I have always had a fascination and love affair with the South. As a young girl, I traveled with my parents for a two week vacation in the South every summer. We visited towns and attractions throughout the South in Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina. The beautiful weather, quaint towns, friendly folks, dirt roads, and wonderful food had me totally captivated. It was then that I decided it was my dream to live in a small town in the South.
The Southern Belle
I envied the Southern girls I’d see on our trips with their long tan legs, blonde hair, blue eyes, and sugar sweet accents. Southern charm just seemed to flow naturally from every pour of their being. I’d see them at their summer jobs at whatever tourist trap we happened to be caught in. At the water park they manned the tops of the slides in tiny bikinis enjoying the fact they were simultaneously making money while working on their tan and flirting with boys. They always seemed to have some handsome young man hanging on their every word like Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. To my young mind, their lives seemed carefree and ideal. I wanted to be one of them when I grew up.
I love the slower pace that seems to permeate every aspect of Southern life. I have always assumed this slow motion way of being was brought to bear over decades of languishing in the heat in the days before central air, when any sudden movement would cause excessive sweating and possible heat exhaustion. Everyone up North was so darn cold that they couldn’t help but run around in a frenzy as an attempt to stay warm. But now that I live in the South and have experienced it first-hand, I have come to realize it is more of a lifestyle choice born of a mindset that life is not to be hurried. The term “laid back” is taken to whole new level in the South. Life is to be savored moment by moment, contemplated on and enjoyed like a cold glass of sweet tea. It is to be sipped, not gulped. Deadline is not a word in the dictionary of the South.
The Culinary Delights
Also left out of this dictionary are the words broiled, fat free and low calorie. Southern food is another aspect of the South which holds a particular allure for me. It was like nothing I had ever eaten before! Coming from a strictly British culinary background (my grandfather never once tried any food he considered “ethnic” including Chinese, Mexican, or Italian) my palate was used to overcooked meat with a side of vegetables (almost always carrots or peas or a combination of the two together), a potato dish, and some kind of bread. I did not realize how many foods could be fried! Fried delicacies I had never heard of are the staple of every good Southern menu – fried okra, fried tomatoes, fried pickles, chicken fried steak, fried pies, fried Oreos, and fried macaroni and cheese. Who knew you could fry macaroni and cheese or Oreos?!
That Southern Hospitality
But what makes the South truly unique is the hospitality, friendliness and genuine kindness of the people, that Southern charm. I love that you can go to the post office to buy a stamp and leave knowing that the person behind the counter has a grandson whose pee wee football team just won the state championship, their granddaddy is in the hospital for a heart catheter, and their mom is having a 50th birthday party for the pastor at the church after service on Sunday and by the way, would you like to come? I love that complete strangers still smile and nod at you on the street like you were an old friend. I love that gentlemen still hold the door open for you. And I love being called ma’am as a sign of respect. I also love being called honey, sugar, and sweetheart.
It is all this that makes the South a magical place for this Northern girl. I fulfilled my dream of living in a small town in the South. I smile and lift my finger off the steering wheel in greeting to everyone I pass on our quaint little road. I make small talk with the clerk at the post office and talk to people in the grocery store line. I say “y’all” and “bless your heart” and have become a true college football fan – WAR EAGLE!
I got the greatest compliment from a born and bred Southern friend a few years ago. We had just read Ronda Rich’s book What Southern Women Know and she told me that out of all her friends, I was the most Southern. I was as pleased as punch. I wasn’t born here, but by golly, I got here as fast as I could.