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Looking for Dixie

January 10, 2011

An elderly couple hobbled into the grocery store on a cold windy day. I was at the checkout paying for a few items Clare had asked me to pick up. The couple approached the clerk with a request. “Can we post a lost dog flyer on your store window?”

The manager was nearby and offered to put up two of the flyers. “Tell me about your dog.”

“Dixie is a Cocker Spaniel. She escaped from our yard.  I just couldn’t keep up with her,” the old man said sadly.

“We’ve looked high and low, and we can’t find Dixie anywhere!” said the woman tearfully.

The name Dixie is common in the South. In my high school and college years there were several co-eds with the name. In the local Yellow Pages a dozen companies claiming the title are listed. Winn-Dixie grocery stores, once prominent in our area, are still part of the Southern economy. When Clare and I lived in Louisville, Kentucky, a major traffic artery was the Dixie Highway.

What is the origin of the name Dixie? There are at least two possibilities.

1.  In the early 1800’s ten-dollar notes were issued privately by banks in Louisiana.  Labeled Dix, French for ten, the bill was called a Dixie. The area where the money circulated was called Dixieland. The term eventually broadened to refer to the Southern States.

2.  Jeremiah Dixon purportedly said to his surveying partner, Charles Mason, “We’ve got to draw the line somewhere.” The Mason-Dixon Line defined the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania. It became identified as the border between North and South.

When I heard the couple in the store grieving because they had lost their dog, I was not at all surprised at the pet’s name. The phrase that stuck in my mind was “We can’t find Dixie anywhere.”

In 1990, I was walking across campus at the University of Indiana with Charlie Sullivan, an old timer from Durham, North Carolina. I commented on the beauty of the place. “Yep,” Charlie quipped. “It sure pays to have won the war!”

Charlie was referring to the Union victory in the Civil War.

For many Southerners, any reminder of the War Between the States still elicits mixed emotions. Very few believe that slavery was right. Many know that it is best that the Union was preserved. It is also true that even now, four generations since General Robert E. Lee surrendered his sword to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, there lingers a pervasive grief for the Lost Cause.

Twenty years ago a long-time friend gave me a framed copy of “The Lost Cause,” a poem lamenting the defeat of the South in the Civil War. This friend died a few weeks ago. One of his last wishes was that the anthem of the Confederacy be played at his funeral. As the coffin departed, the church the organ played softly the strains of “O, I wish I was in the land of cotton.”

Some folks spend their whole life looking for Dixie.

Kirk H. Neely
© January 2011

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