A moving truck in the driveway with tired family members unloading boxes and large furniture can only mean one thing in the south: they need a proper welcome! It’s true that the old welcome wagon mentality is fading, but the sentiment it conveys is still needed… people want to feel welcome.
I’m so proud when I hear people say, “There’s nothing like southern hospitality.” What a compliment. Hospitality takes work! If you’ve ever opened up your home to overnight guests or hosted a dinner party, you know this well.
I believe the tradition of making others feel welcome is the crown jewel of southern culture. We’ve learned it from watching our mothers and grandmothers keep a pound cake on hand that was for company only. Hospitality is a gift if you do it naturally, but it can be learned too. That’s why my sister and I started our podcast, Steel Magnolias. To remind some of the old ways, while teaching others something new.
For me, this tradition was a learned behavior. I grew up surrounded by and deeply immersed in southern hospitality, and it all began with the family next door. The Campbells. They have a grown son and daughter that are both so close to my age that we were inseparable growing up. And truth be told on many days I was at their house as much as my own. We’ve celebrated birthdays and graduations, made costumes for talent shows, vacationed in Myrtle Beach, played kickball until dinner time and hung upside down on the monkey bars until our faces turned blue. In 2015, when their Nana passed away it was like losing a grandmother of my own.
How do I know them? Well, when they moved to Tennessee from their home in Atlanta in the early 1980s my mother was quick to deliver them oatmeal cookies (still warm upon delivery). It was a gesture that at the time none of us realized would be so foundational in giving my family these friends for life.
If I were to guess, my mom probably wasn’t striving for a new friendship, she just did what she knew to do, pull out her Southern Living cookbook and take a new neighbor something homemade. I have learned so much from this tradition. Today I live on a cul-de-sac and I wish I had made more of an effort to go and introduce myself to my neighbors when I moved into the neighborhood four years ago. Don’t get me wrong, we are friendly, after all, we live in the South. But you have to introduce yourself right away when you have new neighbors or else time gets away from you and pretty soon you’re just waving driveway to driveway with little to nothing chat about.
Emily Post says, “Calling on new neighbors is one of those rare instances when dropping by unannounced is good manners.”
The welcome wagon as we called it growing up is a dying breed of individuals. I myself feel inadequate to keep it up, but in my heart, I go back to those oatmeal cookies and think, even if I am not looking for a life long friendship I can extend hospitality through welcoming someone to the neighborhood.
Today in Nashville, where we live, there are over 100 people per day moving to the city. That’s far more oatmeal cookies than I’m prepared to make – of course, I’m kidding, but only a little. The influx of new people means the culture will change. There’s no way around that. Part of Southern culture has always been good storytelling. We know that in order to preserve the good in our culture these stories, recipes, and sometimes tall-tales must be shared. It looks a little different from generation to generation: oral history, books, songs, blogs… and podcasts, but the stories are surviving.
Laura Beth Peters, one-half of the popular southern culture podcast, Steel Magnolias lives near Nashville, Tennesse. Each week on the Steel Magnolias podcast she and her sister cover Southern topics including cooking, events, traditions, homemaking, history, music, and more.
Grab a seat, a glass of sweet ice tea and listen in as Laura Beth and her sister, Lainie Stubblefield discuss the popularity of football in the south, southern expressions and much more.