Commentary

Snow: The way we were vs. the way we are

July 13, 2013 

After the brouhaha over Southern manners vs. Northern manners, I promised to return to the issue of misplaced regional stereotypes.

And I promised to tell you what Raleigh was like before the so-called “second Yankee invasion.”

Raleigh then was a sleepy, graceful city of around 90,000 souls compared to today’s estimated population of 423,000.

Then a group of the local government and business leaders came up with the idea for Research Triangle Park, a vast acreage located within miles of three municipalities and three major universities.

In retrospect, the Raleigh we knew in 1960 now seems almost as mythical as Tara. We could identify with Prissy’s cries, “The Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming!”

Change came suddenly, not subtly.

A big two-story house around the corner from us had been on the market for months, overpriced at $24,000. Then one day we learned that a New Yorker had bought it for $45,000.

Strange accents and bikinis began showing up at the neighborhood swimming pool.

The price of everything, including toilet paper, soared. Before long, the irreverent sounds of lawn mowers on Sunday mornings were heard in the land.

One morning a friend with a deep-South accent called in tears.

“A.C.,” she wailed, “the Yankees have stolen my Louella,” referring to her weekly housekeeper. “They stole her at the bus stop. When she called to say she wouldn’t be back, she said they’re paying her twice what I was paying. To make matters worse, A.C., she said to me, ‘And Miss Virginia, I never liked you nohow!’ Isn’t it all just awful?”

I remember once making a welcoming speech, “Some Of My Best Friends are Yankees” at the thriving Cary Newcomers Club.

In an attempt at levity, I said most of us were adjusting to the changes wrought by the “Yankee invasion,” but that some holdouts would never understand why Sherman burned Atlanta and kept New Jersey.

Afterward, I faced a line of former New Jerseyites who didn’t appreciate my sense of humor.

Some of you non-natives recently expressed resentment over misplaced stereotypes that still linger. Remember, it’s a two-way street. Consider some stereotypes that Southerners still endure in addition to the basic assumption by many that we’re all uneducated rednecks.

A newcomer once told me that he had observed that Southern women cannot go anywhere without their husbands.

“They drag them to church, to funerals, cocktail parties, etc. It doesn’t matter how old or ugly the man, just as long as it’s a man. The most degrading thing in Southern society is the sight of a husband trailing along behind his woman, pushing a grocery cart.”

His comment brought to mind a quote attributed to H.H. Munro: “A woman who takes her husband about with her everywhere is like a cat playing with a mouse long after she’s killed it.”

The myth that all Southerners can’t exist without grits on their menu is just that: a myth. I never eat grits. A lot of Southerners do; a lot of Southerners don’t.

As for “y’all, “ Southerners rarely use the word when addressing a single individual.

I recall a conversation with a new Raleighite who was complaining her husband hogged her side of the bed. They had had words over it.

“Do y’all sleep in a double or queen-sized bed?” I asked innocently.

“We sleep in a double, but there’s only the two of us you know, not a crowd,” she quipped.

Once on a cruise, we were seated at dinner with a group from Minnesota. The first thing the token loudmouth said upon learning we were Southerners was, “Do Southerners still keep their wives barefoot and pregnant?” I arranged to have us re-assigned to another table for the remainder of the trip.

The most hurtful stereotype of all is the one spawned by that shameful chapter in our history that all Southerners are at heart hardcore racists.

However, when all is said and done, the shadings between natives and newcomers are becoming less apparent as time goes by. Much like the Biblical suggestion that eventually the lamb will lie down with the lion, the Rebel and the Yankee are already reaching that point in this thriving cosmopolitan community.

Snow: 919-836-5636 or asnow@newsobserver.com

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