I made my first foray into the south when I went to college. For 5 years, Nashville was my somewhat surprising home. I earned my Bachelor's and then my Master's. I met my husband and welcomed his proposal. I found friends. I learned about protective coloring. While my roots wander deep into southern Missouri and Illinois and the part of Florida that is more boats and gators and drawls than it is princesses and fairies, I was unprepared for pretty much all aspects of southern society done proper. I wouldn't say I mastered the skills but I did learn the value of a good set of pearls, a well placed "sugar," and the power of lipstick and mascara. Then I moved to Ithaca, New York, the only place I have ever felt that I was just shy of a tea party holding conservative.
But, we wandered back and now, here we seem set to stay, in Virginia.
Montgomery county is far enough into the mountains to be more country than southern. It's a fine distinction but important. It's farming and God and country and Pentecostals and snake handling and cool summer nights and winter snow. It's towns nestled in hollers and wondering what to do now that the textiles are gone away. It's trailer parks but not too many tornados. It's hippies hiking the Appalachin trail. It's pride in being a Lee of the Robert E. variety but also having more than a sprinkling of McCoys (see Hatfield and). It's towns too small to hold all their poverty and need but far too big to simply disapear.
And, nestled in, amongst it all, is the shining beacon of hope, Blacksburg. And, within, a subset of those who are most definately southern. While I suspect that few would be able to hold their own against that holy trinity (at least from my time) of Kappa, Theta, and Delta, I was well served by my hard won social graces when we arrived and I found myself in the thick of women 40 years my senior, valiantly working on my needlework and discussing the relative merits of homemade v box mix lemon squares. (I actually like the boxed quite well)
But, as time goes on, I find myself carving out a new spot for myself somewhere in the intersection of country and southern and the no-man's-land of Maryland (where I spent the first 18 years of my life) and the blatant simplicity of Mainah cooking my father demanded my mother master. I am slowly learning the thrifty kitchen skills my Dust Bowl grandmother could probably do in her sleep. I can whip up strawberry preserves and icebox pickles, although I admit to needing a recipe. I am learning to embrace canned milk products and am wandering towards pie crust proficiency even if it is by way of vodka. I have a store of recipes under my belt to bring new mothers and another set to bring to covered dish suppers. I'm hoarding the children's outgrown jeans to turn into a rag rug.
For me, it all comes down to the food. I think that's really what it is to embrace your past; embrace your heritage; embrace your place. Knowing how to make your way through all manner of social strata and expectations is vital. Knowing when to pull out your pearls and when to throw on your ratty jeans is crucial. But, if you really want to know your culture; that bone deep culture that means home; that means your people; that means those that you will take in and that means must take you in? That's food. That's condensed milk and pie crust and a flakey biscuit. That's cast iron skillets and cornbread and okra. That's ham and greens and black eyed peas. And then, because I'm the product of an intricate past, it's also plain roasted carrots. It's steamed asparagus. It's clams you dug yourself. It's salt and pepper and maybe a little oil. And, for all of them, it's putting up and making do and saving a little for a rainy day. Because, for 5 years of my life, I learned to be a southern woman and for 11 I've learned to be a country woman but for 18 I learned to be a northern woman. Luckily, I don't have to choose which I want to be when I grow up and my table is plenty big enough to hold a skillet of cornbread even when it also holds baked beans.