Ten Things to Know About the South
It is impossible for me, a liberal single mom from Northern California who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, to assimilate to the ways of a small mill town in the south. After six years, I accept this inability because for me it is preferable to attempting to be what I cannot. There are characteristics of the South that have impacted me and allowed me to feel some affection for a culture that does not value what I consider my best strengths.
Some things about the South are easy to adjust to and they are as follows:
1. People back into all parking spaces so the front end is facing traffic.
2. Plants and wildlife have very defined seasons and extraordinary beauty.
3. The oppressive, steamy months of summer transition quickly into beautiful fall colors, and then into winter which is normally just enough snow to transform the environment into a wonderland of white which melts quickly before hardship and danger.
4. “Southern Hospitality” exists only in cooking techniques and lavish home decorating ideas.
5. Cubes of butter are longer and narrower.
6. A person’s heart will be “blessed” many times every day if you are out and about. It is merely an efficient way to end a conversation.
7. “Cutting” something “on,” or “off” does not mean damage, it only means turning power or the water supply on, or off.
8. Hard liquor is not ever sold in grocery stores, only in government controlled “ABC” outlets which are never convenient. Excessive amounts of alcohol are still consumed and problematic in spite of these limits.
9. Banana sandwiches on highly processed white bread with mayonnaise, and “moon pies” are actually eaten.
10. Grits can be tasty and nutritious.
Following our arrival in our small city/town in North Carolina, an electrician comes to our house to perform minor repairs and help me understand the electrical system of our huge and complicated home. My younger children are following “Red” the electrician everywhere, and I am struggling to understand “Red” who has a heavy accent and all of his words seem to end up as one. There are no spaces between Red’s words. Each word is as long as a sentence and I keep saying: “Excuse me?” I need every syllable repeated and sometimes explained. Red says, “ Yuhshudtekyerkidstoduhfyer.” “Excuse me?” I reply. “Duhfyer,” Red says. To me, this seems he is telling me about a community tradition including a fire. I ask, “Is there a community bonfire?” Exasperated, Red raises his voice just a little and says: “Duhcounteefyer.” OOOHHHH! It suddenly occurs to me, “How nice, there is a fair coming to town,” I say. Red is pleased that I have come to this realization and that he doesn’t have to continue explaining things to this newcomer.
I experience much anxiety in my first two months in the south, which are June and July. The storms are very loud and dramatic. Driving in them is frightening. I am surprised at how stressful finding new things in an unfamiliar place are for me. My spirit of adventure has disappeared.
July 4th follows our arrival and we attend the community fireworks celebration which is at a lake in a state park only ten minutes from our home. It is a truly beautiful lake. Driving to the lake and finding a place to park is easy thanks to the dozens of Kiwanis members in orange vests and park rangers who are all very friendly and polite. I give my children money to spend on food vendors, and they have funnel cake for the first time. This Independence Day celebration has attracted all types of people. There are tattooed bikers, very young teen parents, boy scouts, real estate people, bankers, workers, and I even see a person I know to be a doctor. The entire community gathers at the 4th of July celebration and nobody is shy about doing the “electric slide” dance to the country western band. I am extremely moved and heartened by the diversity and sense of “fun” at this event. For the first time, I feel as if we could belong here. Sometime later, after the recession hit, I read in the paper that it would save money if the 4th of July celebration is cancelled. One of the city council members wisely argues that for many in our community the 4th of July celebration “is their summer,” and the celebration is funded for another year.
My next door neighbor is a retired school teacher and she suggests that I not waste any time enrolling my children in school, especially the two that need accommodation, Daniel and Nina. First, I take Nina to the elementary school to enroll her in the fourth grade. The principal meets with us, and before talking to Nina recommends a placement in a regular education classroom. Since I have all of Nina’s evaluations and IEPs with me, I insist that Nina be placed in a self-contained classroom. Nina does not appear intellectually disabled at first, but she gets in over her head quickly and gets into trouble which is very traumatic for her since she frequently knows someone is mad, but does not understand the reason. After school starts, Nina reports to me that there are “rats” in her class. I ask, “You mean in a cage?” No, she says, “under the classroom.” I tell Nina’s teacher that I think Nina is misunderstanding the word “right,” as in right now, and she hears the southern pronunciation which sounds like “rat.” The teacher says: “No, she is correct; we do have a rat problem underneath the building.” Nina’s placement was good for her. Things did not go so well for her brothers, Daniel and Fritz.