I am a transplant to the South. Some might even say an invasive species, as my late father-in-law used to imply. Somehow his son brought home this girl born in Montana to parents from New York City. I was irrevocably a Yankee, until he discovered I could cook up a respectable pot of grits. “Aright, you can stay,” he said. A southern woman must cook, and he made occasional requests. Shortcake to serve with peaches and whipped cream. And coconut custard pie. I hacked a fresh coconut for that one, and it rated an approving nod of the head. One day, I offered him some corn bread, and he said, “There were times when that corn bread would have been mighty welcome, but now… I just don’t want it.” That was one of my first clues that his childhood was something straight out of The Yearling. Remember the scene where a tangle of brothers tumbles out of their ramshackle house, fighting for fun? That.
My Orlando childhood, starting at age 4, was pretty suburban. Lower-middle class. All the houses had three bedrooms, one bathroom and a screened porch. Carport, no garage. Chain link fences. No air-conditioning either. We got window units when I was about 13. Until then, the coolest we got was sitting around a hassock fan. Or going to the cheap summer movies downtown. T. G. Lee dairy gave movie-goers coupons for a free cone at their dairy bar. I always got raspberry sherbet.
Everyone walked to school. The school had no air conditioning either. The teacher, or the biggest boys, would use a long pole to open awning windows up at the ceiling. Combined with open windows at the lowest level, this was supposed to provide air circulation. Ha. Most of the teachers brought in big fans from home, and one taught us to run cold water over our wrists. To cool the blood, she said.
I never thought I had a Southern accent until I went to college in Boston. When I opened my mouth, people asked, “What part of the South are you from?” The first time, I asked, “How do you know I’m from the South?” The questioner, obviously thinking me dim, said, “Well, your accent.”
Am I from the South? Of the South? I’m still in the South, anyway, and most likely will spend the rest of my life here. Native-born husband, who thinks temperatures under 70 are life-threatening, is not likely to move to Montana with me. Or even my sort-of-spiritual home, Santa Fe, New Mexico. So I’ll gaze out the window at my newly-planted mango tree, and maybe go pick a few Meyer lemons for lemonade. It does have a few benefits, this South place.