Sirsee, Cerci, Happy – It’s the little gifts that mean a lot

November 26, 2020


When my parents would go on a trip, they’d bring me an “S.” It was a small surprise I wasn’t expecting. I have no idea why we started referring to it by a single initial, but I was always excited to see the little gift. 

Most families in this area call these unexpected treats a “happy.” Used as a noun, friends show up for visits and say, “Here you go, I brought you a happy.” It could be anything from a new dishtowel, a ripe homegrown tomato, or a cartoon clipped from the paper (yes, people still do that and I find it charming). 

I recently read that my family’s “S” could have originated with the word “sirsee,” sometimes spelled “surcy” “cerci” or “searcy.” 

I went to the authority, my friend SueEllen Sarah Searcy, who married into the Searcy family. She reported her Louisiana in-laws never used the word Searcy, but instead would gift her with something “lagniappe” meaning, “a little extra.” Leave it to Louisiana to break the mold. 

Most who use a form of Surcy are from North Georgia or the Carolinas but the term also found its way into Alabama and even Oklahoma.  I learned the word probably originated from the French, “souci” which means to “take care” or “go to the trouble.” It was passed to Scotland and morphed over time into “sussie.” Could that be the mysterious “S” from my Scottish grandmother’s family? She would also laugh and say, “Oh, your foot in a band box!” This was a facetious way to say, “Oh, get out of here.” We never had any idea what a band box was or why we should place our foot in it, and she only laughed when asked. 

I think everyone loves to get an “S,” “Happy,” “Sercy” or something “Lagniappe.” These tokens are sometimes as small as a pack of gum or handwritten poem. It isn’t the gift that is the focus of the “S.” The true gift is that someone thought of you. Being remembered by someone is a beautiful act of kindness. 

My high school friend had parents who would bring him a little something every time they went out to dinner to let him know they thought of him. It became a joke that sometimes they’d bring him the wrapper from a straw, or even the receipt. They’d all laugh, but the thought was still there.

With Christmas a few weeks away, we fret about the perfect gift for those we love. Maybe they’d like a warm sweater or a good book, or perhaps they want electronic gadgets or new sports equipment. But what if we gave each other a year’s supply of Sussies?  “I’ll think of you every single month for the next year and bring you a colorful flower picked from my garden, a small toy dog that reminds me of your pup, a glass bottle of co-cola with a bag of salty peanuts, or a bundle of herbs from my garden, tied with a blue ribbon. 

We say Christmas is a magical time of year, and what’s more magical than reaching out to those who have been quarantined and alone with a little “S”? It really is the thought that counts. And sometimes, that’s the most magical gift of all. 

this story first appeared on and in the Mobile Press Register, Birmingham News, and Huntsville Times.

What do you call a small gift?

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