Commentary

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: A fine southern tradition that ought to be universal

August 26, 2023 6:31 am
a Styrofoam cup with a straw

The author likes getting a to-go cup with her iced tea when departing a restaurant (and is perplexed by those who don’t). File photo

I’ve spent a lot of years explaining the mind and heart of the South to newcomers. In the not-so-distant past, I was a speaker for hire at rubber chicken luncheons throughout the Carolinas on this very subject. Usually, the audience was made up of 95 percent transplanted retirees from the North and Midwest. The remaining 5 percent were native Southerners who wanted to make sure I got it right.

Which I did.

There was the usual banter about how to tell if “Bless your heart” was being used as a slam or a show of genuine empathy. Refer to ratios above for an accurate breakdown. I’ll let y’all guess which is the 5 percent.

And speaking of y’all, I had a “tight 5” on the use of y’all, y’alls, y’allses and all y’all with appropriate examples: “All y’all come over here and get y’alls fried chicken and y’allses cathead biscuits.” 

Reliably, there were questions about why Southerners don’t like using turn signals (“We know where we’re going and it’s nobody else’s damn business”) to how long they had to live in the South before they could be considered a Southerner (“Just cause a cat has her kittens in the oven, it don’t mean they’re biscuits”)

As you can see, the wisdom pure-T flowed out of me at these “gigs.” I was providing a community service, if not a global one, and waited patiently for the governor’s email announcing my induction into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. And waited. And waited some more…STILL WAITING.

Anyway, (please never say “anyways”; it’s not only not Southern, it’s just awful) I made a bit of butter-and-egg money with this side hustle which had the dual value of paying off my Nordy bill and doing the Lord’s work. If I occasionally got off topic and demanded people stop using “kiddos” and “littles” to refer to their children, well, nobody’s perfect. (I’d rather they use the old timey “issue” or perhaps even “spawn.” What? Just me?)

I honestly thought my work here was done. But no. Because just this week I found myself following a passionate online debate about a Southern tradition that I can’t believe anyone objects to. But they do.

Let me set the scene. A non-Southerner dining in Tennessee, as I recall, was seeking an explanation for the puzzling act of a server offering her a “to go cup” of iced tea as she was preparing to pay and leave the restaurant.

The nerve!

She appeared to be weirdly put off by this kind and generous offer, so much a part of our South. “Has anyone ever heard of such a thing?” she asked. Just all our lives is all.

There followed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of comments on the subject of the “to-go” cup. As any Southerner knows, it’s usually served up in Styrofoam with a lid and a wrapped straw so as to send you on your way with a cold beverage and a sweet memory. And, no, it doesn’t cost anything.

Who could possibly object to this?

Well, the world, apparently. There were many comments labeling such a gesture as “crazy” and “weird” and “just WHY????”

I’m sorry. When the waiter offered a to-go cup of iced tea, did you instead hear him ask if you’d like “this here smelly skunk my cousin just killed” instead?

The offering of a to-go cup is typical, even expected in the South, where Meemaw’s and G-daddy’s tend to push all manner of leftovers through your lowered car window in the driveway as you try to leave. It’s the opposite of weird.

In these fractured times, it can seem impossible to find common ground but let’s agree on this: If somebody offers you a free tea to-go, don’t act like they’re comin’ for your family. Just smile and say, “Thanks, y’all.”

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