There are lots of reasons to like living in the South. Today's lunch is a perfect example. Where else but the South is mac and cheese considered a vegetable? Then there is my barbecue sandwich. Last night we went out to dinner. It was a little over twenty dollars for my wife and myself, but the meal, mine was barbecue and fried chicken, was such a bargain (Fat Fellas, Newport, NC) that we brought home enough barbecue that we had plenty for sandwiches today.
Food is just the icing on the cake for those of us living far from the snow belt country. One of the neatest things about the people here is that it takes almost nothing to get people talking. You can strike up a conversation almost anywhere and most times people enjoy sharing their lives, the best of their area and tips on what to do and where to go. If you go to most big cities people stare at the ground or at their smartphones. Now we have plenty of smartphone users here but if you get out of the urban areas, you will often find that people use them more for sharing pictures of their families than they do texting or calling.
Then there is the climate. As I have heard many times before, no one moves north to retire. That is undoubtedly true but brings some problems since there are a few folks from the North who have a hard time adjusting to the South. I like to blame the gate in our subdivision on folks from far away who have no idea how insane it is to have a gate on subdivision with pine forests and cornfields as neighbors and a river bordering another side. Still most of the folks from away get with the program and learn some of the Southern graces.
With the climate comes the opportunity to grow lots of things. We manage to grow something almost year round in our garden. We planted Swiss chard last fall, we are still eating off of it and will likely continue to do so through the summer until we plant some more next fall. We picked our last ripe large tomato on December 27 this past year. We finally picked the last of our ripe and green cherry tomatoes on January 17. It was just before the first really hard frost. We have finally finished six weeks of marathon lettuce eating and sharing. Our two four packs of Romaine and Buttercrunch lettuce yielded thirty-one heads. We ate lettuce two meals a day for weeks. When our lettuce finally ran out, we had given away close to half of it and were excited that another neighbor brought us some red leaf lettuce. We had ripe strawberries the first week in April. Just how quickly do ripe strawberries remove any thoughts of what passes for winter down here? If we get some warm weather soon, we will be swamped with homegrown tomatoes by early June. Eventually we will need to find homes for the tasty, deep red tomatoes that count as a complete meal here if you just add Duke's mayonnaise, salt, pepper and bread.
Sharing is another part of life in the South. I have to add that in any farming area, New England, Maritime Canada, and the rest of the US and Canada, sharing is built into farming communities. However, because the South is still close to its rural roots, you find many people who go out of their way to share. The shared bounty could be an extra pumpkin for a pie, some bulbs to plant for spring color, a mess of collards, a fresh spring cabbage, spare tomato plants, a bucket of pecans or whatever people have to give. Folks on our home turf do not want things to go to waste. If they have something that you can use, generally they are happy for you to use it.
Then there is advice. There is a Southern way of giving advice and it is perhaps a kinder, gentler way of offering suggestions. People are willing to show you how they have done something whether it is planting, building, making crafts, baking or cooking. People here in the South are generous with their knowledge and often go out of their way to share what they have learned.
Next there is neighborliness. Again that is something you will find in almost any rural community but it is still widely present in the real South. People want to be good neighbors and will put up with a lot just to remain on good terms. Unless you are living next door to a transplant that did not take when planted in Southern soil, you will not have any trouble getting someone to watch your house like it is their own when you travel or help you out in any emergency.
A special part of life are the church families in the South that reach out with open arms to everyone. There is little danger of not being able to find a compatible church home in the much of the South. We have churches for every taste and imagination. Often there is food involved, sometimes even northern Lobsters. When my wife broke her ankle checking on a neighbor's cat in Roanoke, Virginia, I finally had to tell her to have the ladies of the church back off because we had run out of refrigerator room.
Finally there is reverence and respect. You will still find Southern people who try to pull off to the side of the road to let a funeral procession pass. I will never forget the funeral of RJ Berrier, my longtime friend, and former newsman from Mount Airy, North Carolina. As we rode through the streets of Mount Airy, we found a police car at every intersection. In front of each car stood a policeman with his hat over his heart. RJ had been a part of many lives. He wrote for many people their birth announcements, the notice when they had graduated from high school, and their obituary when they died.
I know North Carolina is going through a tough time being the national spotlight for the wrong reasons. It pains me to see some of our out-of -touch politicians and governor going to great lengths to make life miserable for a few people who have had a tough time living in their own skins. In my humble opinion, I would rather share a bathroom with a transgender person than someone who voted for HB2.
Life in the South is not perfect, but it is a little like what I have heard about democracy. It beats all the alternatives.