It’s been a long time since I last wrote to you, but I can explain: I’ve been travelling the country for the last seven months as a missionary, and I’ve barely had time to slow down and update you on my books.
Good news: “The Last Chance” is on its final round of editing before querying literary agents.
Bad news: “The Last Chance” is still being edited, and no literary agents have been queried yet.
But no need to panic, because there are still plenty of other great things to talk about. Liiike, the fact that I’m in the South for the first time in my life!
Now, as a writer, traveller, reader, and lover of all things vintage, I have been dreaming of going to the South ever since I was a bright-eyed eleven year old reading my Grandmother’s copy of her favorite book (and now mine), To Kill a Mockingbird.
The world that Scout and Jem lived in – a mysterious, magical place called Alabama – sounded like my personal Arcadia (minus the racism). So after years of elaborate vision boards plastered with snippets of Southern Living and countless hours scouring Pinterest for plantation homes lined with mossy oaks, I was finally able to make the trip with my missionary team to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. And from these travels I’d like to share with you the truth about the South, as I’ve come to know it:
- First of all, Southern teens have a way of dressing that is foreign to my Midwestern knowledge of fashion. Where I come from, bumming it consists of sneakers, sweatpants, a T-shirt, and a hoodie. Dressing nicely is usually a pair of jeans, often colored or patterned, with a lacey, striped, or knitted top – stuff you would find at Forever21. However, down South no girl would be caught dead (I was told) in a hoodie – “quarter-zips” are the thing (click the link to see for yourself, if you don’t know what I’m referring to). In the summer, you’d typically see Southern girls wearing running shorts, a Simply Southern or Vineyard Vines or Southern Shirt Company T-shirt, and Chacos. Folks, I had no idea any of these brands existed until I met my missionary teammate from Alabama. I’ll attempt to illustrate a Southern outfit for your benefit here, but click the brands to get a broader view of what I mean. Also, “comfort colors” are a thing – from what I understand, they’re a type of T-shirt that is made of more durable material than regular T-shirts and come in faded rather than bright colors.
2. Another truth about the South is that
they take their football seriously football is a way of life. Every Saturday during the fall is practically a Holy Day of Obligation, spent either tailgating or at home in front of the big screen with all your friends and family, watching the game and eating barbecue. LSU, Ole Miss, UGA, Texas A&M – the SEC (that’s Southeastern Conference, for those who don’t follow sports) is supported by some of the most die-hard, loyal fans I’ve ever met. Now, I come from a long line of Michigan State fans. And if any of you readers are familiar with the Big Ten Conference, or Michiganders in general, you’d know that the University of Michigan vs. Ohio State and the Michigan State vs. University of Michigan games are some of the biggest rivalries in football. But these don’t even come close to the rivalries in the SEC. Don’t get any Southerners started on Alabama vs. Auburn! And see, we Midwesterners think we have the best teams in the country, but when it comes right down to it, we can hardly hold a candle to SEC teams. The Michigan State vs. Alabama game at the cotton bowl this past New Year’s Eve is proof of that – my Spartans were destroyed, 38 to 0. As my Southern teammate told an Ohio State fan, “Oh, please, your teams are part of the Cupcake Conference.”
3. Southern food is in a class by itself. There are fast food places I’d never heard of, dishes I’d never had before, and fried everything. Let me begin by saying there is only one Chick-fil-A in the state of Michigan, and it’s in the airport, so forgive me when I say I’ve only had it three times in my life. But it is a staple Southern fast food restaurant, as are Zaxby’s, Waffle House, Raising Cane’s, Whataburger, Sonic, Popeyes, Bojangles’ – and that’s just the beginning. Then there’s all the quirky Southern foods like shrimp’n’grits, fried catfish, crawfish, hushpuppies, peach cobbler, fried okra, collard greens/turnip greens/mustard greens/all the greens, and in the morning, a buttermilk biscuit sliced in half with a chicken tender in the middle and jelly or honey spread on it – not your typical Egg McMuffin, but a delicious breakfast all the same. Then there’s Cajun food, it’s own entity, yet still from the South. This includes gumbo, jambalaya, boudin and cracklins, po’boys, beignets, even gator (I’ve yet to try any, although I’m told it sorta tastes like chicken). I was lucky enough to stay in Louisiana for a week with a family who spoiled me and my teammates with Cajun food – and let me tell you, once you go Cajun you never go back. Lastly, every Southerner I met drank coffee religiously – a stark contrast to when I was in New England a few months ago, where hot tea was the trend. Down South, you either drink sweet tea or coffee. My preference? Sweet tea, all the way.
