There are various observations that can be made as one journeys from the Ohio River Valley section of the Midwest to even further south than the Deep South…and when the journey is an annual one, many of these observations are made afresh each year. After sojourning in a land where the so-called Civil War is a thing of far distant memory and considered to be of no importance whatsoever, there is a strange feeling of freedom when a true-hearted Southerner escapes for a while from the blocked in corn and soybean fields for a season.
Now, for a few of those observations I mentioned…
The further south you go, the more white vehicles you see (white vehicles are cooler than dark ones–and, more locally, white pickup trucks are the vehicle of a self-respecting cowhunter’s descendant).
The further south you go, the clouds get higher (it was really only this year that I noticed that this was the difference in the skies–I surprise myself!).
The further south you go, the more flags you see (the Stars and Stripes, too, not just the former Georgia state flag; and once in a while you even see the real Stars and Bars) (and speaking of flags, I just love the South Carolina flag–I’m not sure why I find the simple palm tree and cresent moon so beautiful, but I do…).
The further south you go, the more fences you see (actually, fences mean totally different things to Yankees and Southerners–to the one they are a sign of unfriendly aloofness while to the other they are simply a mark that “this is mine” (besides being necessary equipage for restraining cattle, hunting dogs, et al)).
The further south you go, the houses get smaller (the size of a Midwesterner’s roof is his status symbol–for a Southerner, it is the size of his gate).
The further south you go, the yards (not lawns) get bigger (there are some big lawns up north, but yards are different, somehow–they don’t comprise part of the local religion–maybe it is because the grass isn’t as deathless and bountiful here as it is up there?).
The further south you go, the more comfortable inter-racial communication is (generally speaking–honestly, once one crosses the Ohio River, going north, there is an invisible wall that divides black people from white people so that they often refuse to even acknowledge the other (same thing between the classes)).
The further south you go, the more interesting and actually informative directions become (there aren’t as many perfectly straight roads, so landmarks and local legend, instead of mileage count, is the way to give directions in the South).
Besides these things, it is fascinating to notice how the different parts of the country smell different…how the dialects shift…how the local food traditions change from one region to another…how the way that people are proud of themselves shift (after all, I have yet to figure out what riles a Hoosier (I’ve even asked about that!), but I can think of a few things that will rile most Southerners)…how the new, flat, printed license plates are more difficult to read…how many locals use the interstate in Georgia…how people in the South don’t live behind walls of anonymity, as most Midwesterners have a tendancy to do (yes, the further north you go, the closer people generally hold their own personal opinions and stories)…and how we still don’t fit in exactly in either place that we live. Now, while I am convinced that there are cliquish small-town people everywhere in this country, I am also convinced that I have more Southern culture in my upbringing than Hoosier…but still, flyover country is a good place to be–whether it is in the Midwest or almost south of the South; and I don’t complain much anymore about the idiosyncrasies of either place. After all, my kind God has put me in flyover country in the freest nation on earth and given me a church community in both locations–so what cause do I actually have for complaint on that front? About as much as the little lizards scampering across our screened porch eating their fill of bugs and spiders. (Screen rooms are another thing more commonly seen in this day and age in the South than in the North–though Midwestern mosquitoes can be among the fiercest!).
So much for the observations of the trip. I have one more for a closing thought, though. It is a curious thing to try to descibe the subtle, varying shades of difference that distinguishes one American culture from another. I have been in a number of them long enough to get the feeling and comprehend a good deal of the mindset of each, but to actually describe it and not sound like a babbling idiot–that is beyond me.
P.S. To get a different perspective, you might consider reading this poem (a family tradition), which describes some of what I’ve been talking about, Kentucky Belle.