Bob Bestler

You don’t have to be Republican to be a courteous, sweet-talking southerner

I’ve been a fan of Garrison Keillor and “Prairie Home Companion” for a long time.

Keillor’s a Minnesotan who grew up in a small town a little north of Minneapolis; I grew up in a small town a little south of Minneapolis.

I’m 2 years older, but he graduated from the University of Minnesota ahead of me because of my four years defending the country.

He studied English; I studied journalism. He made a ton of money in his career; I did not. He’s 6-foot-3; let’s just say I’m not.

I like to think we share a lot of old-time values. Some call it Minnesota Nice, but I’ve heard from a few readers who would disagree.

Keillor was in Charleston last week for a performance at the Gaillard Theater. I didn’t go because, well, I just don’t go.

But after his visit, he wrote a column for the Post & Courier, in which he voiced his appreciation for the Southern hospitality he found in Charleston and Savannah.

A longtime Democrat from a blue state, I think he did not expect red state citizens to be so gracious. Really?

There was his experience at Jestine’s Kitchen in Charleston, where the waitress said, “Have a seat, sweetheart. I’ll be right with you.”

He seemed genuinely surprised.

“Liberal waitpersons up north would no more call you ‘sweetheart’ than kiss you,” he wrote. “And if you called one of them ‘sweetheart,’ she might hand you your hat.”

He ordered the fried chicken with collard greens and mashed potatoes and gravy, pretty much the specialty at Jestine’s – as he quickly learned: “It was luminous, redemptive, all that chicken and gravy could be. If this is what Makes America Great Again, I am all for it.”

At The Grey, a restaurant in Savannah, a couple noticed his red socks and stopped by to comment on them. It seems the woman’s father favored red socks.

Realizing he was an out-of-towner, they gave him some tips on interesting places to visit – a nearby cemetery, the Moon River made famous by Johnny Mercer, and a Geechee-Gullah oystering camp along the river.

Keillor was again swept up by their warm hospitality.

“A person could live in a town like this,” he wrote.

“I’ve spent time with people whose politics agreed with mine who were cold fish indeed and now that I’m elderly and have time on my hands, maybe I’d enjoy hanging out with amiable sweet-talking right-wingers.”

I know he meant it as a compliment, but Keillor’s idea that everyone who treats him with respect in South Carolina, Georgia or any other red state is a “sweet-talking right-winger” is a kind of slap in the face.

You can take most any election at most any level and South Carolina Democrats claim about 40 percent of the vote – meaning that maybe 40 percent of us are on Keillor’s side of the aisle.

Compliment our hospitality all you want, Garrison, but don’t wrap us all in a crimson red while doing it, thank you.

Some of us are just like you, except we grew up a little farther south.

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