This story was previously published in The Franklin News-Post
My friends up north who had been here before or who think they know everything, warned me that the folks in Virginia don’t like Yankees. It’s the south, after all. Maybe not the deep south, but the south nonetheless and they take pride in their history and know the actual names of battles that were fought in the Civil War and the dates significant things happened, perhaps changing history. Maybe not the history in a patriotic southern Virginian’s mind, for many argue that they actually won the war or think they are still fighting the war.
Me, I had no idea who won the war and couldn’t care less, never mind the winners and losers of specific battles played out over lush green Virginia farmland near tobacco shacks and cornfields. They reenact these battles today, especially during holidays or special occasions, but on regular days too because many people belong to reenactment clubs and they like to dress up in war uniforms and charge over the hills on plow horses and Tennessee Walking Horses and they need something to do when the hay is still growing or the cabinet shop is slow.
So, being forewarned, when asked where we come from, we say Oklahoma. It’s not a lie, since that is where we just moved from, but it’s not really the truth either. I was born and raised in New Jersey where I lived in an apartment building with four dead bolts on the door and played in a lot behind a purple dye factory where everything was stained purple. The building was purple, the dirt was purple, even the guard dog who dragged around a heavy chain that rattled like a charm bracelet and snapped at you if you got too close—even he was purple.
But I don’t tell them that. I tell them about Oklahoma where we had cattle on 110 acres. I used to say cows, giving the whole thing away. But I learned that real farmers say cattle. We had cattle, Bermuda grass as far as the eye could see and we had rodeos twice a week. But we only lived there for one year, not long enough to learn how to throw a rope without hitting ourselves in the face with it and certainly not long enough to lose the New Jersey accent. Think of Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny. When I called to inquire about Kelly joining the local youth 4-H group, I inadvertently said, “yoot” group. The 4-H leader sounded suspicious. She asked, “Where did you say you were from again?”
I said, “Well…” A real southerner begins every answer with “well,” and then hesitates as he mulls over exactly what he wants to say. Words, like flat dry land, are precious around here. On the other hand, neighbors enjoy nothing more than sharing news and swapping tidbits. In some places they call this gossip. Precious words and gossip are one of those odd juxtapositions, like when someone buys an old farmhouse to live the simple life and then they proceed to spend the next ten years in a frantic, manic rush to scrape the peeling paint, reseed the yard and start projects that require experts who spend three hours giving estimates and then never show up for the job. They drive themselves to exhaustion and complain there’s never enough time. But precious words and gossip get on famously here and both are jam-packed full of colorful details like, “The calf was stuck inside its mama till her eyes were rollin’ around like a cartoon critter.”
“Well,” I told the 4-H lady. “We just moved here from Oklahoma but originally I am from New Jersey.” I cringed, waiting for her to unroll the Confederate flag and accidentally on purpose slap me with it as she shook it out. But she didn’t say nothing about my place of origin; just asked me how I liked the weather down here. One thing I have to say about the southerners is that they’re polite. If they hate me, they don’t let me know.