Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes Readers' Guide

1. It has been said that "In the South, we don't hide our crazy people in the attic. We trot them right down to the front parlor and show them off.” Which of the stories in Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes best illustrates this aphorism? Do any of the "crazy” characters in the collection remind you of someone you know?

2. Could the stories in Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes have taken place in any other part of the country? If so, how would they have been different? Choose two or three stories and pretend they took place in New York City or Los Angeles. What elements of the story would have to change to accommodate the new setting?

3. Which of the stories best illustrate the "steel magnolia” concept of Southern womanhood? Why?

4. In Sandra Chastain's "The Jesus Shoes" a young girl learns a lesson at Bible School that couldn't have come from a book. In what ways do these early lessons shape the people we become? Discuss how religious and community values were woven into the fabric of the 1940s South. Are these things as much a part of the culture today as they were then?

5. In Virginia Ellis's "Keeper of the Stick" the author tells a story of an early trauma that shaped her self-image– and then discovers that she has spent her life remembering the story wrong! Can you think of a childhood incident that affected you similarly? How much of what we are today is determined by the way we perceive the past?

6. In Debra Dixon's "Sweet Tea" the Civil War is re-fought over a glass of iced tea. What were the real issues in this clash of cultures? Did the bride-to-be make the right decision? What cultural icons would cause you draw the line in the sand?

7. In "Up Jumps the Devil" Donna Ball observes that "if there was one thing my family was better at than acquiring land, it was losing it in bad deals”. How does the story of the lost home place parallel what is happening in rural areas across the country? Why do you think families who have held land in trust for generations are now so willing to sell it off? How does this affect the
communities in which we live?

8. The epigram that introduces Nancy Knight's "A Little Squirrely" is Nora Ephrom's "You enter into a certain amount of madness when you marry a person with pets”. Who were the most memorable "critters” in Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes? Discuss the role animals– domestic and otherwise–play in the image most people have of the culture of the South. How realistic is that image?

9. In "Flying on Fried Wings" Deborah Smith portrays two very different version of the South's nouveau riche. Do you know anyone like Uncle Hoyt and Aunt Wesma? Does "Buck” remind you of anyone?

10. There are several funeral stories in Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes. Discuss how they differ from each other. Are each typical of funerals you've attended? Do the rituals of death play more of a role in Southern society than in other regional cultures?

11. Discuss the bonding ritual shared by the women of Fingerprints during the annual fruitcake bake. How did it differ from the one their husbands shared? Do women have the same kinds of opportunities for bonding today?

12. In "From Whence We Came," Debra Dixon explores the importance of knowing one's roots. Has anyone else had an experience tracing her genealogy? How did Dixon's discovery of her past change the way she viewed her sister? Herself?

13. In Deborah Smith's "Nola's Ashes," she describes a young woman caught between the "daddyside” and "mamaside” of her family. Who is the peacemaker in your family? How does the "daddyside” differ from the "mamaside” in your family?

14. Phyllis Rose said, "The literature of women's lives is a tradition of escapees, women who have lived to tell the tale... They resist captivity. They get up and go. They seek better worlds.” What does this quote mean to you? Give some examples of "the literature of women's lives.” In what ways do the stories of Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes illustrate these words?

15. The authors of Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes invite you to "come sit on the porch a spell and talk about folks we remember and times gone by.” What are your favorite memories of the past? Is there a way you can recapture the feelings those memories evoke today?

Reader's Group Tip: Suggest that each member of your group prepare a different recipe from Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes, make a big pitcher of sweet tea, and have a party!