At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Blue and Gray

On Sunday afternoon at four p.m. Central time, I steered our Nissan Quest back into our driveway in St. Charles, Missouri, easing our week-long vacation to a gentle halt. We had experienced a whirlwind of activity in that short time: seeing dear friends along the way, enjoying a series of Atlanta points of interest, eaten way too much barbecue, strolled the streets of little Senoia, Georgia, and seeing the world of AMC's The Walking Dead, and generally wishing we had more time to see more places and friends.

All of which led me to think deeply about this reality: Born in Kansas, I am a Northerner who has lived the majority of his life below the Mason-Dixon Line, and so I'm able to bring a unique perspective to life in America and the North-South divide. There are plenty of stereotypes on both sides: what Yankees uncharitably believe about Southerners, as well as some knee-jerk assumptions people of the South have against members of the Union.

So I thought, there are three perspectives about this: the Yankee's, the Southerner's, and the truth.

And I also thought: Nah, there's a fourth perspective. Mine.

In the spirit of Pat Conroy, who allowed Leopold Bloom King to give us the ten things Yankees hate about Southerners in South of Broad, allow me to give my own rambling list of impressions of North and South.

1. Understand this, my Yankee friends: Southerners are not uncouth, ignorant, uneducated clods, no matter what conclusions you reach based on their drawls and accents. When it comes to higher education, yes the North has Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Notre Dame. But I'd put the Southern quartet of Duke, Rice, Vanderbilt, and the University of Virginia up against them any day.

2. To my Southern friends: The Civil War, the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression...whatever the deuce you want to label's over. And stop blaming me for what the Union armies did. And stop acting like Yankees today had something to do with that. Like me. I mean, I'll admit to killing only three Rebels at Gettysburg. That's all.

3. Yankee folks, you need a serious lesson on food. Don't get me wrong. There's some great eating up north, which I'll get to next. But holy cow...when you fire up the grill for hot dogs, burgers, steaks, and stuff, that is NOT a barbecue! That is a cookout!

4. Southerners, you can talk good food all you want, let alone which region is the king of barbecue--be it North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, or Memphis. But your region does not have the only grip on fantastic grub. Chicago's Italian beef sandwiches, Philadelphia's cheesesteaks, Wisconsin's brats, Yankee pot roast all over New England, and St. Louis' thin crust pizza with luscious provel cheese--the North has a lot of fabulous victuals.

5. Northern companions: If you ever--EVER--go to the Varsity in Atlanta, when the cashiers ask "What'll ya have?", you need to have a game plan. Have your order ready. And if you want a plain hot dog, for the love of all the soldiers who fell at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, DON'T call it a "hot dog". It's a "Naked Dog". And yes, it helps if you blend in and call it a "nekkid dog".

6. Southern friends: It's clear to me that you enjoy the Southeastern Conference's recent dominance in college football, winning every national championship since 2006. And great programs like the ACC's Florida State and Clemson have added to the championship legacy. But outside of Alabama's kingship and a couple of blips elsewhere, it was not always so. Great tradition exists at Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Nebraska. Enjoy your time on top; these things are cyclical and will eventually recalibrate themselves.

7. Yankees: The South is not a demographic swath of racist, sexually deviant hicks. Northerners exhibit racism as well, evident in the white flight to many suburbs across the nation. Incest and shameful bed activity takes place on both side of the Blue-Gray divide; the difference is that--as Erskine Caldwell showed so ably by penning Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre--Southerners write about it more eloquently. And there are rednecks, hicks, whatever you call them, everywhere. But the South manages to give theirs creative names, like Cooter, Biscuit, and Potato Salad.

8. Rebels and Rebellettes: You are a very warm and friendly bunch. Not doubt about it. But stop these accusations that Northerners are unfriendly and cold. They may never match your warmth or consistently call complete strangers "Pumpkin" or "Babe" or "Sweetie". What you have to understand is the Great North slides more toward the introvert end of the Myers-Briggs scale. Yankees like people. They just have a few more relational filters to get through. Be patient.

9. You can tell where someone is from based on how he'd greet the preacher after church. If he says, "I really enjoyed your sermon this morning," chances are you're in the Deep South. If he says, "I got a lot out of the service this morning," peg him as a Yankee. And if he says, "Gotta go to the ballpark and boo the Easter Bunny," you're in Philadelphia.

10. So the debate comes to this: Where's the best place to live? And I would say this: I have found a way to love something about every place I've lived, from Blue Rapids, Kansas to Richmond, Virginia to Louisville, Kentucky to Jackson, Mississippi (okay, not so much Jackson) to Westminster and Baltimore in Maryland to Lookout Mountain, Georgia (college) to St. Louis, Missouri (seminary) to Moreland, Georgia to Lafayette and Opelousas, Louisiana to Charlottesville, Virginia to Salisbury, North Carolina (well, just the BBQ there...little else otherwise) to Wellington, Florida to suburban St. Louis once more. I am a Yankee who loves where I came from, who loves the South that has given me so much to enjoy.

I am Blue. I am Gray. It is what it is. And I wouldn't want to be any other way.

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