Friday, April 12, 2013

Why I’m Actually More Southern Since I Moved North

The redbuds in bloom at my folks' place this spring.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been Southern. But that doesn’t mean I always fit in down South, because that certainly wasn’t the case. I asked too many questions about the “wrong” things. It too rarely occurred to me to be intimidated (or quiet).

A friend sent me a quote from Reese Witherspoon recently: "Being a Southern person and a blonde, it's not a good combination. Immediately, when people meet you, they think of you as not being smart." 

I was too ornery to be willing to fit in (actually, there were years where the idea of “fitting in” just appalled me). I wanted to be accepted – loved – for who I was (who doesn’t?), not for how much I was willing to pretend to be something else. To me, that “love” earned by pretending just wasn’t worth it. 

Thankfully, the orneriness got (mostly) sanded down. I started to learn that it was okay if who I was happened to fit in, and it was even good if not quite fitting in made me look at myself honestly and be willing to bend and grow. And I discovered the joy of being flexible in all the stuff that isn’t at the core of who I am. (I’m still growing in that one!)

But it wasn’t until I moved to Chicagoland that I started to really recognize what is at the core of who I am, and what it is for me to be Southern, in my own unique way. 

I started to realize how deep that “Come on, have some more tea and sit a spell” instinct for comfortable hospitality runs. I started to recognize the welcome of being flexible to be really open to the other. And I started to know the joy of sharing some of my culture – most of which I’d never realized was culture – with those around me. 

There are things you don’t appreciate until they’re hard to find. I’d barely thought about what made barbeque barbeque (and good) until I couldn’t seem to find any. And making great biscuits was much less of a priority when I could get great ones at most any corner diner.

The trappings matter more when suddenly they’re not so common.

But they matter even more for what they express. A generous warmth and welcome. Taking your time to give something personal. Making friends (and strangers) part of the family. Noticing the best that's around you...not over-complicating things...taking your time...getting it just right...and most of all, savoring every morsel of life and being grateful.