Friday, July 08, 2011

Roots in the South

After picking blackberries at a friend's farm the other morning, the boys and I sat on a lovely old porch under the shade of pecan trees, and had a conversation about growing up "southern."  When my older children were young, we lived in New England.  Our daughter, Erin, never lived in the south, since she went off to college in Massachusetts before we moved to North Carolina.  Jonathan lived here in NC with us for a couple of years before leaving for the same college up north as Erin.  My four younger boys have spent more time down south and they've mostly shed any traces of their New England younger years in accent and leanings, except perhaps that a couple of them root for the Red Sox.

I'm one of those G.R.I.T.S - Girls Raised In The South.  Whatever stereotype comes to your mind when you read that, probably doesn't fit, except that I do know how to brew sweet tea and I love fried okra.  I grew up mostly in South Carolina with a few years in Georgia, then went to college in North Carolina.  After that, I left for parts far, far away...California, Kenya, a short bit in the northern Virginia/DC area (which doesn't count as the south), Massachusetts, and Cameroon.  Somehow, I never thought I'd live back down south.

Little did I know.  The move here in 2002 was very hard for me, leaving a tiny New England college town with no stoplight til the last couple of years we lived there.  We walked or rode bikes everywhere, saw people we knew all the time in the grocery store and post office, let the kids go just about anywhere they wanted in the woods and fields nearby.  We played in the river behind our house, ice skated in the back yard, helped friends boil maple syrup a time or two, wore LLBean mucky-muck boots a lot, and cross-country skiied out the back door.  Some of those things, you don't do in the south.

When I lived in New England, I loved it.  But, though I was very, very happy there, in some ways it never felt quite like home.  My mom supplied me with a Southern Living subscription every year.  My children, unlike their New England buddies, said "yes, ma'am" and "yes, sir" (well, some of the time) and apparently, according to them, whenever I talked on the phone to my sister, my southern accent was particularly pronounced.  They say they could always tell when it was Aunt Anne was on the phone by how I sounded.

So, though the move was a hard one and I left behind a very beloved place, I felt like I was coming home. Back to the comfort of people who call complete strangers "honey" and  say "bless your heart."  But it's more than that. I've learned since returning to the south, more than I knew before about those deep southern roots - French Huguenots, on my dad's side who emigrated to South Carolina in the 1700's, and Scotch Irish on my mom's side, going back a long way in the Carolinas, too.  My husband also has deep southern roots, too, and famous ancestors, to boot. Charles and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, were signers of the Constitution.  I'm no genealogy buff like others in our families, but I appreciate those who have tracked these connections down.

This summer we've had two very special opportunities to explore those southern roots in a more tangible way.  Next post, I'll tell you about the Rocky River connection and how it seems, to me, rather amazing that I live so near to where my great, great, great grandfather on my mother's side served faithfully as a minister for 35 years and spearheaded the building of a beautiful country church.  Somehow, knowing this has made me feel more like I belong here... at least for now.


GrammaGrits said...

I, too, am one of those GRITS but have been gone for almost 40 years. There are no plans to return, but I do understand what you mean - there's no other part of the country exactly like it. There's a kindness there, and I'm thankful for my heritage!

tonia said...

My dad was born and raised in Missouri. He made us fried okra. I liked it! And fried catfish too. But I am a 5th generation Yankee and proud of it. Really, the South is like a foreign country to me. Maybe you can persuade me down there some day...when it's not too hot and humid. :)

Susan said...

I love reading stories like this, and you tell yours so well! :-)

My family came to the New World in 1657, and no one ever moved south (either in the eastern or western US). We've been in Oregon since the middish-1800's.

I have never had okra, but I want to try it.