If I was to describe the South (To me, the South is all of the states south of the Mason Dixon and east of the Mississippi [although arguably, both Louisiana and Arkansas could be included]) in one word, it would be tradition. The roots of the South reach deep and run long. These types of roots cannot be ignored when you look at their effect on the people they belong to. No roots can be overlooked but roots that are so long, so strong, so old, like the roots of the South, they are powerful. If there is one thing I have learned in these past eight months, it is that. I have learned other things too about this mysterious place I used to think I belonged to but have realized that I simply came from:
1) ma’am and sir are a given, not a suggestion
2) boys and men wear long socks and pull them up (I honestly used to think my dad was so weird for doing this, but now it makes sense. sorry, dad.)
3) People talk to each other in line, more so than in the North.
4) “bless your heart” is not a good thing
5) everyone is “miss” “ms” “mrs” or “mr”. you don’t call anyone older than you by 10 years by their first name. (i don’t think i will ever get over 2 year olds calling me “miss”
6) women wear baseball caps here as a way to cover their sloppiness. although women here never look sloppy. even their messy isn’t that messy.
7) if you are even remotely from an area that someone else knows someone from, they’ll ask you if you know that person. and the thing is, people know everyone here.
8) Grits are gross, although they will always be an option at breakfast.
9) To be a vegetarian here is a challenge. If there is one thing I dislike the most about the South is how much more difficult it has made my transition to vegetarianism. Everything is fried and everything has meat in it. I mean, everything. Explaining that you don’t eat meat, and in fact you don’t want to eat meat, will cause a return of flabbergasted faces and disdained looks.
10) So. Many. Churches. Praying in public is not met with strange looks.
11) People aren’t as into recycling here. In fact, quite a few people I know don’t even have recycling bins in their houses.
12) It’s common for females to have two first names (or one first, one middle however you want to look at it), like Mary Jo, Mary Lauren, Mary Scott, Hannah Jo. It’s insane and it causes people to think it’s okay to call me by my legal name, because surely I must have something more fancy to go by.
13) Monogramming is serious business.
14) Once you’ve left, I’m not sure it’s possible to become ‘re-Southernize’. Being an outsider comes with assumptions and stereotypes attached to you. A great many people here have never been where I am from, they think I talk strange, and are always curious as to why and how I ended up.
Which brings me around to my first point, of the deep roots and deeper traditions. My grandparents, whom I just spent the weekend with, are the definition of Southern and the definition of tradition. I have always met this with a sense of rebellion, as I meet most anything that I feel is attacking me (that’s a long story) but the further I move south (Wisconsin –> Missouri –> North Carolina) and the greater the amount of time I spend with my Southern family, the more I realize things about myself and things about them and the more I realize these things are not the same. Where I grew up has played a huge role in who I am today, as it does for most people. Living in the Great Lakes area taught me survival. People from the Great Lakes know how to maintain sanity through days of short daylight and long dark nights that go from October to March. Standing waiting for the bus in -30 degree weather has taught me endurance, just as much as living specifically in Madison taught me my certain views and beliefs.
I always thought part of me came from where I literally came from, and when I discovered that wasn’t true I was at somewhat of a loss as to what that meant for my relationship with my dad’s side of the family. But I’ve come to realize that what it means–that my long, deep, old roots have been cut off, that I am the same fruit but from a different tree–doesn’t matter as much as I thought it did, not in relationship to them.
My rebellion must stop (has stopped?). I must focus on the similarities in this situation, learn to appreciate the history that isn’t my own but is at the same time-
I digress. I could discuss the divide that exists within this country, that i thought existed within me, for pages but the only point I wish to make really is that to watch the South through non-Southern eyes has been fascinating.