If an ex-pat spent his or her whole adult life overseas, they would still be an American. I will always be a Yankee, I suppose, although as the pains of middle age overtake me (hello, sciatica!), I have spent more years below than above the Mason-Dixon line. My first forays were childhood visits to South Carolina, which seemed so mythical all wrapped up in warmth and Spanish moss.
My paternal grandparents lived in Sumter, S.C., across from a lake full of Cypress trees and home to alligators. Their backyard was perfumed by a huge hickory tree. Nothing like this existed in my hometown, Montclair, New Jersey, and I considered it all to be marvelous.
They had a carport too, which was novel to me, with a utility room off to the side where Granddaddy kept a fridge full of Mr. Pibb. I don’t think that particular soda was available up north because Dr Pepper was. I loved Mr. Pibb, probably just because my grandfather did.
Granddaddy was even more Yankee than his son and grandkids because he was born in Montreal and didn’t move to New Jersey until middle school. The child of Scottish immigrants, he was bilingual in French and English, and his new classmates were amazed he spoke English so well. He found that rather amusing.
Decades later, after 40-odd years in South Carolina (he lived to 88), Granddaddy still pronounced the words out and about as if they rhymed with boat. I guess you can take the kid out of Canada, but not the Canadian accent out of the man.
He absolutely loved to read the papers and would get up early to sit on his screened back porch with coffee. One thing I dislike about living in Houston is this part of Texas is so hot and humid most of the year that sitting on a screened porch is less than ideal. Funny thing, though, I remember some scorchers visiting Sumter in the summer.
I went to college at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, where the weather was a happy medium between frigid N.J. winters and blazing hot environs further south. I remembered hearing that Southerners supposedly drank Cokes in lieu of coffee on hot mornings and gave that a try once with an egg sandwich before class. Gross. Come to think of it, I didn’t see anyone else get a Coke with breakfast. My strongest scent memory of Lexington is honeysuckle, which would erupt and envelope the landscape. I returned this spring for a reunion and the landscape seemed frozen in time, especially nearby Goshen Pass, where my parents met in 1960 on the Maury River. Once you are steeped in such spaces, they stay with you and often call on you to return.
I’m going to skip in this blog over my time in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., because I just don’t really consider those to be in “The South.” (Feel free to debate this and yes, I know there were Confederate sympathizers in Balto., but still, it is its own category. I called it “the forgotten city” because its historical importance seemed to have faded from the collective American consciousness. I highly recommend visiting. The people are awesome (“hey hon”), the architecture is beautiful, the food is amazing and the museums are cool. But, I digress.).
Here in Texas, there is something special you cannot grow up north. We have a citrus grove with Meyer lemons, Satsuma and grapefruit trees. Sadly, our lime tree does not bear fruit after a bitter freeze one year. Growing your own Meyer lemons is deeply satisfying, especially since it doesn’t take much effort. This tree grows like a weed and must be cut back from time to time.
One year, it was so heavily laden with fruit, it fell over during a torrential rain. We propped it back up and it healed. The winter after it sat in Hurricane Harvey floodwater, it didn’t look so good. But that was last year and now it’s completed its comeback. So, tonight, I am going to back salmon in olive oil with Meyer lemons and Satsuma from the side yard. And this is one of the many wonderful things about living in the South.
You just gotta stop and smell the citrus!