Friday, September 30, 2005

Blue-Gray Blues

Submitted by: Lillium

No – I am not talking about the color of my hair. The title is a reference to the precarious condition I find myself in life. I am no longer a true Yankee, nor am I (nor I fear will I ever be) considered a Southerner. I fall into an abyss somewhere between.

I was born in Western New York. I lived there until I was fourteen and my father, tired of shoveling snow and working in a steel plant, decided to move the family to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I spent my high school years totally offended that the state offered me only one season. Therefore, when it was time for me to select a college, I chose one in Tennessee. I figured it was a good halfway mark between what my young heart considered home and what my driver’s license said was my legal place of residence.

It was on that beautiful southern campus, on a leaf changing day, many years ago, that I met my soon to be husband. He married me and moved me up to his family’s nesting grounds – Lafayette, New Jersey. We spent our first six months of marriage there before Hubby accepted a job opening in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was there that my true indoctrination with southern living began.

Here I fell in love with the culture, the architecture, the fashion, the decorating, the language, and the foods of the South. It was like being a child who had found the candy shop of your dreams and then discovered I was denied admittance. Never was this clearer to me than when we moved to Georgia. Here the roots of heritage grow deep and wide.

Oh – please do not misunderstand me – no one has ever been ugly about it. Nevertheless, it is understood that I am “not from around these parts”. It does not matter that I have lived here now for over twenty-five years. People just instinctively know that I am not a native. It could be my dark skin tones that make me look better suited to an Italian kitchen. It may be that, while my friends from up north get a chuckle at my soft “i” and “a” sounds, that the rest of my speech pegs me as “from up there somewhere.” Even the children in my fifth grade class could tell on the first day that they were sitting in the classroom of someone who was different.

Being an only child with no relatives left to speak of, I must admit jealousy of those around here who have their annual reunions with throngs of generations. I never cease to be impressed when I discover that a grandparent attended the same elementary school as their grandchild. I learned quickly that I needed to keep a bridle on my tongue because everyone at my church was “kin” to someone else.

With so many people moving into the surrounding areas of Atlanta, it is not too difficult today to run into other foreigners. I listen to them ramble on about the culture shock. They moan and groan about the pace of life, the odd cooking, etc. etc. I cannot commiserate with them. It is not that I do not remember what it was like adapting – it is that I wanted to adapt and belong. When I see the effect that this great influx of Yankees is having on the culture I have come to love, I want to tell them all to go home. I keep my mouth shut because I figure I stand a good chance of being bussed out along with the other transplants.

A little while ago, I was having a meal of fried green maters with my pastor. He cocked his head and asked me how long I had lived in the south. I told him and he smiled. He patted me on the hand and said one of the nicest things I have had said to me, “Well then, you’re one of us now!”

How sweet of him. How I wish.


Idgie @ the "Dew" said...

Great story!

My parents were from Rhode Island but moved to the South when I was very tiny.

I was considered Southern, but they never were!

Of course, they're Northern accents never went away, which didn't help! :)

aka_Meritt said...

This post is close to my own heart. I can feel and read what is even deeper than what you wrote.

I lived 5 years in Nashville. Worked there, lived there, loved there. Gave birth to babies there. I and my children all had southern accents... but I wasn't really accepted as a Southerner. Even before I would open my mouth people knew I 'wasn't from the South'. Maybe because of my European features? I'm Swedish and German by heritage. I blend right in up 'north' and I blended in perfectly in Southern California.....

but I have a feeling that it would have taken a good 25 years before the South would have embraced me as one of their own. I still hope to give it a whirl one day.

Karen said...

My parents moved from Indiana to Mississippi in 1950. Small town Mississippi. Damnyankee was all one word. When said in front of my mother, someone would look over at her and say "But we don't mean you, dear"! I was lucky to be born in that area so I'm a native!

poopie said...

I think after you live here so long you get to be a native by proxy ;)

kenju said...

We've been in Raleigh for 36 years; I am from WV, but hub is from NYC. He said recently he knew he had become a Southerner when he went to NYC and ordered "sweet " tea. I knew he had become on when I started hearing him end phone calls with "Bye-bye now". LOL

Cowtown Pattie said...

Reminds me of a bumper sticker I see from time to time:

I may not be a native Texan, but I got here as fast as I could!

Steve said...

I am informed by my wife, the Cajun Princess,that 15 years is the accepted period for acclimation for being considered a southerner. I moved to charlotte at age three, so I'm pretty much a southerner (37 years later). I still dont really like sweet tea, but I love okra, can cook a decent gumbo, and if given a choice, will always choose Community coffee over Starbucks.

void said...

I was born and raised in Chicago and embraced every word of your post. I moved to Texas 20 years ago. And I'm glad I did for every reason you mentioned. You wrote, "When I see the effect that this great influx of Yankees is having on the culture I have come to love, I want to tell them all to go home." I know the feeling.

This was a great post! Thanx.

Dana said...

Wonderful story!

Up here in Chicago, I am constantly asked where I am from. My husband and his family don't notice my accent anymore, but strangers do.

My family, on the other hand, think I am speaking too northern for their tastes. I guess i am somewhere in between, but I am always striving to keep my southern accent. It's who I am.