I would cross the Mason-Dixon line in Maryland on Interstate 81 south coming from New York and think, “warm weather awaits”.
Then I moved South.
I would cross the Mason-Dixon line in Maryland on Interstate 81 north coming from North Carolina and think, “home awaits”.
Then I moved back North.
And it seems that I can’t wait to cross that Mason-Dixon line again.
Crossing over that imaginary line formed centuries ago, later being the official separation of the North from the South, still feels like you’re going into territory where you might not belong. Northerners are Yankees. Southerners are Rednecks. (Newsflash: Northerners are Rednecks too!) The Civil War was won by The North, but people say is still being fought by The South. It’s an odd thing to find that I don’t remember more than a unit of learning about the Civil War in school. But my husband (a southerner) remembers almost an entire school year dedicated to it. A co-worker of mine once told me when she and her husband moved to North Carolina (from Ohio), she was surprised when an older neighbor came over to introduce herself and promptly went into stories about her family home being ransacked by Yankees during the Civil War. But “Bless your heart, my dear. I hope you are not like that!” A difference for me, a then 27 year old Upstate New Yorker, hearing these things! How in the world does someone have that much gall to introduce themselves and then assume and accuse but do it in such a way that feels like an insult and compliment all at once?
It’s only something I’ve found in the south. Sometimes I still can’t figure out intentions. I find it a bit endearing. And now oddly … welcoming.
Growing up in the boonies of Upstate New York I always thought going south was just for vacations. Florida was nice. The beaches, pristine. Stingrays would swim between my sister and I near St. Pete Beach. Sun burns and Banana Boat tanning oil. Everything in between was just a whole day in the car and lots of “Are we there yet?” When people I knew started moving to North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia it was beyond me as to why! Why not Boston or New York City? Why not stay north? Isn’t this the place where it all “happens”?! I was naive. I didn’t know any better. I wanted to be a business woman, pounding the sidewalks in New York City with my stilettos and suit. Until I started going on Spring Break and came back to snow. Until I realized warmth wasn’t just in the temperatures, it was in the people. One year I actually cried when I came back – in shorts and all – from a hot, beach filled vacation to … a snowstorm. Then began the quest to get anywhere outside of the snow belt. It took me 8 years to get there, but I finally did.
Sometimes I still wish I was the important woman in stilettos. But I’m glad I’m not. I’m glad I took the chance. I’m glad I moved south.
I fought it at first. I fought the south and it’s crazy. The BBQ, collards and scrapple. I still fight the scrapple. I grew up knowing BBQ as chicken breast, wings and legs, hot dogs or burgers you throw on the grill … and char to black! It’s not this mushy crap doused in vinegar and spices! The first time I ordered “BBQ chicken” I wanted to cry realizing it wasn’t the northern specialty. That took some time. And now I love it so much that it was the catered meal at our southern wedding. Butterbeans were new. Collards were new. Fried okra. Fried pickles. Cornbread. Sausage gravy and homemade biscuits. B-o-j-a-n-g-l-e-s. All new. All amazing. Sweet tea needed some time, and also sweet potatoes. Still not my favorite, but I’m learning.
When I met my now husband, a born and raised small town North Carolinian, I knew it was over. I was already becoming immersed in the culture, and now I knew I’d be marrying it. I couldn’t fight it any more.
So I embraced it.
I still missed New York and my boonies with every thread in my body. I missed good pizza and good wings. I missed good Italian. I missed Wegmans and I missed my comfort zone. But this new place with so many differences started opening my mind to literally a whole new world.
And then I learned that the south was actually progressive and very ‘happening’, which was more than the north I knew (and in a generalized sense, still know). It must be because they have long warm seasons. Much more time for activities. More time for health and wellness. More time for stretching minds and cultivating creativity. The banking capital in Charlotte. Research Triangle in Raleigh. Richmond and it’s call to residents to “bring us some ideas, let’s get your business up and running … oh and by the way … if your business plan is the best, we’ll pay for it!” All of this and southerners will find any reason to have a fancy dress up party. Northerners will too. But will northerners I know show up in party dresses, bow ties and seer sucker suits? Probably not. The Kentucky Derby is just one example. You don’t have to be in Louisville, Kentucky to wear your best dress and your biggest hat. One year we went to the Virginia Gold Cup races at Great Meadows in Virginia. We were lucky and got invited to party with our friends on ‘the rail’ (tailgating done to a T in the closest spot to the horse racing action). Big colorful hats and dresses flooded the fields. Guys in their Ray Bans, seer sucker suits, pinks, yellows, teals, hats, suspenders and bow ties everywhere. Our spread consisted of tables with decorations, silver punch bowls and pretty serving dishes. Some plots went big with deco that could rival a Rose Bowl parade float. It was a day I’ll never forget. This day, right around Easter, is the official welcoming of warm weather and cold drinks. Sundresses and shenanigans. Bow ties and board shorts. Now that we’re back up north, I presented the idea of a ‘Derby Day Party’ to our local brewery and never got an answer. I assume because they didn’t think it was a good idea. Or maybe they just didn’t know what it entails. Sad for them. Sad for the rest of our area.
I thought “…wait…do we belong here?”
I now make a mean BBQ pulled pork, jalapeno mac’n cheese, cast iron cornbread, peach cobbler and sausage gravy & biscuits. It’s been requested that I bake a chess pie the way my husband’s small town North Carolina grandmother used to make. (That’s a tall order and I think I may need some practice.) But I can also whip up salt potatoes and BBQ chicken marinated in Cornell Sauce to be charred up nice and black on the grill like a true New Yorker. I say y’all sometimes without realizing it, or when I’m frustrated. But after I’ve had a few, my Upstate accent comes out just fine.
The wicked web of opening up Pandora’s Box. Moving to uncharted waters. Learning and living and loving. Creating new traditions and in a way mourning the old. My mind and eyes are opening to new experiences, but with these new experiences I wonder “where DO I belong now? Where is my heart?”
And just like the snap of a finger I know.
It’s in TWO places now.
Crossing that Mason Dixon line going “home” to New York made my heart warm and comfy. It still does.
But crossing it going back south does now too.