“Well, that just dills my pickle!” – typical Southern-ism
It’s easy to be a Southerner in the North. Yankees love Southern accents and I always get a kick out of theirs. They generally like my traditional cooking, provided I‘m not trying to cook Italian food, which I should just give up trying to improve, as everyone in New Jersey will always be better at this than me. They are also suspicious of biscuits and gravy, although I cannot imagine why anyone wouldn’t love to have a giant breakfast of puffy bread covered with gooey, lumpy white mixture made from sausage fat and pepper. Sheesh. Although I really liked living up North, I would often pine for football Saturdays, potluck suppers, and a spring that actually begins in March. I will miss the North’s snowy Christmases, liberal politics, and knowing my way around New York City. On this, our final drive from New Jersey back to my parents’ house in Tennessee, I began to recognize a few things I’d never noticed before.
The first change to occur as one drives down I-81 into Virginia is the changing presence of roadside billboards. Some states, in a staggering display of good sense, have outlawed billboards, so when they suddenly appear after a border crossing, their advertisements are the equivalent of a Three Stooges eye poke. From amusement parks and medical corporations (Who’s the Father? Call 1800 DNA TEST) to an array of natural wonder tourism – Shenandoah Caverns, Luray Caverns, Ruby Falls, the Lost Sea, Rock City, Natural Bridge (where they charge you $12 to walk ¼ mile from a parking lot to see a line of rock connecting one cliff to another, exactly the way it looks on their advertising brochure), and of course, Endless Caverns, where some recent marketing graduate was probably paid a large sum to come up with the slogan, “Where There is No End to the Fun!”
Following the natural wonders is a painfully long list of Civil War historic sites. Not just battlefields, mind you. Battlefields are for people who want to have their kids stare at an empty field that has been devoid of any activity at all for 150 years. The kids, who would rather poke out their own eyes with a bayonet than what is about to happen do the obligatory over the top eye roll, and then listen as dad waxes on about the amazing charge of General Beufort Punnett Grimes and his tiny troop of soldiers armed with nothing but dead squirrel carcasses and BO, and how they fended off an enemy that was 16 times larger, trained at West Point and above all, had better hats. In Virginia however, they manage to take it to the next level. There are memorials to all kinds of crazy events and people, even, believe it or not, to parts of people. At the Ellwood plantation in Orange County, you can visit the grave of Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s left arm (amputated from his body and buried three days before his death at the battle of Chancellorsville in 1863). The rest of his body is buried in Lexington. If you’re looking for odd Civil War memorials that one might take the cake. The people of Virginia surely know their history. In addition to a plethora of states dedicated to those intent on having their own personal Civil War-gasms, Virginia seems to be overflowing with colleges. Although California purports to have more institutions of learning than any other state, Virginia must have more close to the interstate. I feel we have driven past a hundred in the course of a morning; Virginia Tech, JMU, UVA, and my personal favorite, Eastern Mennonite University, which I’m sure is nothing but a party school.
The further South you drive highway wildflowers become more colorful and abundant than up North. Possibly because they don’t have their roots choked off with gallons of ice-melting road salt each winter, or simply because of less traffic idling during the unavoidable daily jams characteristic of the New Jersey turnpike. I’ve always been impressed by flowers that grow on roadsides and in waste places, like broken, unused parking lots. Many people blow them off as, often noxious, weeds (because they are), but at least the Southern ones shine a little brighter and make road trips a little more colorful.
You should need a passport to come down here – Melanie Smooter, Sweet Home Alabama
Any city is going to have its businesslike pace, and any country town is going to have its lazy afternoons, but I’ve often noticed in the North, regardless of whether you are in Manhattan or Boothbay Harbor, Maine, people tend to know exactly where they’re going and what they’re after. It is only in the South that people tend to have an obviously slow, more outward curiosity. They pay attention to you more, especially if you are unusual in any way, like if you have a red-headed child, or an Australian accent. In the South, old men still sit outside gas stations sharing a game of checkers, coffee, and the daily gossip. People use the gloriously inclusive “y’all” liberally. “Y’all come back” replaces “Have a good one,” the latter being inexplicably annoying to me for some reason. Perhaps because Southerners make their statement seem more utterly believable.
“No self-respecting Southerner would ever eat instant grits.” – from My Cousin Vinny
Almost all small Southern towns, regardless of location or economic status, sport a nice church. In most of America, if a town is small enough to have only one public building, it’s a church. In Australia, it’s a pub. Although I’ve never been a churchgoer, the Southern church is generally the site of one of my favorite traditions: the potluck church picnic. Fried chicken, potato salad, various pies, cakes, and dips, deviled eggs, even green gelatin salads made with canned fruit cocktail and cottage cheese. Sigh. Now, nothing compares to real New York pizza or Maine lobster rolls, but Southern people (perhaps it’s all the practice gathered from church picnics) are the kings & queens of home cooking, which may lead to the fact that many of my favorite grocery products can only be purchased here. Calhoun’s barbeque, a local Knoxville chain, sells by the jar (or the case) not just their barbeque sauce but their unbelievably rich and sweet honey mustard. My advice is to use either liberally in your crock-pot pulled pork (depending on your preference for Memphis or South Carolina barbeque) and don’t look at the nutrition label. Mayfield dairy products, in the distinctive yellow milk jugs, get their milk (somewhat ironically) from Jersey cows. Jersey milk has a higher fat content than traditional Holstein (the black and white cows) and is somewhat sweeter. So to me, skim milk tastes like 2%. Now, I like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream as much as the next person, but Mayfield’s ice cream is second to none, especially the peppermint stick flavor they put out only at Christmas, and you can get a half-gallon for about three bucks. After writing this I realized I’m not making such a great case for healthy eating in the South, proven by the fact that Southern states generally have a higher percentage of obese people than other states, so I hereby lay 100% of the blame for that on chain restaurants and prepared foods, NOT on any type of home cooking, regardless of ingredients used.
“There is no such thing as natural beauty.” – Truvy, from Steel Magnolias
Women in the South tend to care more about their appearances than anywhere else I’ve seen, and I mean this as a compliment. Manners abound. There is no burping, farting, douching, or having hair in places one shouldn’t. Even the roughest Wal-Mart customer has usually taken time to spray her hair and put on her pink lipstick. In the birthplace of sororities and beauty pageants, no one is better at adorning themselves than Southern women, although the line between elegant and tacky is often very blurred. There is more leopard print in the South than the North (unless you’re in Queens), more color, more hair products, rhinestones, quality leather, fur, and highly insured jewelry. There are less poorly applied fake tans, visible boobs, metrosexuals, and boring monochromatic black outfits.
The North and South are often referred to as different countries and I agree, not because I recognize the Confederate States of America, but because over the years, I’ve found more cultural differences between them than between say, Scotland and England or Australia and New Zealand, or even the upper Midwest and Canada. Even the Australians and Europeans living in America recognize that my move from Tennessee to New Jersey must have been as much of a culture shock as their own, and I like that. Part of what makes America so interesting is all these differences in one country, regardless of how you feel about the outcome of the Civil War… sorry, I meant to say the War of Northern Aggression.