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Friday, July 11, 2014

A Southern Girl Returns to the South

Although born and raised in Arkansas, I never really thought of myself as Southern. We lived in the northern part of a border state and my parents were Yankees (from nearby Kansas--but which, by definition, is Yankee territory).  In addition, my great grandfathers (all four) fought for the Union during the Civil War, known in the South as The War of Northern Aggression or The War Between the States.

If I'd labeled myself growing up, I would probably have identified myself as someone from the Ozark Mountains, with its fiercely stubborn, independent, colorful, mostly Scotch-Irish population.  However, after spending the past 9 months in North Carolina, I have found that I am more Southern than I realized.

How Southern Am I?

Recently, there was a quiz posted on Facebook, "How Southern Are You?"

I got all but one correct.  My favorite question was #13 --" If a person from New York has lived in Georgia for 30 years, that person is considered to be -- a. Yankee b. Lost  c. Southern (by default) or d. Someone from NY who has lived in Georgia for 30 years." The answer is "d."  I laughed and laughed about this one, as my mother was dearly loved in the small town of Arkansas where she lived until she was in her nineties, but she was always "that nice woman that came from up north."

Echoes of My Childhood

As we have become more settled in our area, I have begun to notice how many things seem so familiar to me.  For example, respect for elders and for country is ingrained in the south.  Children are taught to say "yes ma'am" and "yes sir" as a matter of courtesy, and conversations with adults of all ages are peppered with these expressions.  You would never call an older person in the South by a first name, unless preceded by a title, such as,  Miss Saundra.

The South has a greater percentage of the population serving in the military than any other part of the country.  Patriotism runs deep and most families have at least one person who has or is serving the country.  A substantial number of Southerners in the Armed Services qualify as sharpshooters.  Must be a result of all the hunting they do growing up.  We see a lot of trucks with hunting dogs in carriers in the back end.  North Carolina even has a state dog -- the Plott hound.
Plott Hound -- North Carolina state dog

Much of the South remains rural or small town, although, of course, there are many up and coming cities also.  This is Bible Belt country where people still bow their heads and ask a blessing on the food in public restaurants, often while holding hands around the table.  "Have a blessed day" is a common expression.  Churches dot the landscape.  Even when people think we are misguided and a little weird, they are courteous and share with us many common beliefs.  They love God and believe mightily in prayer.

Driving to Raleigh we passed a little town with streets turning off the highway named "grateful," "thankful," and "blessed."  

Things I Love About the South

Expressions are colorful and memorable.  The 2nd Ward bishop, speaking at a baptism, was cautioning a new convert to choose his friends carefully.  He commented, "When you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas."  Some other expressions I have heard here that I remember from my childhood  -- "Mad as a wet hen."  "It's a pretty fer piece down the road."They live over yonder."  "I reckon" (meaning I guess so). "Slower than molasses." (which is pretty slow). "Happy as a tick on a fat dog." (can't get much happier than that).

Some expressions may need a little more explanation.
"Catawampus or cattywampus" -- sideways
"Cain't never could" --you never will if you don't try
"Bless your heart!" --usually uttered when the speaker believes the recipient to be sweet but misguided or stupid or needs to grow up.
"Tea" -- everywhere else this is a hot drink made from a bag of tea leaves steeped in hot water.  In the South it is a syrupy-sweet concoction served over ice with every meal in the biggest glass possible. Also referred to as Sweet Tea and available in huge containers at every fast food restaurant next to the soft drink dispenser.
"Fixing" --about to do something.  Example: " I'm fixing to go to the store."
"Directly" -- pretty soon. Example:  "I'll be there directly."
"Spell "--to feel faint or light headed.  Example:  "Aunt Bee had one of her spells last night."
Can also mean a measure of time.  Example:  "Come up on the porch and sit a spell."

Families and Family Stories 

Southerners are deeply loyal to their families and treasure sharing family stories and legends.  There are still stories relating to family involvement in the Civil War.  More Civil War battles were fought in North Carolina than in any other state.  There are monuments and battlegrounds all over this part of the state and many of the families  claim a war hero or two.

An interesting fact about North Carolina is the respect given to small cemeteries.  I am told that there is a law prohibiting the removal of graves and headstones, even if in the middle of a field.  So you often see small cemeteries with 4 or 5 graves, fenced in and left in the middle of farmland or right next to the side of the road under a tree.

Of course, living close to the ocean there are some great fish stories.  I never knew that one needed such a variety of fishing poles to go fishing, but we see trucks with ten or twelve poles lined up in racks in the back of pick-ups.

And then, of course, there are great tales of pirates like Blackbeard who maintained a home base in the Carolinas.  Recently, Blackbeard's sunken ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, was located off the coast of Beaufort, NC, not far from us -- complete with treasure still aboard.  Other salvaged ship wrecks are on display in the state aquariums scattered around the state and serve as the base for coral reefs to form.

Parts of Camp Lejeune serve as wildlife protection areas and you can see a variety of wildlife as you drive around the base.  One of the great true "tall tales" is that there is a 12 foot alligator that lives in the water hazard on the main base golf course.  One of our ward members took this picture when he went to retrieve his ball from the water -- and decided when the gator surfaced and started toward him that he didn't need the ball that bad.

Lastly. everyone seems to have a hurricane story.  We have learned that hurricanes less than a level 3 are taken as nothing to get excited about.  Some even like to go and watch the storm from the beach or use it as an excuse to celebrate at home. Major hurricanes are the basis for some great survival tales.  Snow storms, on the other hand, freak people out and everything closes down even when it is only predicted to occur.

We are having a great time collecting our own stories to share.  We love our area and the people we have met.  It is amazing to look back and see how much we have learned and grown during the past 9 months (and how much we still need to learn and grow).  Our mission president is an avid mountain climber and often tells us the joy is in the climb to the top, not the summit itself--and we have found this to be true.  It has been a challenging, but rewarding, journey thus far.

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