I’ve long wondered whether I now qualify as a Southerner.
Here are my credentials:
I have lived in the South for nearly a quarter century. Greeting people with “hey” is now so natural to me that those who say “hi” seem like foreigners. The phrase “might could” is part of my everyday lexicon. I am well-versed in the Southern way of pointing out someone’s quirks (always to be introduced with the phrase “bless his/her heart”).
I’ve shopped in the South, found friends in the South, and given birth in the South. I raised my child in the South.
I know what a “frog strangler” is. Grits are a beloved food source (though I don’t eat them with bacon or shrimp).
I am deeply aware that many people in this world feel about car racing the way I felt about baseball as a child of the Midwest.
I’ve witnessed season after season here in the Piedmont. I have gotten used to Christmas lights without the accompaniment of a thick, white blanket of snow and the appearance of spring flowers in February.
I’ve hiked in the mountains and on the Barrier Islands.
I now can navigate around Charlotte with the best of ’em and no longer find it odd to drive on a street with one name and find a cross street with the same name (Queens Road, for example).
But really and truly, I think the thing that may be most critical is this: How I reacted when I went North for the first time in a very, very long time.
My husband, Ralf, and I landed in Connecticut last Thursday. We stepped off the plane and into another world.
Much of that world was quite charming. There were many stone fences and little, itsy-bitsy streets.
But the people looked polar. You could hardly see their faces. One knew they had extremities, but in a general sort of way.
They were padded, covered to their noses and eyeballs. They breathed steam.
“Good grief!” I exclaimed.
“Yes,” Ralf said. “It is cold.”
“Where on God’s Earth are we?” I asked.
“You used to call it the ‘frozen north,’” he answered. “We’re in the land of heatable dipsticks and thermal underwear. Sometimes in combination.”
“How did we survive back in the days when we lived with these kinds of extremes?”
“Hot chocolate,” Ralf announced.
Suffice it to say that the entire weekend was proof that I was no longer able to fathom the sort of winter I knew as a child. I loved visiting our friends. But every time I stepped outside, I longed for home. There, I knew I could see the faces of my fellow humankind on the street and locate their arms and legs. No one breathed steam in my home, and folks said “hey.”
When we got back to the Piedmont, I stepped out into the slightly chilly 57 degree temperatures and breathed a great sigh of relief.
“Hey,” I called happily to folks outside the airport.
I thought of a warm bowl of grits. I wondered how soon I’d see the crocus in our garden beds. I decided that our friends, bless their hearts, might want to invite us to visit when the temperature was a lot warmer.
I think I might could be a Southerner now.