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I could never have anticipated the things that I would learn as a military spouse. Nothing can prepare you for all the twists, turns, obstacles, joys, and surprises that the military life supplies. Especially southern living.
I grew up a Midwestern girl. Born and bred in Kansas, I had never really experienced a whole lot outside of Tornado Alley. Our first duty station was at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. That was a great transition base for me, because Dayton, Ohio isn’t too far off culturally from Kansas.
So, for me, other than missing my family TERRIBLY, it sorta felt familiar. But, then we got orders to Panama City, Florida. To the South and southern living. To quote them in their southern twang, “Oh Lawd, what in the world have I gotten myself into?”
Introduction to Southern Living:
1. The Weather
You think you know humidity? No other part of the country can claim extreme humidity except the southeast of the United States. Because I grew up in Kansas, I thought I knew humidity. But, no, I knew nothing of humidity. Nothing can prepare you for the constant feeling of being damp… all the time, everyday. Your hair? Forget it. Don’t even bother fixing it. Sure it will look great while you are in your house, but step outside; it’s all undone in a matter of a nano-second.
If you’re thirsty, just take a straw outside with you, stick it in the air, and sip away to your heart’s content. I would suggest that if you are moving to the south, consider buying stock in a deodorant company (because you will buy enough that you might as well own part of the company), shaving your head, and be prepared to change your clothes at least three times a day.
2. The “Language”
Yes, I know that people from the South speak English, but it is a special dialect. My first day at my new job in Panama City, I settled in to enjoy my lunch with a co-worker, and was quickly introduced to southern talk.
My co-worker asked me, “How many cheerun do you have?” I had no idea what she just asked me, so I politely asked her to repeat herself. “How many cheerun do you have?” she said again. I stared at her with a stupid, blank look on my face. I simply could not figure out what she was asking me and I didn’t want to ask her to repeat herself again. She must have noticed my confusion because she said exasperatedly, “Younguns! How many younguns do you have?”
Ohhhh….she had been saying children! She wanted to know how many kids I had. Goodness did I feel silly.
I love the way that all the women call everyone “sugar” or “honey.” There are lots of sirs, ma’ams, and missus’, too, which I found endearing. I was also told on more than one occasion “You couldn’t have possibly grown up around these parts, ’cause you sound like a Yankee.” That always gave me a good laugh.
But the thing that cracked me up the most, was the fact that if your name wasn’t “southern” enough, they would happily change it for you–with or without your permission. My name is Amy Ann, but my boss felt that my name needed a tweak and promptly changed my name. So, for the three years I lived in the south, my name was Amy Sue. At first I tried to protest, but it was to no avail. Soon, that nickname grew on me and I embraced my southern name.
3. The Food and Drink
Two of the most important things I learned about eating in the south were: 1) Sweet tea is the ONLY drink and 2) Southern people will fry anything. And by anything, I mean anything: Oreos, Twinkies, Snicker bars, turkeys, fish, tomatoes, and even the conch inside of a conch shell.
Not long after we moved to the south, we were visited a local restaurant. The waitress asked me what I would like to drink and I smiled innocently and said, “Unsweet tea, please.” The restaurant went dead silent. You could have heard a pin drop. Everyone in the building stared at me as if I just crawled out of a space ship and appeared like a creature from a Steven Spielberg movie. I heard murmurs of “…Yankee…” and “…not from these parts…”
The eyes of the waitress drifted over to the canister holding the unsweet tea and I quickly realized that it might be best to change my order. It was a rusty, unused container with flies buzzing around the lid and obviously didn’t get used much. I switched my order to a Coke. In Kansas, we never sweeten our tea, or if we do, it is maybe just a small amount. This is unheard of in the south.
Another interesting experience occurred on Easter. My family was invited over to a friend’s house for Easter lunch. They were going to have a big get together and I was really looking forward to a great meal, friends, and beautiful weather. We were asked not to bring anything. Even better. We showed up and there was no food to be found. I thought this was rather curious, but settled into meeting the different families that were there.
After several hours had past, the hosts started setting up long card tables. “Oh good,” I thought,”dinner is about to be served.” I was baffled, though, when no chairs were brought out to set around the table for the many folks gathered. Everyone moseyed over to the tables and stood around as if nothing was awkward about chairs being absent. Then the hosts started bringing out huge, rectangular tubs full to the brim of crawfish, corn, and potatoes. There were just all mixed in together. But, what I could not get over was that all the crawfish had their HEADS STILL ON!
I wanted to raise my hand and say, “Um…excuse me…yeah…hello? Um…where are the ham, scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs, and pecan pie? I don’t know if you realize it, but the food is staring at me and I don’t even know what that is all about.”
Everyone but my family dug in and to my horror they twisted off the heads and stuck them in their mouths and made sucking sounds. I felt faint. I asked someone what they were doing. “Sucking out the brains! It’s the best part! You gotta try it!” Uh…I’ll pass.
I eventually recruited my husband to twist off the head, pull the legs off and hand me the little bit of meat from the crawfish. I will never, ever forget that Easter dinner. Looking back now, I have to laugh at myself, because I’m sure the look on my face when they laid down those tubs was priceless. And I also appreciate now the experience of seeing how others celebrate holidays that was totally unfamiliar and different than what I had grown up with.
I grew to love living in the south and the southern living style. The people are laid back and friendly. There is a reason that there aren’t a ton of large cities in the south. The hustle and bustle of big city life just doesn’t jive with their relaxed, easy-going lifestyle. They like to take things slow, enjoy them, and enjoy your company. They laugh loud, eat well, and treat everyone like a neighbor.
I’ll leave you with this: On my morning drive to work every day, I drove right beside a bay. It was a gorgeous drive. The sun sparkled off the water, the smell of the salty, warm air drifted through my windows, and periodically I would see dolphins at play. Sometimes I would see a man, sitting in the waves, in his lawn chair. A fishing pole was to his right, stuck in the sand, his legs were being lapped by the waves, and he held a cup of coffee in his left hand. I smiled every time I saw him, because he was a picture-perfect representation of southern folks and southern living.
In California, people are running on the beach, playing sports, being active in some way. Not him. He was just sitting in the ocean, soaking up life, with not a care in the world. That is what southern living taught me: To slow down and enjoy the simple things of life. I am grateful to the military for this enriching experience that my family may never have had otherwise.
Amy home schools her two daughters, Rhianna and Sydney, and loves being the teacher of her “one room school-house.” She loves the excitement of the military life, football games on Saturdays, church on Sundays, a good book, date-nights with her hubby, reading books with her kids, browsing through CDs at music stores, kitties in her lap, and spending time with all her loved ones, to name just a few. She recently published a children’s chapter book titled The Abominog: The Adventure of Kirk and David. Check her out on Facebook under her Passionate Purpose page or her website www.PassionatePurpose.org.
What about YOU? Have you ever lived in the South or a place that was completely different from what you are used to?