There was talk of dressing as a red neck during homecoming week. The idea was nixed but I must say, it cut a little close to home. Red neck is often associated with Southern – small, rural towns where people speak with thick drawls, brew moonshine, and marry their first cousins. I remarked that I would probably be wearing a GRITS t-shirt.
“Oh, red neck and proud of it?”
“No. I am not a red neck. I am a Southern belle.”
For those not in-the-know, GRITS has been adopted as an acronym for “Girls raised in the South” by Deborah Ford, an enterprising Southern business woman. The logo features the profile of a lady in a large picture hat gracefully posed with her hand on her chin. You can almost hear Scarlet O’Hara longing for Tara.
There are myriad clichés about the South. Having grown up there, I can tell you that most of them are true. We talk funny. We believe in manners. We often argue in a delicate, sugar-coated fashion. There are some who might (might!) marry a second cousin, twice removed, but never a first cousin. That’s, well, you know….
Southerners are famous for their hospitality, and with good reason. We are a gracious, generous people; friendly folk who believe in taking care of each other. We take food to families who have lost a loved one. Four years in the Midwest has taught me that is not a universal tradition. A friend recently lost her mother, and I took homemade bread and cold cuts. (Yes, really. Homemade bread. We’re good cooks down South. And besides, bringing homemade food is an unspoken rule in Dixie. Store-bought food will get you talked about in certain circles!) My friend was expecting out-of-town family for the funeral, and well, it seemed the right thing to do. She seemed surprised by the gift; I was surprised to see that her kitchen was bare. I returned home and told my husband, “We are strangers living in a strange land.” When I told my mother, she replied, “Don’t ever change your ways. Kindness is always appropriate.”
And now another member of my family has been transplanted North. My younger sister is about to experience “the seasons,” including winter. When my husband and I moved to the Midwest, people kept saying how nice it would be to enjoy all the seasons. I wanted to inform them that we have “seasons” in the South, and we enjoyed the Southern version just fine, thank you. In the deep South, Summer is hot and humid, and the crepe myrtles are glorious. Tea olive, my personal favorite, blooms in summer and again in winter. Spring is “summer lite,” with warm temps and azaleas and dog woods in full bloom. High Summer melts into Indian Summer with brisk mornings and evenings and warm afternoons. The leaves change colors; it is not a particularly showy production, but it is pretty. And Winter is cold, though not horribly so, and mercifully short and sunny.
In a recent email, my sister said she hoped her new home didn’t experience the blizzards of last winter. Her husband corrected her, saying there was only one blizzard last year. GRITS don’t really like to be corrected, by the way. My sister explained that she had a distinctly Southern definition of “blizzard”: snow that sticks to the ground!
I am afraid she is in for a rough winter. Like any GRITS, she will learn she is capable of more than she knew. We are smart, capable women who are not afraid to get our hands dirty. My sister will learn that falling snow is beautiful, but old snow is dirty and ugly. She will probably learn to shovel snow. But that doesn’t mean she will like it. In fact, my hunch is that she will be thinking in her best Scarlet O’Hara drawl, “As God is my witness, I’ll never….”