I jokingly refer to myself as an ex-pat, despite the fact that to the unaware mind, I still reside in the country of my birth. A native Georgian, 6th or so generation, raised in the magical land of pines, moss and moonlight, I am currently a traveler on extended stay in a foreign land known as the Midwest.
Up until this fall I technically still lived in the metropolis of Louisville, Kentucky, a Southern city by map lines, if not by personality. Evidently Louisville successfully and stealthily seceded from the South some years ago and has been steadily practicing its twang and brusque mannerisms ever since. Kentucky is a Southern state, but Louisville remains its own little principality here on the banks of the Ohio.
We recently moved across the mighty brown Ohio River to the land of the crossroads. As one friend put it "Indiana is called the crossroads to everywhere, because it is the middle of nowhere." While the change from Louisville to the Southern Indiana village I now call home was a journey of less than 10 miles, the distance in my head looms large. I am officially "up north", something I once thought would involve living in NYC for a few years while I partied with the literati in SoHo lofts.
For better or worse, here I am and here I will stay for the foreseeable future. Of course if the Mayans turn out to have possessed second sight, this will all be a moot point rather shortly. No doubt my heaven will involve pecan trees, a screened porch and the smell of gardenia. Perhaps I'll be able to eat all the fried chicken I want, washing it down with a mixture of my mama's tea and some fine KY bourbon, which incidentally is my second favorite thing to come out of KY. The list may only be two items long, but second place ain't bad.
On a recent trip home, meant to assuage my seemingly incurable homesickness, I happened across Atlanta magazine featuring a cover story that shouted for my attention. "How Southern Are We? And Do We Really Care?" or something of that nature. It's a valid pair of questions, as Atlanta has always, always been a new city, a work in progress that turns its nose up at the uppity coastal dames. As a major US city, home to a huge foreign born population, could Atlanta still be Southern?
I have no answers for the general population, only for myself. We may be a new breed of Southern, but we're still that society working hard to be friendly, hospitable, and a little more gracious than our Midwestern and Northern neighbors. Does it matter? I have no idea and really don't give a damn. It matters to me, my Mama and my Daddy. That's enough.
In a gift shop somewhere off I-65 in northern Alabama I once spotted a wonderful pink shirt that proudly proclaimed "American by birth. Southern by the grace of God." My companion on the trip thought I was kidding when I began digging through the pile seeking a version that could accommodate my food loving self, until I spied one, declared victory and headed to the cash register. I'd like to say that I now own that delightfully tacky piece of Southern chic, but alas, my steadfast friend managed to wrest it from my grasp and tell me in no uncertain terms, that I would not be leaving with that piece of fabric.
So of course I left empty-handed and dejected, returning to the car to complete our drive down to the Redneck Riviera. After a few or fifty miles of pouting, a realization stole over me that comforted me greatly: my shirt may not spell out my regional patriotism, but anyone who's ever met me knows its engraved on my heart.