To a New York kid like me, Southerners were defined by “The Dukes of Hazzard”.
When my Dad suggested I apply to Emory University, I thought he wanted me to learn about overnight delivery services. It only took one gorgeous weekend on Emory’s campus in 1977 (my senior year of high school) to change my life. Now, every year that spring rolls around here in late February, I feel like I stole something.
Forty years down here and I still can’t get used to daffodils in February and azaleas in March.
Emory was an overall incredible experience. I even had some fun…
Yup, that’s my college fraternity composite. I had a lot of hair at one time and I can prove it.
After I graduated from Emory (English, not air freight), I headed back north to law school at Georgetown University. Three years back within spitting distance of home and back among the kind of folks I grew up with. During my second year at Georgetown, I campaigned with everyone else for a summer clerkship at a firm that would pay me far more than I was worth for a summer of writing memos and partying.
With law school graduation approaching, I applied to firms in New York, D.C. and Atlanta (of course). Although I had offers in all three places, I went with the firm that made me feel the most welcome, Hansell Post in Atlanta. Sadly, Hansell Post isn’t around anymore, but those of a certain age will remember it was the Pepsi to King & Spalding’s Coke.
And it was as Southern as sweet tea.
My father was apoplectic when I told him that I was going to eschew my offers from firms in NYC and D.C.; to quote Dad, directly, I was about to “throw away my law degree in that backwater!” I have always put great stock in my dad’s advice. Nonetheless, down to the backwater I went and, unlike Sherman, I never left.
I don’t think of myself as a Damn Yankee. It’s my choice to be Southern.
Georgia has been my home state for decades; but, I am not a Southerner. Not by a long shot. Ask me where I’m “from” and I will invariably (and proudly) reply “New York”. Hey, if you can make it there, right?
Yet, I chose to start my family in the South.
My lovely wife, Sarah, our two kids: Brian and Alison. #GoBraves!
I met my wife here in Atlanta and my two kids were born at the “baby factory” Northside Hospital. I root for the Braves, not the Mets, use “barbecue” as a noun, not a verb, and learned that a “Coke” can be a Sprite, Dr. Pepper, or Fanta.
I have been known to throw in a “y’all” from time to time and I love to quote one of my mentors, the late Bill Gibson, who used to say that someone who was in over his head “could fuck up a two-car funeral.”
Those things are just fitting in, though; they don’t make one a southerner any more than learning not to make eye contact on the subway makes you a New Yorker.
Unlike Gerald O’Hara, I have never felt any particular love for “land”.
But, it does seem after all these years that where you’re born does define who you are. I consider myself blessed to have grown up in New York. The Met, Radio City Music Hall, Times Square, Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, the Empire State Building, Wall Street, Central Park – all these icons and many, many, more were fixtures of my childhood, as familiar as breathing. I would not trade that upbringing for the world. Yet, I have lived happily in Atlanta for twice as many years as I lived in New York. Perhaps we just need to amend the old bumper sticker that used to read “American by Birth; Southern by the Grace of God” to say…
Although our memories of the comment differ, two things are certain: The cold does make me break out in hives and my Dad always supported me, whatever he may have thought about the wisdom of my decisions. After all, were it not for Dad, I might never have even heard of Emory or seen Druid Hills in the springtime.
As usual, written very well. Although I am growing old and don’t have as good a memory as I used to, I have one quibble. I don’t remember the quote you attribute to me about throwing away your law degree in that “backwater”. I knew you weren’t coming back to NY because of your chilblains, Go explain that to your southern friends.