When I returned to Charlotte earlier this month, I was flooded with an awareness of just how much I love the South. The years of my life lived below the Mason-Dixon may be relatively few in the grand scheme, but they are impactful.
My longing for the south began decades before I lived there- it began in my youth, fifth grade to be exact. That’s when on one cold and snowy Midwestern winter, I took part in a unique social studies experiment in which the South won the civil war. Our class was divided into groups representing the North and South. The assignment was to research and present social, economic and cultural information that would that would allow us to win points for our side.
Being assigned to the Southern states, my teacher unwittingly introduced me to a world and a dream that I would chase for years.
My petite frame heaved the heavy old books off the shelf at the library to liberally dissect southern architecture and culture. My eyes locked on the sweeping beauty of live oak trees lining a long dirt road to an antebellum house and I felt a longing to travel that I didn’t know existed. I don’t claim to be the reason for my classroom’s Southern victory, but my superfluous research and enthusiastic extra projects had a big part in tipping the scales to the South’s favour.
Fast forward 20 years when Mat and I moved to Charlotte, NC and bought our first home. A prominent and stately magnolia tree in the front yard was one of my favorite reasons for purchasing the property. Even today, if I close my eyes and listen really closely, sometimes I can still hear the sound of a rolling train that echoed faintly in the darkened hours of that house where I used to live. The old fashion sound mingles with my fondest memories of living in the South, where nostalgia is quintessential. I loved that house and the community we were part of.
Our neighbors for 6 years were a couple from Tennessee that used to leave us fresh batches of cocktails and homemade banana pudding on the back porch. We were the loving recipients of garden-fresh tomatoes and the bounty of their quail hunting.
It was around their cozy fire place, a requisite bourbon in hand, that I found delight in their honey-dipped words telling decades of stories. From Clay and Mary Ellen, I discovered the living embodiment of what I now associate with Southern hospitality. Talking with them is like being covered in a warm blanket. Luckily, the warmth permeates long after leaving. When we moved away from Charlotte, it was heartbreaking to leave our neighbors. But they infused me with a southern experience so tender that I’m forever grateful.
Upon our recent return, I learned how much I miss and love the South within hours of our flight touching down. One of my first stops was back to a favorite local shop, where I had to rest my elbow on the counter as a prop for my chin- as if an involuntary reflex required me to soak in the lilted southern greeting of the sales person. I didn’t know I missed this auditory cue so badly until rencountered it.
I recognized countless other subtle differences in culture from where we live now. Colourful clothing is embraced, children are dressed in monograms and seersucker. Y’all is an ebullient invitation of familiarity. Even the tree-draped, non-flat landscape felt deeply reviving- we snuck away to Charleston for a day and it was as if the palmetto trees and spanish moss shouted “welcome back”.
Within a week of being back in the South, I had more doors opened for me than the previous year of being away- Southern gentlemen of all ages proudly proclaim that civility is alive and well. I had more conversations and well wishes from complete strangers than I had in months. Salutations hang in the air as if plucked ripely and genuinely. Ma’am may be unwelcome by some, but I find the term endearing and highly respectful in comparison to an exchange void of any salutation. It’s not that people in Canada aren’t friendly- they are! But the South provides a special type of cultural warmth, beyond the weather.
The older I get, the more sure I have become that Southern sunshine is my antidote. I feel called to the South. It’s a romantic, seducing beaconing, in a way that defies logic. I can’t pinpoint the reasons why I feel so comforted by azaleas or why the biscuits feel more natural than toast. I can only do my best to appreciate the joys of this area and be sure to store up the memories until I return.
I think my heart strings will always be pulled to the Southeast. I’ll always long for the smell of jasmine in a sticky humid summer evening. I will forever romanticize the old magnolia that stood in our yard bursting into white splendorous blooms. But it’s the intangible that I am most fond of. It’s the feeling I had long ago, as a fifth grader only dreaming of the sights and sounds I found in a book. The South may not be everyone’s cup of sweet tea, but it is most certainly mine. Until next time, I take it with me.
|Trucks and fishing for trouble.|
|Mary Ellen's Deviled Eggs|
|Family and friends that are like family|
|Green and White in the Southern Sunshine|