The recent airing of the remarkable production of HBO's Grey Gardens has precipitated quite a lot of conversation in my circles on the subject of eccentricity. Is it a singular characteristic; one to be celebrated and encouraged? Or is it simply the more fanciful relative of insanity? In regards to the ladies from Grey Gardens, one might certainly argue that eccentricity veers solidly into madness when squalor, stench and raccoon roommates enter the picture.
I do feel qualified to say that I can recognize the difference, for I am from the South.
Though our gardens may be green, we are well acquainted with eccentricity here.
There are those who have read John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and believed it to be a wonderfully imaginative tale. For us, it was totally non-fiction. The colourful characters that populate the works of Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor and Pat Conroy...not to mention Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote? I could introduce you to their prototypes any day of the week. In fact, more that a few of them are nesting quite comfortably in my family tree.
We have swimmers in our gene pool who have broken limbs as the result of ill-considered efforts to fly. While a few of these painfully hopeful attempts employed the aid of umbrellas, at least one depended solely on the flapping of arms. There is the uncle who named his truck, painted that moniker on the side of the door, bought a police radio and spent his days waiting to hear of any and all disturbances at which point he would jump in the christened vehicle and head to the scene. Needless to say, he was a bit famous in law enforcement circles. There is the neighbor who swears he witnessed a group of houseguests levitate in another neighbor’s back garden and of course, there is the gentlemen who frequently strolls out to get the morning newspaper in a short baby blue negligee.
Maybe it’s the heat. Or the humidity. Perhaps the moss that hangs from the trees somehow finds its way inside our heads. But here in the South we dwell within a veritable petri dish of eccentricity. It permeates our literature, our music, our humour, and it is often the prism through which we view the world. To be sure, it does make life interesting and, I suppose, as long as the raccoons remain on the other side of the doors, we’re safe.
“We are all mad here”
The Cheshire Cat,
from Alice in Wonderland