4. Southerners have particular mannerisms unique to the rest of the country. As a Northerner (or “Yank”, as I’ve been called by Southerners), my knowledge of Deep South colloquialisms was amassed from To Kill a Mockingbird and Duck Dynasty – and, as it turns out, they are pretty accurate. Southerners really do say things like “Bless your heart“, “Yo’ mom and them” (as in, “yo’ mom and them went to the movies”), “y’all“, “slap yo’ mama” (as in, “It’s so good you could slap yo’ mama”), “fixin’ to” or “fittin’ to“, “rat’s fanny” (as in, “I don’t give a rat’s fanny”), “dadgum” (as in, “These dadgum flies keep gettin’ in the house!”), “Spare me!“, “tragic” (as in, “My hair today is absolutely tragic!”), “shambles” (as in, “After I spent the whole day cooking, my kitchen was in shambles”), and “darn tootin‘” (well, maybe that’s just my teammate from Texas). Besides the cute sayings, there also is a clear code of manners and hospitality that Southerners adhere to. Men hold doors open for women; people address one another as “sir” and “ma’am” as a sign of respect; at the dinner table, nobody eats until everyone is served; people are generally friendly, and often strangers will make polite conversation. BUT there is something I must warn all unsuspecting Northerners: if you are served food – say, jambalaya – you do NOT put any seasonings, spices, or sauces on it UNLESS they are offered to you. Otherwise, you could seriously offend the cook. See, I come from an area where every dressing, sauce, spice, and seasoning available is set out on the dinner table for people to customize their meal to their liking.
5. Monograms. I know, I know, us Northerners have no clue what these things are, but down South, they are HUGE. Essentially, Southern women put their initials (aka, their “monogram”) on everything. But here’s the thing: their initials are arranged so that the first initial is on the left, the middle initial is on the right, and the last initial is in the middle and slightly larger – so if a girl’s full name is Victoria Margaret Campbell, her monogram would look like VCM. They come in decorative fonts and usually are surrounded by some kind of border. It can be placed on anything from T-shirts (very common; I received one as a gift while in Louisiana!) and Yeti tumblers (a magical metal thermos/cup that keeps beverages cool or hot for HOURS) to cellphones, laptops, gym bags, backpacks, bathrobes – the possibilities are endless.
6. Lastly, the truth is that the South’s geography is vastly different than the Midwest’s. Trees are cloaked in Spanish moss (which you shouldn’t touch! They’re full of these things called redbugs or chiggers which are practically invisible but latch onto skin and cause itching), azaleas bloom everywhere, cotton is still grown (you can glimpse vast fields of it beside the road), gorgeous white sand beaches lace the Gulf of Mexico, and massive swamps cover the land – so large that the highway is built on top of pillars sticking out of the water. It is hot and humid most of the year, with short, mild winters and minimal snow. In certain areas, tornadoes can be a common occurrence, although the locals are hardly deterred by them. And yes, many houses have grand wraparound porches.
Well, there you have it: that’s the truth about the South, from a Northerner’s point of view. But don’t take my word for it; go experience it for yourself. It really is a kind of Arcadia.
Want to see pictures I took of my time in the South? Check them out on my Instagram (JacquelynEubanksAuthor) and follow me! And keep checking back here for more blog posts and updates about my adventures, both in travel and writing.