I like to say that I’m a native, deep-southerner; a survivor of both cultural and climatic heat, a rural daughter born not half a day’s southerly drive from the Gulf of Mexico. Like a toddler who returns to steadying arms after a few steps’ exploration, I’ve boldly set up housekeeping across state lines only to return to the devil I know best. But here I am, six years in my adopted North Carolina, rooted and thriving like never before, in spite of the feeling that I’m teetering on the northern edge of my comfort zone. I watch a thermometer on the shady side of the deck. It shamelessly flirts with 95 degrees this early-June afternoon. Here, not half a day’s northerly drive from the Mason-Dixon Line, a standard southern summer is only warming up.
I’ve grown spider flowers here and heirloom tomatoes and two boys. I’ve begun to count native Californians and New Englanders among my nearest-and-dearest. I’ve acquired a fondness for French-press coffee, well-funded schools, and not being the most left-leaning person I know; what a relief. I married a Turk. I’m regularly invited to settle cornbread dressing alongside a Thanksgiving turkey and its stuffing and a few slices of Christmas ham have been wedged inside my scratch biscuits. And the comedy of it all is that it seems -- just like I can’t imagine life any further north -- most other transplants, too, are on the absolute southern edge of their imaginations. What brave souls we are!
Last week, my husband and I drove to Sanford, North Carolina to help celebrate the release of a tiny literary magazine, The Red Clay Review, a publication of a local community college. My poem, “Going”, was accepted for the issue and its theme, About the South. I both love and am appalled by how often, here at mid-life, I am still surprised by what-happens-next: One by one, each writer reads his or her poem or essay. One by one, each writer shares a love or rumination or struggle about some uniquely southern phenomenon. One by one, each writer admits to his or her native origin. New Yorkers. Midwesterners. They outnumber the natives. As I said to the group before I read my poem, I am more than a little charmed and flattered that after following whatever led them here -- curiosity, warmer winters, romance, the blue-sky standard -- they settled down, looked around, and found so much to see, and feel, and explore and ultimately, to write about.
Summer drawls in on a northwesterly breeze.