Gone to Carolina in My Mind…But My Body’s a Lot Happier Here, Thanks

Who knew? I’m part of a tribe: GRITS. Girls Raised in The South. 

I just learned that from a bumper sticker, back in my home state of North Carolina on a visit with my besties from high school. The fact that I never heard this term when I lived there, 24 years ago, tells me something.

Roots change. Or rather, our sense of where we come from, and how we feel about it–that changes. Continuously, it turns out.

When The Mate and I moved, in 1990, it was largely out of frustration. North Carolina had just re-elected Senator Jesse Helms for a SIXTH term. A baldly racist campaign, playing on white fears of preferential treatment for blacks, left us feeling shaken and soured. So much for the “New South.”

Then there was the weather. We were both distance runners. The only way to get our workout in during the summer was to be out the door by 6 am. That got old real fast.

In the Pacific Northwest, we found a home, both culturally and geographically. I developed a mantra for explaining to people how I felt about the South.

“I only miss five things,” I’d say. “My parents, Tarheel basketball, big ol’ oak trees, fried chicken, and BBQ.” For years, I said that.

Now, thinking back over the sweaty weekend I just spent with my girls on the coast, I realize my non-nostalgia is more nuanced. Here are some other things I’ve missed:

#1. Flat-out Wackiness. The South has a special affection for “characters.” Despite its insistence on conformity in most issues of dress and religion and Livin’ Right, if you’re a “character,” you can not only get away with quite a bit, you’re loved for it. Example: The Mary’s Gone Wild Folk Art compound we discovered. Part connected treehouses, part structures of bottles stuck in mortar–think End of Star Wars III meets The Burrow from Harry Potter, with a little Gothic Pippi Longstocking thrown in.

Building inspectors aren't too picky in Supply, NC.

Building inspectors aren’t too picky in Supply, NC.

Mary's Gone Wild! But she's good folks.

Mary’s Gone Wild! But she’s good folks.

#2. Summer Veggies. Having not been back in the summer for years and years, I had forgotten about SWEET sweet corn, velvety slabs of ripe tomato, basil bursting weedlike out of gardens. And the watermelon? Makes me feel like crying just thinking about it. We don’t get enough sun here in the Pacific Northwest to grow hot-weather crops that taste the way they were meant to.

#3. Quaint vestiges of respect built into conversation. “Yes, ma’am, these peaches are ripe.” And my mom, who tutors a guy older than me who’s finally learning to read, says he calls her “Miss Martha.”

#4. Did I mention wackiness? These ironic flamingos decorated our rental house:

Is that even legal?

Is that even legal?

#5. Boiled peanuts. Just try ’em, ok? You’ll see what I mean.

#6. Fried pickles. Ditto.

Of course I bumped into several items to add to my WHAT I DON’T MISS list, namely:

#1. Smoking. YECCCCCCCCCCCCCCCHHHHHHHHHH. People still smoke a lot more in NC than they do here. And there’s still tobacco growing every old where.

#2. Billboards. Everywhere. Turning otherwise pretty land into pretty ugly land.

#. Humidity. Yeah, that one’s not new. But I had forgotten how much my HAIR hates it. I turned into a sticky, grumpy Mufasa. “Muuu-FASSS-ahhhh!”

But enough with the lists. I’m home now, and I’m curious about your own love-hate relationship with a place you once called home. What do you miss? What do you NOT miss? Share!

6 thoughts on “Gone to Carolina in My Mind…But My Body’s a Lot Happier Here, Thanks

  1. Tomatoes and basil, yes!!!! That’s what i miss mostly about Maryland. And lima beans. I can do very well without the heat and humidity though. From my childhood i miss mountains and meadows full of flowers. And alpine flowers up in the mountains.

  2. I’m from the South too! Of course, it is the south of California, but still…. I miss the beach and Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. I miss my family. I don’t miss earthquakes and smog.

  3. My husband’s a Californian too, and he has never gotten it out of his system. Still loves everything with apricots. 🙂 But hey, at least the LA smog is less than it used to be!

  4. I live on the same upstate New York rural road I lived on from ages 4.5 to nearly 21. My parents still live down the road; I am voluntarily and peacefully estranged from them, but the kids have grandparents within walking distance, and that’s a plus, because the other set is over in Oregon (maybe you can wave hi on your way home).

    It’s changed here. I miss the creaking hay wagons lurching and swaying across the field outside my bedroom window, where my parent’ pool is now. I miss the part of the road that was not paved, so that the Holsteins wouldn’t hurt their feet when brought across for milking. I miss the crushed stone and tar that made up the pavement. I miss the days when really the only traffic was people who lived here.

    But some of the neighbors are familiar, and there are still deer and foxes and wild turkeys and rabbits in the backyard, and I can still see the Green Mountains of Vermont out my living room window…

    Of course, I’ve had many homes, in many places. I miss geysers, elk, wolves, and bison. I miss the Pacific, banana slugs, fog and ferns as tall as my waste, and flowers in February. I miss mangroves and manatees and horseshoe crabs, coconut palms and alligators. I miss vast stretches of open air and broken rock, turquoise waters far far below, sage and juniper and “Please close the gate”, and the unspeakable beauty of the stars flung magnificently over the desert…

    And my hair – it’s in agreement with yours!

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