talk slower. Artifacts of our heat-oppressed history linger. I wear starched shirts to work. People out West have asked about my 100% cotton Oxfords, starched stiff as plywood. They don’t get it. Air conditioning or not, Southern men still have to go outside sometime, and our clothes have to breathe. Eschew polyester, and pray like mad you find a parking place close to the front door!

Those who would judge need to experience our culture. Like a June in Jackson. Or an August in Augusta. Or even a Memphis May or a Selma September.

If they do, maybe they’ll learn something else about the South. Maybe they’ll see that we also slow down because life here is worth savoring. Even in the summer when things shimmer in the heat.

My father taught me well the difference between slow and dumb.  He was the steadiest man I’ve known, and that came from growing up in the heat of a Tennessee farm. Daddy came from nothing, and eventually would have finished a Ph.D. if running a good school system and putting food on the table hadn’t gotten in the way.  Like most Southern men, he may have been slow at times, but he was never stupid.

And, by the way, he played defensive line.

3 Responses to “Stupefied, Not Stupid”

  1. This really does explain a lot.


  1. Real Southern Men Get Personal | Real Southern Men - June 14, 2011

    […] Maybe it’s Lee Meadow’s musings on the effects of Southern summer heat in “Stupefied, Not Stupid.” […]

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