The Hilarity of the American South

Though I’ve read a great deal of books & watched lots of movies about various parts of the U.S., I’ve lived my whole life, all 20-some years, in the South.  I’ve traveled a little to the Midwest & New England but never for long enough to really soak up the culture or get intimately acquainted with the lifestyle.  As some of you who know me in real life may be aware, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the South.  I love the weather, the flowers, the people (several of my friends & coworkers from other parts of the country have confirmed that Southerners really are friendlier by & large), the food (well, some of it), the music (again, some of it), & the geography.  But I hate the narrow-mindedness & the religious fanaticism (those two tend to go hand-in-hand, surprise, surprise!) that seem to abound in the South more so than anywhere else in this country.  I also hate that the South leads the nation in so many negative things including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, teen pregnancy, poverty, & high-school drop-out rate (shocking, I know, that these are all really quite connected).  Furthermore I hate our less than stellar history with civil rights & race relations & would be willing to bet that gay rights are suffering more in the South than in other parts of the country.  I could write a whole series of posts on the reasons why the South is the winner of such dubious “accolades” but that’s not my purpose today.  Someday I’ll write that post & probably offend a lot of people in doing so, but today I just want to write something light & witty that will hopefully make my readers smile.

map of the south

As an aside, my mom always told me “you might as well laugh as cry.”  As a nurse this has come in very handy at times.  When a patient is pooping on the floor, trying to kick me in the face, or screaming at the top of her lungs about how incompetent the hospital is, it is very tempting to run out the door crying.  Having the ability to step back & smile & laugh in spite of the difficulties is about the only thing that keeps me sane at times like these.  Don’t get me wrong: there have been plenty of times when I have cried as a nurse; I have experienced tears of sorrow, anger, & frustration & everything in between.  But with time I have slowly learned to laugh at the madness more often than cry

The same can be applied to life in generalI think about this a lot in relation to my mixed feelings about the South.  I do not want to downplay the serious problems we as a society are facing in the South.  Obesity, teen pregnancy, & poverty, among other things, are serious issues that we must address if we want to progress as a country.  I’ve discussed some of these issues on here previously & I intend to write about all of them someday, maybe even cohesively.

But in any case, my purpose today is to share some of the oddities of life here in the South that my husband & I have observed over the years.  Some of these may not be truly unique to the South, so if you’re a reader from some other part of the country, please feel free to enlighten me.  At the end of the day, one of the greatest signs of strength of a person or a society is the ability to laugh at one’s self.  So with that spirit in mind here are some of the hilarious things we’ve observed over our time living & traveling in various part of the South:

  • The fatter, harrier, & older the man, the more likely he will mow his yard shirtless in full view of the neighbors & all passers-by.  My neighbor across the street is guilty of this right now as I am typing this.  Thankfully I am not easily offended, just easily amused.  I should also add that this is the same neighbor who very soon after we moved into our house could quite often be found sitting shirtless in a lawn chair in the middle of the street watching for a raccoon that was apparently wreaking havoc on his roof.  He said he had set a trap on the roof & was hoping to watch the raccoon get caught in it.
  • Just yesterday we saw a little girl playing with a walker in the front yard of her house.  I had to wonder if her grandmother or grandfather actually uses that or if it was just given to her, for whatever reason, as a toy . . . Hmmmm.
  • In the South dumping old house-hold appliances such as washing machines & refrigerators in the back yard is completely acceptable.
  • Not once, not twice, but multiple times in various parts of the South we have observed people going down the road on a motorized wheelchair.  And not necessarily “in town” but on “back roads” too.
  • You’re not really in “the country” until there are no lines on the roads, not in the middle or on the side.  Maybe this is true in other parts of the nation too, but it’s definitely true in the South, at least the parts with which I’m familiar.  How any local government thinks this is safe is beyond me.
  • Earlier this spring we observed two beagles mating at a rest-area on the side of a major interstate.  Their humans were standing about two feet away, watching intently.  This was in full-view of all passers-by . . .
  • In the South if you want to criticize someone without feeling awfully guilty about it, just add “Bless her heart!” or “I love her to death, I really do” to the end of whatever you’re saying & suddenly your judgments are no longer considered mean-spirited.  If you’re Southern, you know you are guilty of this at least occasionally; just smile & nod.
  • Go to any small town in the South & no matter how run down everything else is, no matter how few jobs are available in the area, there are two things that will always be in immaculate condition: the churches (of which there will be so many as to make you wonder how there are enough people to fill them) & the fire dept/rescue squad.
  • Having old tires in your front yard is pretty common in the South.  Some people even grow flowers in them.  Nothing like landscaping with old rubber!

