Those Long Southern Goodbyes
I never realized it was anything unusual until I married. Some time in the 1990s, my new husband and I had dropped by to see Edwin and Monteen Jarriel, my uncle and aunt who lived in Macon. After visiting for 30 minutes, we stood to leave. “Y’all come look at the garden,” my uncle said, leading us out the door and to a bountiful plot in his backyard. We lingered there for several minutes admiring the vegetables. He reached down and plucked some tomatoes and peppers from a few of his healthy plants and handed them to me. “Monteen, go get them some of that relish we made,” Uncle Edwin said. My aunt hurried back into the house. She returned minutes later with a sack full of Mason jars filled with tomatoes, onions and other canned items. I noticed something wrapped tightly in aluminum foil on top. “I put some pound cake in there for you, too,” Aunt Monteen added, and she rattled off the recipe and where the original recipe had come from as my mouth watered. We loaded the sack of goodies in the car and hugged their necks again.
“Gene, how are your parents doing?” my aunt asked my husband, which triggered another conversation.
My husband slid slowly behind the steering wheel of the car, trying not to seem disrespectful. Through the passenger-side window, my uncle asked us about a neighbor we were having problems with, and I reported that the situation had gotten better. He rendered a little advice on the topic.
We finally backed out of the driveway almost an hour after we announced our departure. “Wow. It really takes a while to leave, doesn’t it?” my husband said on our way home. He wasn’t being critical. He loved them. He was just pointing out something to me that I had never noticed before — that goodbyes in the South took a lot longer than farewells in other parts of the country. Long goodbyes are just part of who we are in Georgia. The ritual usually starts in the
home. “Well, we really need to get home,” a guest announces. “Thank you so much for dinner. We had a lovely time.” “Y’all don’t rush off,” one of the hosts replies, rising as well. Another conversation fires up as guests amble toward the front door. At the threshold, there are more thank yous, more stories, more goodbyes. The discussion and laughter extend onto the home’s porch where everyone pauses yet again. Step by step, homeowners follow their guests from the porch to their car and embrace their friends in tight hugs — the lingering kind, followed by warm pats on the back. The guests get into their car, crank it, and lower the windows as the conversation seems to wind down, but then another topic arises that warrants more commentary. The friends cackle. “Thank you. Let’s do this again continued from page
soon,” the guests say as the driver puts the car in reverse.
“Y’all come back now,” one of the hosts adds, removing his head from the window of the automobile.
Finally, the car backs away as the gracious hosts stand in the driveway, wave and see them off. A proper Southern goodbye can take 30 minutes — sometimes longer.
These sweet goodbyes were commonplace throughout my childhood.
I remember visiting Uncle Lewis and Aunt Sybol Olliff on their farm outside of Metter. They always walked us out to the car as my family turned to leave. They showered my siblings and me with love — and money — as we climbed into the backseat of our Buick.
Uncle Lewis’ overalls held a treasure trove of coins. He plucked quarters from his pockets and dropped the shiny, silver pieces into our hands — clink, clink, clink. Aunt Sybol stood beside him wearing an apron and tugging at loose strands of her otherwise perfect hair telling us how much she loved us and encouraging us to come back soon. My siblings and I left their house feeling rich, and most of all, loved.
I get it. We Southerners love company. We love having friends and family over, sharing stories, eating, drinking, laughing, crying, etc. And we hate to see our guests leave. The long goodbye simply represents the fact that we Southerners don’t really want to say goodbye, so we draw it out as long as we can.
But this time-consuming ritual is endangered in today’s fast-paced world where no one has the time of day for anyone else. I sure hope the long, lingering goodbyes survive the test of time.
It’s just one of the many things we do south of the Mason Dixon Line that oozes charm, creates feelings of comfort and connection and makes our guests feel valued and loved. It’s an integral part of our legendary Southern hospitality.
I love long Southern goodbyes. They are part of my Georgia girl heritage. Moreover, my husband has learned to love them, too. Slowly, I’m assimilating him into a fine Southern gentleman. Y’all come back now. Ya’ hear?