Have you ever felt like you belonged somewhere else?
It’s almost as if you have your real identity, and then a geographic identity? Well, for much of my life, I have been a Northerner who always wanted to be a Southerner.
Born and raised in Ohio, I spent much of my time with my grandmother, who dreamed of being a southern belle. I would often stay the night with her and watched those iconic southern films that we all know and love. It might have been 20 degrees outside, but here we were on her orange velvet sofa, eating frozen grapes and practicing our best southern accents.
My grandmother stressed the importance of manners. She also taught me how to dress for every occasion, and above all else, how to be a lady! As I grew older, I vividly remember her taking me to Merle Norman to have my “colors matched” so that my make-up would be subtle and lady-like. To this day, I can not pass a Merle Norman store and not think of her and smile. She was a true steel magnolia; in a northern landscape.
When I graduated from college, I applied to a teaching program in New Orleans, without any explanation, other than I just felt so incredibly drawn to southern culture. I thought it was my life mission to go and teach in the South. Life threw a curveball, and my application to this teaching program had been rejected, despite my confidence. I ended up accepting a fantastic job opportunity on the West coast.
Life was moving forward quickly, and I no longer thought about the South much as I used to. There were occasional moments where I had what one might call “heart pangs” when I would finish a great novel set in the South or talk to someone from there and think: “I really would love it there.”
However, the reality is, a book, a movie, or a conversation are not real reasons to move somewhere, right? Probably not, and they weren’t for me. Some might call it intuition, while others might call it a spiritual experience, but sometimes you already know what you already know.
On a sunny day in April, I met the man who would soon be my husband. Tall, dark, handsome, and unbeknownst to me, he was from South Mississippi. He sounded like Johnny Cash, and we closed down the Dairy Keene on our first date. After being politely asked to leave, we continued our three-hour conversation at a nearby park.
After our engagement, my husband and I visited Mississippi. He wanted to show me where he grew up and introduce me to extended family and friends that I had not met yet; I felt instantly at home.
We drove through town and down the backroads in his obnoxiously loud, old, green truck; his pride and joy from his high school days. As we were driving through the tall pines and crepe myrtle trees, I just knew we would end up moving back there one day. Two years later, we did! I have been a Mississippian ever since.
I had visited several southern states throughout my life, but I had never been to Mississippi. Honestly, I do not believe I had ever given Mississippi much thought. I feel like many people forget about Mississippi. Or, when they do remember The Magnolia State, it is often for something negative.
So, let me be clear when I say I LOVE Mississippi. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for me. It has history, hospitality, culture, fabulous food, the blues, and a literary wrap sheet that makes any book lover swoon.
The great William Faulkner once said: “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.”
Amen, Mr. Faulkner, amen.
For years my narrative has been “Ohio is home.” It’s been an exciting and very natural transition for me over the last decade or so, and now “Mississippi is home.” I am incredibly grateful for my northern roots and southern wings, and I wholeheartedly believe that we can have both!
Often named as a “southern transplant,” I have heard many conversations about being a born and raised southerner, southern traditions, and southern ways. So here is an interesting question: What about the people who choose to be Southern?
People, like me, who love “southern living” so much that they’ve left behind four seasons, a different culture, and probably some family and friends to be southern. That’s loyalty and love if you ask me! My passion for the South continues to grow, just like my hair in the middle of August!
Being southern is so much more than an accent or a monogram; it is a way of life.
Locals support locals, neighbors help neighbors, and the everyday things we often take for granted, are appreciated and valued. Sure, I’ve had to learn a few new words, and I’ve encountered fire ants more than I’d like to admit! I had no idea what my life was missing without grits and greens, and I’m on a first-name basis with everyone at our local grocery store. My week wouldn’t be complete without Ms. Liz telling me to have a blessed day, and you know what? I always do.
Has there been a learning curve? Yes. Has it been worth it? Oh, yes, ma’am! There’s nothing and nowhere else like the South. Intention and tradition are so alive and well in the South that it’s moved into my heart, put up a white picket fence, and stayed there.
As I listen to the sound of cicadas from my front porch in the evening, I often wonder what life would be like if I had lived somewhere else. Life is what you make it, of course, so I know I would be happy in other places too. But here, in Mississippi, I’m at home.
So, even though I wasn’t born in the South, I live here now, and it’s by choice, not by birthright or chance. I used to wonder what it would be like to be a Southerner. Now, I do believe I am one. I am Southern, by choice.