flowers in tires

  •  In our hometown, there is a certain field on the side of the major highway that cuts through the county that is littered with old tractor trailers.  They have been there for as long as we can remember.  No one seems to know who owns them or why they are there.  But they don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.  And it is only when you’ve been gone for a while that you realize just how junky this looks.  But it’s not unique to my hometown.  I’ve seen this same phenomenon elsewhere in the South.
  • In certain areas of the South, we do not have garage sales.  We have yard sales.  Driving around going from yard sale to yard sale is a pretty common activity for Southerners on Saturday mornings.  As teenagers my sister & I held a yard sale along with our best friend.  We made $18 between the three of us.
  • There are certain women in the South who call everyone “Sweetie, Honey, Darling, Sugar,” or some variation thereof.  On occasion I’m quite guilty of calling everyone “Dear” myself.
  • If you’re really from the South or have spent enough time here, you will know that there are dozens, actually hundreds, of variations on the Southern accent & almost all movies & TV shows don’t imitate even one of them correctly.  I’ve heard some pretty amusing ones over the years & I love listening to all of them.
  • Elementary school gym classes in the South quite often include square-dancing.
  • On Election Day in 2012, we happened to be in our hometown for a funeral.  While my husband was pumping gas, an older gentleman started chatting with him & asked who he’d voted for.  My husband responded “A man named Johnson.”  This gentleman had apparently never heard of the Libertarian candidate & assumed my husband was talking about LBJ.  Nevermind the fact that LBJ is deceased & that my husband is about four decades too young to have ever voted for LBJ . . .
  • While on the way home from summer camp one year, my youth group stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break.  The cashier told us in no uncertain terms & with no apparent embarrassment that their bathroom had been shut down by the health dept but we were free to use the restroom at the gas station across the street.  That illustrious facility had a restroom with no functioning lights & as best I can remember either no soap or a door that didn’t close properly.
  • I should also add that it is very common to find Southerners riding bicycles at night in the middle of the road wearing all dark clothes & shoes & with no lights whatsoever on their bikes.  How there are not more auto-bicycle accidents is really quite shocking.

Southern passport

I could go on & on but I’ll stop now, hoping you’ve gotten a few laughs today.  One of the scariest things in life, to me, is the idea of staying in one place your whole life.  I know for some people that’s ok & I am not condemning that.  It’s just that I feel the need to explore as much of life as I can, & thus I consider myself blessed to have lived in three different places so far in my life, even if they have all been in the South.  I love the Raleigh-Durham area, where we’ve now settled, for numerous reasons, & for now we have no plans to leave.  One of the reasons I love this area is that it is such a cultural melting pot & does not share some of the more negative parts of the Southern experience while still sharing some of the more positive parts.  In any case, as I’ve said I have mixed feelings about the South.  Mostly I love it because this is my culture; it’s part of who I am, whether I like it or not, which is exactly why it pains me when I see some of the problems our culture is facing here.  But again that’s another post for another day.

I’d love to hear about any unusual or hilarious experiences you’ve encountered in the South (or elsewhere for that matter).

As I write this today I am barely holding back the tears.  In reality, the only reason the tears aren’t falling now is because I have already shed so many today that my eyes are now quite dried up.  I rarely share about my personal life on this blog because I’m not egotistical enough to think that many people would want to read about my personal life, & being a bit of an introvert (I scored 50 out of 83 on this test today: I don’t care to go into much detail about my personal life in this space where anyone & everyone can see it anyway.  Today, however, I am breaking my own rules to share the incredible sadness that I am currently experiencing.  Image

About two weeks ago I went to the pound with a friend for her to adopt a dog.  I had no intention or expectation of adopting my own dog, but it just so happened there was an adorable two year-old female shiba inu there & I fell in love at first sight.  Instantly I knew I had to take her home with me.  The people at the pound told me she had a bad history with other dogs, but they said she’d never actually hurt another dog, just didn’t get along with them very well.  Being overwhelmed with how adorable she was, I easily overlooked the obvious fact that something was probably seriously “off” about her for such a rare & expensive breed to be at the pound.  When they implied she’d been brought to the pound more than once, I should have taken that as a major red flag, but I was drowning in a sea of oxytocin or some such hormone/neurotransmitter . . . and all I could think about was how much I already loved this dog & how I was so sure my love for her would “cure” her.

