I’ve just come from the proverbial woodshed, where I received a thorough thrashing and re-learned an old lesson: never tease in print.
In a recent column, “Iowans purloin our Southern charm,” I remarked that our great influx of newcomers has diluted the South’s one-time gentility, charm and vivacity.
My most vociferous critic was a reader who moved to Durham from Minnesota in the ’80s and now lives in Cary.
“I was met with the word ‘Yankee’ immediately, even at the church that I and my family began to attend,” he wrote. “At first I was nonplussed and curious that without any displayed team sportswear that I would be identified as a New York Yankees baseball fanatic. Little did I know until enlightened by a new acquaintance that the moniker meant that I was a reviled Damn Yankee.
“I was stunned at the fact that these stupid (expletives) were still fighting the Civil War. One even said in his Southern twang, “Ah- 95 runs nawth jist laak it runs south. So if they (Yankees) don’t laak it hair they kin jist turn around and go back nawth.”
“So much for your Southern good manners, charm and vivacity,” Steve continued.
“You are not qualified to speak about good manners, charm, vivacity, kindness, decency, integrity or honesty until you demonstrate it to newcomers.”
I tried to reassure Steve that I had used the term in jest. During my Air Force tenure, my squadron buddies only addressed me as “Rebel,” as I was one of only two Southerners in the entire outfit. It never occurred to me to be offended.
But I was offended during an encounter with a man from Minnesota while aboard ship during a vacation to Alaska.
At dinner on the first night out, as soon as one of our table companions learned we were from North Carolina, he launched into a litany of down-putting stereotypes about Southerners:
“Do you walk with a limp because one leg is shorter than the other from walking up and down those hillsides down there?”… “Do ‘yawl’ still live on hominy grits and hog jowl?” etc.
Next day, I saw to it that we were seated at another table, oceanside.
I’ll admit that some locals were not on their best behavior when in the ’80s, the great invasion from the North began, changing the whole personality of what was then a sleepy Southern town of around 60,000.
Real estate values soared. A house around the corner that had been on the market for $17,000 for several months was immediately sold for almost twice that. Stores began staying open on Sunday. The sound of lawn mowers on Sunday mornings startled the natives who still adhered to the Biblical admonition, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.”
A friend with a Southern accent as thick as molasses called me at work one morning to say, “A.C., the most awful thing has happened. I’ve lost Louella!”
(Louella was her household helper.)
“What happened to her?” I asked, thinking Louella might have died.
“The Yankees stole her!” my friend wailed. “They stole her at the bus stop. She just called and said she wouldn’t be back because they’re paying her almost twice what I was.”
The South has a split personality, harboring, on one hand, a sense of regional inferiority while, on the other hand, indulging in a sense of superiority inherited from the real or imagined “Gone With the Wind” aristocracy. The latter is an affliction I think of as the “Tara complex.”
In that marvelous Broadway musical, “Oklahoma,” Aunt Eller sang some very sage advice to the feuding cowboys and farmers:
I’d like to teach you all a little sayin’
And learn these words by heart the way you should:
I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else,
But I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good!
That attitude makes for mostly good relationships during the modern day co-mingling of native-borns and thousands of newcomers who have flattered us by choosing to live among us.
As a result, Raleigh, now a bustling melting pot metropolis of more than 450,000 souls and still imbued with a touch of grace and compatibility, is frequently listed on Forbes Magazine’s “Best Places to Live” lists.
Snow: 919-836-5636; email@example.com