My Southern accent is as thick as mule-turned molasses in January. Being born and raised in LA, Lower Alabama, that is, I didn’t stand a chance of emerging unscathed into the world of proper diction. So whenever I wander from the confines of the Mason-Dixon Line, the first thing I’m asked is, “Where are you from?”
“Alabama,” I say, and then I wait for the knowing nod. What comes next is always a crap shoot. Sometimes people will ask me if I happen to know their second cousin, twice removed, who they think may live somewhere around Birmingham, or maybe Mobile, they’re not sure. Since the population of Alabama is nearly five million people, I figure I probably don’t know their second cousin, twice removed, but I always give them the courtesy of thinking about it for a moment or two. Then I politely say I don’t believe I do.
After that, if the conversation continues, things really get fun. Sometimes stereotypes come spilling out of people’s mouths in ways that would be offensive if we weren’t so used to it. But more often than not, a true dialog begins. What is it like, they want to know. What is the South really like? I can only tell them what it is like from my perspective, which usually goes like this:
The South is a place filled with the kinds of contradictions that make for great stories and passionate storytellers. At times, conflict permeates the air with the heavy thickness of a still, August night. Other times, laughter fills the evening breeze in a way that brings easy sleep. Family ties run deep here, which leads to all kinds of mischief and tragedy. Friendships abide highs and lows, and most of the time we come back to each other. We play hard and sometimes go to church with hang-overs. We like marriage so much a lot of us do it more than once. We like to eat and we like to grow food, and quite a few of us know how to hunt and fish for it, too. Our urban areas are filled with great restaurants and symphonies and playhouses, and our musical history is as rich as it gets. We brew alcohol in one county and forbid it in the next. We ride everything from Harleys to mules, and I once had a childhood friend whose sister’s horse kicked her sister so hard their father got rid of all of their horses, so they rode cows.
We are aware of our history, and in many ways we are bound by it. We can’t dismiss the racial injustice and reactionary political BS as if it never happened and isn’t still. Many of us desperately want to break the cycle. We are sorry that this is what you see of the South in your history books and modern news articles. We wish we could move on, though it seems not everyone here is convinced we should.
And so it goes. Many people want to know why we stay in the South, as if it is a burden to live in the land of our birth. Many of us are spiritually and emotionally tied to landscapes and families and traditions that are not easily forgotten. Most of us find our niche here. We are happy, and sometimes the absurdity of the South is the very thing that draws us to it.
We stay because we want to stay. Besides, where else are we going to find sweet tea?
Wynn Malone is the author of two novels; the recently published Finding the Grain (Bywater Books), and Blown Away (Harrington Park Press), which she wrote under the pseudonym, Perry Wynn. She can be reached through her website at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find her on Facebook and Twitter. Leave a comment here for a chance to win a signed copy of Finding the Grain.