Cast a charming spell

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 25, 2002

If you were asked to name one characteristic that is most associated with being southern, what would it be? What do you think best defines our &uot;southerness?&uot;

I would choose charm, that ethereal quality that is the antithesis of the curt gruffness of those unfortunates who cannot claim a southern heritage. However, by definition, charm encompasses far more than the refined, courteous demeanor we expect from those raised in the South.

The first definition of the noun charm is &uot;a chant or incantation assumed to have magic powers to hurt or help&uot;. If you have ever spent time in Louisiana or South Carolina, you know about voodoo powers that can undo an unsuspecting target with whispered words as surely as can a properly placed chicken foot or an evil eye.

Far back in the southern mountains, secret words, passed down through generations, protect against the &uot;haints&uot; lurking about in the deep, dark woods. In Alabama, &uot;Roll Tide&uot; and &uot;War Eagle&uot; are chanted to evoke a magical victory. Incantations are, after all, very powerful forces in the struggle between good and evil.

The second and third definitions of charm deal with amulets having magic powers or trinkets worn for decoration. The South is full of those. Did you have a rabbit's foot when you were a kid? How about a buckeye? I have one of those even today. And actually, I still have the voodoo stick complete with chicken bones and crow feathers that I made after leaving Louisiana. I made it in fun, but I can't seem to part with it. If for nothing else, it's a great support for a morning glory vine.

And, incidentally, the vine flourishes beyond expectation.

How many of you avid bass fishermen have that one plug that no one else can touch because it works like magic? If someone else uses it, then its powers might be lost. Right? Some of you older readers will remember that not so long ago children could be seen wearing strings of garlic around their necks when evil spirits were threatening. Although not worn for decoration, those malodorous necklaces had the power. And almost all southern women have at some time jingled with every movement of a delicate wrist sporting a charm bracelet. We love adornment, and if those charms cast a spell on our men, that's even better. We like to look good while we exercise our power.

The fourth definition of charm speaks of actions or gestures assumed to have magic powers. You've seen people throw salt over their shoulder, avoid walking under a ladder and other actions meant to protect them from ominous consequences.

But it is the fifth definition of this multifaceted word that interests me&uot;a quality or feature in someone or something that attracts or delights people.&uot; That's where southerners are defined. We have a way about us that others find attractive.

We are gracious, considerate, hospitable and genteel.

Do we acquire those qualities with chants and incantations?

You decide.