Southerners have a way with words. One syllable words easily become three syllabic utterances when rolling from the lips of a Georgia peach dripping with syrup.
For instance, a simple greeting to a gentleman named “Sam” become, “We-ell, hel-lo theah, Sa-a-am” and is often punctuated with fluttering eyelashes.
The fluttering eyelashes may mean nothing more than her contact lenses are bothering the speaker. If she’d like for Sam to come set a spell, a smoothly arched eyebrow and “come thither” look may accompany the “Hello”. Southern women come into the world just knowing how to call the dog, so to speak. It’s not learned – it’s genetic.
Likewise, there are certain Southern institutions with which one must become not only acquainted, but entrenched if survival in the Deep South is to be assured: never wearing white before Easter nor after Labor Day is one. The menu at The Varsity is the other.
Now – my husband is from Sacramento. They don’t “do” The Varsity out there. While Sacramento is more politically aligned with Georgia than their neighbors to the north or south, they just don’t understand the subtle distinctions between Mazola, Canola, butter, or lard. To them, grease is grease.
Not so if one hails from less than one day’s driving distance from the hotdog stand Georgia Tech dropout Frank Gordy turned into a household name. Even now – years after Gordy’s death – his family keeps his dream alive and thriving. With the flagship store still going strong on North Avenue just across the Connector from the little trade school they have there, the sister stores in Athens and on Jimmy Carter Boulevard, and the Varsity, Jr. off Cheshire Bridge Road allow those who can’t make the trip into downtown Atlanta partake of their favorite Varsity treat when the mood strikes.
Twenty-six years ago, I was hea-v-y with child. I’m surprised she wasn’t born wearing a little red hat and saying, “What’ll ya have! What’ll ya have! What’ll ya have!” My doctor’s office was inAthens. I made my appointments for nine in the morning, so I could be the first one in line when the V opened its doors. Back in those days, they didn’t serve breakfast, so there I’d be – nose pressed against the glass waiting for them to unlock the door so I could get my pimento cheeseburger fix.
With the exception of myself, I have never known a pregnant woman close to her due date who didn’t go to The Varsity and go into labor within twenty-four hours. It’s something about the grease. A lot of folks think I’m crazy when I tell them that everyone goes into labor. There are those who don’t buy into the aged grease concept when it comes to The Varsity, but it is quite a fact that the original Varsity uses grease that has acquired its own patina – sort of like the Statue of Liberty. Only it’s not green.
Wines age. Fine furniture ages. People age and develop a certain air about them – their persona – certain qualities that distinguish them from someone else of the same age, height, build, or education. Likewise, The Varsity’s grease has its own individuality which cannot be duplicated or imitated. Sure, you can have a hamburger or hot dog in one of any number of eating establishments, but none quite like The Varsity.
When the Jimmy Carter location opened some years back, I could not believe I only had to drive fifteen minutes down the road to get my Varsity pimento-cheeseburger-onion-ringsand- a-Frosted-Orange.
Whaddya mean “Haven’t had pimento cheese on a hamburger?” Ooo-weee, honey, you have not LIVED until you’ve had a blob of pimento cheese slapped on that burger before it’s put into a press to toast a little before served to you with cheese running all over your plate. There is no biscuit and gravy combo better than mopping up your melted pimento cheese with your hamburger. Like everything else in the South, alternating between swipes to take a bite of the hamburger has been elevated from simple technique to acquired art form. There’s something in knowing just how to get every drop of that cheese that makes the drive worthwhile.
The Varsity has a lingo all its own – one with which all transplants must become familiar if you’re to survive in the South, much less ever hope to become integrated into Southern society.
“What’ll ya have! What’ll ya have! What’ll ya have!” It’s one of the best vocabulary lessons you’ll ever have.
Helen Person is a Winder resident and columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at email@example.com.