Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Thoughts on Living in the South
So I live in the south. When Shane and I were engaged we discussed where we wanted to move after he graduated. The plan was anywhere but the desert or the south. Of course, plans change.
The first time I visited the South was when Shane and I were dating. We went to his sister, Sara's wedding reception back in Arkansas. (I have told many people here in Tennessee that I married someone from the south, but when they hear that it is Arkansas, they let me know that Arkansas is not actually the south. People in Arkansas disagree. You decide for yourself.)
My first introduction to the South was walking out of the airport into a wall of water. It was evening, not terribly hot, but the humidity was so intense, it knocked me over. And I mean that literally. I fell down. Right in front of Shane's family waiting for us.
The drive home was just as unnerving. I had never seen such pitch black for so long. Did I mention that Shane grew up in rural Arkansas? Just a few porch lights along the way to break up the inky blackness.
When we got to his house, I couldn't stop staring. His home was like out of a storybook. A perfect yellow country home complete with a wrap around porch and swing. Huge maples framed the yard that was blooming with hydrangeas. I would have continued to enjoy the moment, but I opened the car door. I was choking in humidity and then immediately alarmed at at a defining rushing noise. I had never heard such a strange sound. From every direction was this immense hum, and stranger yet, no one else seems to find it worth mentioning. Our bags were carried in and I grabbed Shane by the arm.
"What is that sound?!"
Shane stopped and listened. "I don't hear anything."
"That rushing sound, it is everywhere!"
"Oh. The katydids. They are like crickets. They always make that sound."
My month dropped. Always? How could anyone live with all this noise?
Inside, I tried to put the freakish noise and horrible dampness out of my mind. It wasn't too hard. Not only was Shane's family wonderful, but the house was literally out of a dream. My room was upstairs in a renovated attic, complete with slanted ceiling and a huge handmade quilt. That night I watched with total rapture as the night was illuminated with fireflies (my first ever) and then made it's way into the most frighting and exciting storm I had ever witnessed. I opened the window (one of those fantastic ones that opens out instead of up. ) I let the mist of water wash over my face, rinsing away the strange film of sweat that seemed constant in this climate. Shane came in during the middle of the night and cuddled with me as we watched the lightening crash around us. That night still holds a place in my top ten.
By the next day I had prepared myself for the humidity and the noise. What I was not prepared was seeing my surroundings in the daytime. I could not believe that I was still in the same country that I had been in only 24 hours earlier. GREEN. EVERYWHERE. Now I am from Washington State, so you would think that I would be used to green. This was green in chaos. Huge kudzu plants overwhelmed mammoth trees making strange and beautiful natural sculptures. The forests were nothing like I was used to. They seemed totally impenetrable, as if three steps into the trees you would be hopelessly lost. Instead of the open, fresh mountain air from the forests around my home, this air always seemed too close, like it was pushing downward. I started feeling very claustrophobic. A strange sensation granting the fact that it took us at least 30 minutes to drive anywhere resembling a "hub" of humanity.
After a couple days I began to feel more at ease. The charm and beauty of Northwest Arkansas is famous for a reason and I started looking at with different eyes. I started to think how these were the mountains that Shane explored as a child. These were the sounds that he heard. The southern accents (that I had a very hard time understanding if they were thick enough), were the voices Shane heard most of his childhood. That made me feel so much more comfortable. - Strangely Shane has no trace of a southern accent. He said didn't want one, so he never let one develop. Interesting, no?
A few months after our trip to Arkansas, Shane and I got engaged. The south would be a part of my life. However, we both agreed that it wasn't somewhere was wanted to live. Just visit.
Of course, as I mentioned, things change. Shane got several job offers and the best ones came from Vegas and the mountains of North Carolina. Through much prayer, we decided on North Carolina.
Oh, how I love the mountains of North Carlina. We found a perfectly lovely mountain home with a screened-in porch overlooking the most idyllic meadow. The closest business was a farmers market with peaches so succulent, I could cry just thinking about them. We didn't mind being so very (very) far from everything because Shane had a company car and a gas card. We drove the 2 hours to Atlanta two or three times a month to remain in touch with humanity. The rest of the time we frequented the local BBQ joints (the west has NOTHING like them. Total bliss), explored charming small town festivals, hiked to the many waterfalls in the area, or just relaxed on our porch. Life did get slower, but we welcomed the change.
Not everything was perfect of course. The winters here are drab and depressing with the total disappearance of leaves. I used to say everything looked like mordor from Lord of the Rings :) I was lonely at times, but we found wonderful friends soon enough. The humidity was still oppressive, but the temperature was cooler in the mountains. I learned that if you shower right before bed and then again in the morning, that nasty film isn't so bad. The bugs were really never something you can get used to. The sound they make does become a gentle lull after a while, but the size and enormity of them is horrifying. Don't open the door at night when the porch light is on. It is like something from Indian Jones and the temple of doom.
And..... our house was haunted - a topic for another post -That was terrifying and entertaining at the same time. (I'm really not joking. Haunted.)
We also discovered that the quaint little mountain that we resided on used to be owned by a white supremest church. - My parents came to visit soon after we moved and my dad discovered a strange monument in the woods while looking through our binoculars. We went to go explore when suddenly we were being yelled at by a man in overalls pointing a shotgun at us. - How's that for stereotypical? - Apparently the monument was a tribute to the white supremest leader and this gun wielding man wanted none of our "kind 'round here". I calmly explained that I was his new neighbor and we just wanted to know what this monument was. I should have guessed that it was something awful when I noticed that it was wrapped in barbed wire and riddled with bullet holes.
(I never did see that neighbor again. Maybe he was a ghost too....)
So here we are. Over 5 years of living in the south. We moved to Chattanooga 4 years ago this month and it is a wonderful place to live. It is a large enough city that we have everything we need. (Except a Nordstrom) I love my home and my friends. I understand even the very thickest of accents. I am amazingly used to the humidity and instead of the air feeling too close, it seems safe. The air is condensed and often thickly scented with grass and honeysuckle, enough that even my house is perfumed by the smell when I leave the windows open.
I love living here. I know. Who would have guessed.
I will say though.....those southern stereotypes....all of them; they are very much alive...and shopping at the local wal-mart.