The Sweet Soul of the South


Karen Phillips Smith

The Sweet Soul of the South

by Karen Phillips Smith, Wilmington, NC


I was raised by my devoted grandparents, my great grandmother, the personification of a lady,

four energetic aunts and three incredibly funny, mischievous great uncles. These incredible

people exposed me to a childhood rich with all things deeply southern. They provided me the

opportunity to experience a life of traditions, proprieties, and eccentricities unique to the

southeast region of this country.   My senses are filled with vivid memories of long slow days

dripping with moisture. The smell of honeysuckle, jasmine and camellias. The taste of pralines,

caramel cake, pecan pie, homemade fresh peach ice cream, huge biscuits filled with thick, black

molasses and tall glasses of ice-cold sweet tea with lemon and mint.


I remember row after row of antebellum houses with wide front porches filled with women who

dressed each day as if they were expecting company. Each one dressing in their boned corsets,

opaque stockings and crisp cotton slips that always seemed to require adjustments. Dresses with

subtle patterns that hung down at a most respectable length and laced medium height shoes.  I

never remember any of these gentle women rushing through a single day.  They seemed to

completely savor even the simplest of tasks.  I remember my great aunts and my great

grandmother spending their afternoons visiting and laughing as they shelled freshly picked butter

beans in their apron covered laps while they rocked in large, white, oversized, wooden rocking

chairs, fanning nats away with cardboard church fans.


My ears were filled with words like divine, dahlin, sista, cotillion and music, oh so much music.

Old hymns being sung with a sweet, melodic rhythm, beach music that brought all ages of folk to

their feet to participate in the graceful, liquid shag dance. And the sweet sound of my

grandparents harmonizing on songs handed down to us by slaves like “Picking Up Paw Paws”

and “Jimmy Crack Corn”.  I will be forever grateful to my grandparents for this gift, this

opportunity that enriched my spirit, the gift of touching, tasting and knowing a time and place

that no longer exists.