What it means to be Southern
When using the word “Southern” it can mean different things to different people. Maybe a person comes to mind, maybe a place – but to us, Southern is a feeling, a lifestyle.
As I approach the young age of 37, I find myself thinking a little more clearly and shaping my life a little more intentionally. While watering the garden today, I noticed that the hydrangeas needed a good trimming… Everyone knows that you have to trim off the old flowers to make room (and sustenance) for new blooms. That concept hit me so hard that I had to sit down.
What if we all thought of our past that way? What if, instead of hounding ourselves over and over, clinging to sometimes a very painful past, if we simply cut it off? Figuratively speaking of course, please don’t start trimming any toes… but seriously, what if we just went through experiences, put them on display in the window when things are bright and flowery, then as things started to fade or take a turn for the worst, we just snip it right out! Just as the hydrangeas will sprout new stems and leaves and eventually blooms, would we also do the same?
Now I know you are thinking, “I thought this article was about being Southern, not some deep dive into “Gardening for the unhappy middle-aged female”? Don’t worry I am making my way back…
This all brings me to my least favorite question on the planet — “Where are you from?” One piece of me (a GIANT piece of me) has always been very unsettled — simultaneously fighting to be silenced and also to shout out, loud and proud – that I am a Southerner.
As an Army Brat, priding myself on the ability to adapt and overcome (Dad’s orders), I never understood the need to feel “at home” or to find a place for roots to take hold. Instead, I spent my time learning to fit in wherever I found myself at the time, not getting too attached or set in ways of that home or this school. What that translated to as a teen, was a confused and rebellious little lady that thought she was smarter than anyone else and just needed to “get out” of every place she went. Instead of enjoying high school and school spirit, I talked shit and skipped school. Instead of going to prom and dancing, I drank booze and smoked cigarettes on the back of an older guy’s truck. Instead of creating a tight-knit group of friends to do everything with, I hung out with a different group every weekend, chameleon-like, changing my personality to suit. College was a pretty similar scene but working started to replace the anger and then time seemed to fast forward to a low-level hum of work – school – party – work – school – party – work – school – party, until it was time to graduate.
Up until I actually had to pull the trigger, I always swore I would go back to the West Coast, where I was originally from, Washington State. After I graduated college from East Carolina University, I had had enough. I wanted to run away from the humidity and the “palmetto bugs”, the mosquitos and the brown water into the arms of snow-topped mountains and fresh waterfalls and rivers that you wouldn’t run into fish the size of people. I craved the big city life I saw friends living – fancy brunches, concerts, and events, that walkable city life…
When it came right down to it, I didn’t leave.
I stayed in NC, finding cozy comfort in the few-hour drive to my new home. I still didn’t feel at home or settled in any way and still told everyone I ever met that I was indeed from the West Coast and I would be heading back there any minute now… yet I continued to stay.
At this point, I started to understand my Southern struggle wasn’t just about geography. It was about clichés and misconceptions— “Southerners are slow, stupid, etc.” Terms like “redneck” and “trailer trash” and “Y’all” terrified me. I wouldn’t, couldn’t become that.
Now that I am older (and wiser), thinking more clearly I am beginning to realize it wasn’t just me that created this weird feeling. I grew up being ridiculed by my family for a culture I didn’t choose and that they didn’t understand. In the past, I considered the South to be a bit of a gift and a curse. This constant struggle to nail down, “Who am I”, “Where do I belong” and more importantly “Where am I going”? As of this moment, I’m ready to trim that right out of my mind.
Just as the rest of the adult world has highs and lows in life, I still find myself sometimes longing for a West coast life that might have been, but after the craziness of 2020/2021, I have found myself feeling more grounded and at peace with not only my decisions that led me to this exact moment but also the steps that led me to this location… which depending on when you read this, will probably be… on my wide covered porch, attached to my 1924-built bungalow -or- toes in the sand on some beach.
I may not say ya’ll and drink sweet tea but the mild winters, sandy sunsets, dolphin cruises, and plentiful summer sunshine keeps Carolina on my mind.