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Southern Roots and Northern Blossoms

Twenty six years ago as one of my bridal showers was wrapping up, Mrs. Shirley Friedman and I were talking about my upcoming marriage. I felt overwhelmed with the generosity of my mother’s friends and wondered what would become of me when I left my home in Georgia to marry my handsome Marine husband.

You see, he was also a Yankee which could only mean one thing—he didn’t have the appreciation for the South that native Southerners do, a potential problem when it comes to choosing where to live. I was scared to death he would take me out of the South; I was right to be afraid. Though we didn’t immediately move away from all that was dear and familiar to me, moving was inevitable when he became a helicopter pilot.

I confessed my misgivings to Ms. Shirley. (Any well-raised southern child knows you never address one of your elders by their first name. You always include an honorific even with a first name.) She understood my dilemma immediately.

When she wedded Mr. Maurice, she lived in LaGrange, Georgia, and he moved her all the way to Sandersville, only a couple of hours away, but back then it might as well have been a world away. She tried to ease my mind. “You shouldn’t worry, Sugar,” she told me. “You’ll have Southern roots but you’ll have Northern blossoms!” I was charmed but still dubious. I wasn’t sure I could be as optimistic about my future away from home, but if Ms. Shirley had faith that I could blossom in the midst of a strange locale.

It has taken me many years to acclimate to the Midwest and to lose a great deal of the accent that so marked my language when we first moved here, but I have remembered Ms. Shirley’s words. Her words have inspired me to do something with my life, to plant seeds and nurture them to see what my “blossoms” will be. I have worked as a travel agent, substitute teacher, stringer reporter, and high school English teacher. I am now moving into the next phase of my life.

Ms. Shirley is still my mother’s friend. She and I still keep in touch, occasionally through the mail but also through Mama. I owe her a debt of gratitude not only for the title of my blog, but also for her faith in me, a faith I’ve finally come to share. In my early years I was sustained by family, by red Georgia clay under a sky shaded by pines. The South with all its flaws and finery formed my core.

In the South I absorbed the stories of my people, the cadence of their language, the history of my home, but now I walk among those with clipped vowels and curt nods. I bathe in the lakes and rivers of the Midwest where I feel the essence of this land coursing through me. Something about this place feels limitless—I know why settlers went west years ago—it’s a place where I can create my own place, my own destiny. This is a place where a woman like me can become what she wills. A writer. With southern roots and northern blossoms.

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