True confession: I was born in New England and lived the past few years in Manhattan. But when I recently moved to Raleigh, I tried to experience Southern culture to its fullest despite my urban bias.
My roommate took me to a NASCAR race (I kept calling it a game). I learned how to make biscuits and gravy and experimented with handmade hash browns (it looked more like a Polish potato pancake). I ate deep-fried alligator and Oreos at my first State Fair. I shot a few rounds at an outdoor shooting range.
Recently, I told my friend in a slightly worried tone that I thought I was picking up a southern drawl. Don’t worry, she essentially said, you still talk loud and fast like a yankee.
Last Sunday, on a weekend assignment for The News & Observer, I was fully baptized into the South at the Dixie Deer Classic. The classic is a 35-year-old annual hunting trade show that is located at the State Fairgrounds, full of vendors, celebrity outdoorsmen and contests for deer head trophies and best turkey call.
Although I felt more out of my comfort zone than I did the day I wore a skirt out to a tobacco field, I quickly realized how fun a day with a thousand bearded men could be. I saw more camouflage and mounted deer heads in three hours than I had throughout my entire life.
I learned to turkey call. Four older gentleman meticulously watched me, and said I was pretty good.
I met two adorable elementary-age boys named Fisher and Hunter, one of whom won Best in Show for a 15-pointer. I held a pungent Brazilian rodent, a Nutria, and got licked in the face by a Gray Wolf. I even attempted to take a selfie with a stuffed Yak.
What stood out to me the most, besides the amount of camo and my complete lack of hunting experience was how much I love North Carolinians.
People are actually nice – they weren’t suspicious or rude when I asked about their lives and their hobbies. New York culture encourages privacy, and certainly some snobbishness.
At the show, many organizations like Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry and North Carolina Hunters for the Hungry took their passions and turned them into service.
Most of the folks I met at the show are hard-working and honest. Many hold God and family at the center of their lives. That’s a wonderful change from the fast-paced, workaholic, self-centered urban culture that I’m used to.
Although I'm certain I could never wear pink camo, and I'm still unsettled by the thought of killing a deer, this city slicker is coming to love the South. Now I just gotta try some moonshine.