I was born in Clarksburg, well south of the Mason-Dixon Line, but not far enough south to be considered a Southerner. I was born two blocks away from where Stonewall Jackson drew his first breath and one block further from the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. Still, Clarksburg never has been a Southern town, not in any sense of its Virginia roots or the Old South in general.
But I did learn what it’s like to live as a Southerner when I went to college in Virginia. Richmond may have been the capitol of the Confederacy, but Lexington (my college town) was the sacred burial ground of the Old South. Both General Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are buried in Lexington.
To live as a Southerner requires one to learn the riddles of Southern life. And there are a few distinct riddles that only a Southerner’s mindset can solve.
The riddle that stands out in my experience is: How many Southerners does it change a light bulb?
Forthrightly, the answer is “One.” Southerners are as dexterous as any folk, and due to the humid heat of the Old South, Southerners work effortlessly to change their light bulbs so as not to work up more of a sweat than is necessary.
The changing of the bulb is a riddle rather than a question because changing a light bulb in the Old South is a ritual. While one Southerner can physically change the bulb, the ritual is not complete unless a handful of Southerners congregate to wax nostalgic about the faithful service that the old light bulb gave them.
Perhaps this riddle of the Old South stuck in my mind more than the others because Lexington, the burial ground of Lee and Jackson, was still a place where visitors congregated to praise the service of these two men. Even Yankees who loathed the Confederacy and its stand on slavery have been overheard praising Lee and Jackson as generals and absolving them of their participation in the hostilities.
I was reminded of my Old South education the other day when I went to the hardware store to buy light bulbs. I could not find a 100-watt bulb anywhere. The clerks all told me the same thing—that the old bulbs were not being re-stocked because the new bulbs that look like corkscrews are soon to be the law of the land.
Then it hit me like a bowl of day-old grits served cold. I will be losing all of my old, Edison-style light bulbs. Their warmth, a warmth that can only be created by heating a tungsten filament, will soon disappear, possibly forever. Their warmth, a warmth that 100 watts of electricity adds to man-made global warming, is the reason the government has turned on my old friends.
This global warming fever is the handiwork of Al Gore, a supposed son-of-the-south who bought into Yankee Imperialism just to meet haughty women on his Facebook page. To genteel Southerners, he is their Aaron Burr, a traitor to the light bulb cause. Some of my esteemed Virginia friends (all from old families I might add) mock Al Gore by referring to him as “Aaron Brrrrrr!”, and then they shiver in disgust.
My visit to the hardware store resulted in my buying a corkscrew bulb that advertised itself as “equivalent” to a 100 watt bulb. What posh! A hollow corkscrew full of inert gas pales in comparison to Edison’s tungsten masterpiece.
And whoever heard of a light bulb coming with instructions? Well, these globe-saving corkscrews do. It seems they contain mercury and you aren’t supposed to toss them in the garbage can. The instructions tell the buyer to call a toll-free number or visit a website to learn the disposal rules.
After I read the instructions for disposing this gaseous imposter, I fixed myself a pitcher of mint juleps and celebrated John Barleycorn’s gift to mankind. The same government that now outlaws Edison’s light bulbs tried outlawing whiskey. Prohibition was a great boon for Yankee bootleggers and Canadian distilleries, but we Southern bourbon drinkers eventually won that war. To this day, NASCAR reenacts our battle tactics.
All that the Yankees really want is more tax revenue—Prohibition proved that. If we agreed to a $2.00 per Edison bulb carbon tax, the Aaron Brrrrrs of this world would declare victory and give us back our tungsten bulbs.
If we win the light bulb war, maybe we could get our old showerheads back and enjoy a cascade of hot water. Maybe we could buy commodes that flush like they mean it. And just maybe, we could again buy washing machines that use enough water to launder our clothes.
The tungsten light bulb shall rise again, so sayeth the South.