Fast-forward a few hours & my husband meets me at the pound, instantly loves her as much as I do, so we pay the $45 fee & take her home.  Over the next few weeks she & Chaucer (the one-year old welsh corgi we bought as a puppy last April) get into a few spats but nothing too serious.  I take Sheba to the vet & inquire about ways to help her better integrate into her new environment.  The vet says she seems perfectly healthy & that in time she & Chaucer should do just fine, though she warns me that shibas do have a tendency to not like other dogs.  Sheba & Chaucer continue to have a few “fights” but overall seem to be learning to get along better.

Then this morning out of nowhere Sheba bites Chaucer on the face.  After much discussion & a great deal of tears we decide that Sheba has to return to the pound. She is a gorgeous dog who is sweet with humans, & in a pound full of pitbulls (no offense to them; it’s people who have made SOME of them dangerous & caused a horrible breed stereotype) we are sure she will be adopted quickly, hopefully by someone with no other pets.

But still my heart is breaking.  I couldn’t even watch my husband take her away because I knew I couldn’t say good-bye to her because I wouldn’t be able to let her go.  But I also can’t stand to see Chaucer get hurt.  With her history of aggression toward other dogs, we know this isn’t a first for her (maybe the first bite but not the first time she’s been aggressive) so we don’t feel like we can just train it out of her like we could with a puppy.  We also didn’t do adequate research to find out that shibas as an entire breed do not do well with other dogs.  So now we’re left with the realization that her entire BREED is not too keen on other dogs . . . hard to change something that is more or less in her DNA.

I feel like such a horrible person for taking Sheba back to the pound.  But with our work schedules we have to be able to leave our dogs alone together & know they won’t hurt each other.  Chaucer has no idea how to fight back & I shudder to think how much more she might have hurt him if we hadn’t been there to break up the fight today.  The strange thing with her was she never showed much in the way of threats.  It was obvious she wanted to be left alone most of the time (from Chaucer, not us, that is) but she never really gave him obvious signs that she would actually hurt him.  Which makes it all the scarier because it’s hard to predict.  She also started fights with him (granted he provoked her by not leaving her alone) right in front of us.  So it’s not like watching them was enough to ensure it didn’t happen.  I really don’t know why I’m writing all this.  I know in my heart we probably did the right thing.  But I just feel so awful about it & I hate myself for being stupid enough to think that I could magically change things just by loving her.  And part of me thinks we gave up too soon, yet part of me also thinks risking Chaucer getting hurt again was too much of a risk to take.  All I know is if these were children & they fought we couldn’t & wouldn’t get rid of one of them . . .

I guess the lesson here is I shouldn’t have made a decision based purely on emotions, a decision that disregarded logic.  And yet I also know I couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d left her at the pound the first time.  I had to at least TRY to save her.  Maybe I just wasn’t the one.  But that breaks my heart in so many ways.  I wanted to be the one to save her.  But I also couldn’t live with myself if she ever hurt Chaucer really badly.  I guess this is just one of many life situations that has no good answer . . . I’ve always said I don’t believe in love at first sight.  But Chaucer changed that.  And then Sheba did too.  I guess another thing I learned here is that I do have a great capacity to love, so maybe one day that will translate into motherhood.  I’ve always had this insane fear that if/when I have kids someday, I won’t experience that immediate natural love & connection that moms always talk about & are supposed to feel.  Maybe knowing I could feel something like that with dogs is good foreshadowing for the future . . . In any case this post is in tribute to Sheba, a dog whom I firmly believe has a good heart.  She’s just got a wild streak when it comes to other dogs.  Sheba, I still love you & I’m so sorry I wasn’t the one to save you.  I might have only known you for a few weeks but I’ll never forget you & I’ll always wish my love had been enough.    

Ok, the tears are here again . . . I apologize for the depressing post.  I try to avoid these but this one was written mostly for my own benefit, as a way to assuage my horribly stricken conscience & maintain some shred of sanity in the face of this heartbreak.

If anyone in the Raleigh-Durham area who would like a dog but doesn’t currently have pets is reading this, please go to Wake County Animal Shelter & adopt her today.  I promise she is perfect with people.