CHARMED BY THE SOUTH

short essay — julie matthews dunson

The South allures me in many ways. I love seeing many states join together like a big, quirky family and share in the common bonds that make them characteristically “Southern”. In addition to the thick, southern drawl, I believe the weather, long-steeped traditions, and unspoken code of manners are the overarching themes that conjure pride in natives and transplants alike. Granted, these are broad observations given of a large region, so of course there are outliers, but in general, I have found them to be both true and lovely.

The number one thing that seems to affect a region’s culture is the weather. From my childhood in Pennsylvania, fun memories of sledding became blotted out with memories of clearing snow and ice off my car or endlessly shoveling the driveway because the wet snow would get too heavy to shovel if one waited until the end of the storm. Also, nothing ever got canceled, so you best keep shoveling! Did I mention the wind-chill? This is a concept most southerners are blissfully unaware of. Temperature: 27 degrees, real feel: 10. I think weather is at the core of how a society at large relates to one another. When picturing Russia or New York City, we see a sea of people rushing around with their heads down trying to make it from A to B as quickly as possible. On the contrary, down south, we picture friendly small talk abounding, meanderers, and front porch sitters. And if/when it snowed, one could enjoy the beauty from one’s cozy sunroom because it was almost always guaranteed that flurries would cause major cancellations. And however mild winter was, spring would always come early, with happy flowers and people in its wake.

Next, I admire its traditions. One can definitely map out pros and cons of the following list, but coming from a Northern upbringing, perhaps I suffer from a “grass is greener” mentality. College football enthusiasm, family events, tailgating, fall excitement, baking biscuits and pies together, drinking sweet tea on the front porch, dressing up for the occasion (always pearls and bowties), are all shared activities that call to me. The north, being more diverse and independent in nature, has no one traditional cuisine or hobby that everyone understands and partakes of, and football is just for men. In the south, there’s a greater sense of pride, knowing that most of us are at or watching a college football game on Saturday, or making cornbread, black eyed peas, and collards on New Years.

Lastly, a word that comes to mind, when reflecting on the South is gentile. One of the ways this comes across is in the sense of being “put-together”. The care one takes to present their best version has a direct impact on how one behaves. Poise and manners fall right in line after appearance, as southerners tend to follow an unspoken code of conduct- the gentleman’s guide and the debutant lessons.

The most evident proof of North vs. South virtues is men holding doors for women, and the women accepting it occuring only below the Mason-Dixon line. In addition, hand-written notes, keeping up with grandmother, and minding your manners are actually carried into adulthood.

Since you’re stuck with your family, you might as well embrace the similarities that bring you closer, and the southern region capitalizes on this. When I experienced this tight-knit culture centered around sunny days, sweet tea, and a whole lot of “yes ma’ams”, it made me want to stay a while.

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