The South is a land of its own. It does not include Texas or southern Florida. It is a land of sticky summers, firefly nights, and green rolling hills. If you ever find yourself moving there, you may- like my mother- cry, because "No one wears shoes; all they do is sit on the street and strum guitars." (A prophecy fulfilled only too well by her barefoot oldest child.) But sooner or later, you will find that- also like my mother- the South has worked its charm and slowly grown itself into your heart.
I never realized until that first Thanksgiving I came home from college that all my friends had accents. Now, when I'm in Utah, I can pick one out a mile away- I will make up excuses to talk to strangers because the words coming out of their mouth sound like honey. There is something irrepressibly sweet and endearing about a Southern accent. Probably because it is usually accompanied by Southern manners. I'm a sucker for miss and ma'am and darlin' (the dropped
'g' is essential.) When my brother was in kindergarten, he came home reciting his numbers-- and my mom quickly retaught him the correct pronunciation for the number "fah-ve." Bummer. There is nothing cuter than a little boy with a drawl. You have not lived until you have heard my cousin Lane talk about his cat, Stinkbutt.
Maybe you- like my father- could point out the tacky trailer decorations or obesity rates. I don't really care. I love the Bojangles and the Wal-Marts. I love the wooden fences and the big red barns. I love the smell of a summer thunderstorm and watching it from the front porch. I love the Baptist churches with their white signs out front. I love the old ladies who call you hun and drink nothing but sweet iced tea. I love that growing up, we'd always take field trips to the Carnton Mansion and other Civil War sites. I love the magnolia trees and azalea bushes. I love everything Vera Bradley and watching my friends grow up and marry their high school sweethearts. I love cornbread and I love Diet Coke.
Most of all, I love the South because it is so real. You just don't see fashion blogs or ads for liposuction. Moms don't wear the same jeans as their 9th-grade daughters. No one asks if your eyelashes are real because Guess What? No one wears fake eyelashes!! Every summer I bring home cute clothes to wear but always end up in shorts and T-shirts- because I don't have to try and impress anybody.
Our visit last week to Chattanooga was full of verbatim gossip like:
"That Harry Ray is a good man."
"Kathy Wolfe is an angel."
Really. The only way I hear people quantified is when talking about how nice they are. It's so refreshing. If you are cute, that's great- but everyone knows that's not your most important quality. I was so touched by the volunteers that came to help when Katrina hit my grandparents' house, or when tornadoes ripped apart my hometown a few weeks ago. The time, the money, they labor people freely give to help- I'm overwhelmed by their goodness. Bless their hearts.
I realize the South is not for everybody. If you hate humidity, chicken, and football... you're probably in deep trouble. But it's what I'll always think of as home. I hope I never stop waving to the neighbors when I'm driving by or walking my dog. I hope I never stop using the phrase fixin' to when explaining that I am about to go to the store. I hope I never forget the terrible-but-memorable Southern Gospel music our bus driver blasted every morning for three years of my life. I hope I never start eating GRITS, because I have always hated them no matter how much butter you soak in there, but I am oh-so-glad that I can always claim to be one. [GRITS is an acronym for "Girls Raised In The South," a phrase I guarantee you can find gracing the back of a classy T-shirt at any given Salvation Army.]
"Southern girls are God's gift to the entire male population. There is absolutely no woman finer than one raised below the Mason-Dixon line and once you go southern, may the good Lord help you- you never go back."
(I mean, I wasn't going to say it... but who am I to argue with Kenny Chesney?)