The Joys of Moving Back South

September 14, 2012 | By | Comments (14)
South Toward Home

Illustration by Claudia Pearson

Moving back South is something Southerners do. Lovers of nostalgia, we are all about the rearview mirror, the greener grass in the yard where we grew up. Since leaving home at 17, I have moved back South eight times in 25 years, departing various Northeastern professional arcadias and supposedly superior dining opportunities for the bleached-linen, biscuit-baking, horsefly-biting landscape of my childhood. Or as close to it as my California-born, New York City-bred husband would permit.

This latest go, I made it all the way from NYC to Tennessee. The relocation was met with more raised eyebrows than the entire cast of every Real Housewives reality show.

“Why?” they all (okay, mostly the New Yorkers) would ask.

I never had a clear answer. It is impossible to distill atmosphere, to defend a decision made without concrete reasoning. I suppose I could have said, “Because the South, like anything worth knowing, is complicated. And complexity married to beauty never bores.”

But I did not. Usually, I said, “The economy.”

In truth, I had wants.

I wanted to sweat when I climbed into my car.

I wanted a place where playdates did not exist and play did.

I wanted not to be the only woman at the school bake sale who 1) loved coconut and 2) made her own cake.

I wanted to garden more than three months a year.

The South is a land where grace and guilt sit shoulder to shoulder, where the past isn’t past, and redemption is ever on offer.

I wanted my kids to know the value of manners.

I wanted to hear birds sing at night and get high on honeysuckle and marvel at the size of magnolias, perched like Easter hats on waxy green heads.

I wanted to drink in twangs and drawls.

I wanted to hear the frenzied jangle of banjos and fiddles.

I wanted to lay eyes on men wearing overalls and cowboy hats and women with hair teased high as Larry Hagman.

I wanted to hug people I just met.

I wanted to see bugs big enough for saddles. And insolent enough to stick around when the lights come up.

I wanted to drive past walls of kudzu, both terrible and beautiful, draping the landscape like living quilts.

I wanted to suck wild berries and guzzle RC.

I wanted to stop agonizing over fried food.

I wanted to eat. And eat. And eat.

Most of all, I wanted to raise my children, girls ages 10 and 11, in my ancestors’ geography, where they could ramble barefoot in the sunshine and not fret about being sideswiped by a speeding taxicab.

It was less than a week after our move South that we found ourselves kayaking Abrams Creek at the border of the Smokies. We paddled for an hour, then tied off where the river pooled, meeting a series of falls. We swam among the moss-capped rocks, the girls trying vainly to cup small trout in their hands. After a bit, we ate lunch, chicken-and-cheese sandwiches, spicy okra, chips, canned root beer chilled by the stream. We watched the water go white as it fell, like a tour guide photograph, the sun throwing sparks, everything glint and glimmer and the lullaby of a rushing creek.

Dusk approaching, feet pickled and bellies full, we climbed back into our boats, paddling more slowly now, any urgency bled. We cruised along the riverbank, talking little, smiling at the ropy trees with roots like tripods, at the circling hawks.

Ahead, local teens were jumping off an overpass bridge.

“Mama!”

I looked to my spouse, who shrugged. Why not?

We docked again, trudged up the packed gravel to the road, and took our place in line.

The drop was higher than I thought. And I knew nothing of the depth below. I watched a boy pitch off, surmising he was at least 6 foot. He hit the water like a spear, bobbed up grinning. More importantly alive. I tightened my girls’ life vests.

“Nothing fancy!” I cautioned. “We’re going to hold hands and jump.”

It was, of course, the perfect metaphor. We were all plunging into the unknown, the South nothing if not a place of infinite mystery. I had come back, boomeranged yet again, still searching for that elusive missing part, the Southernness—otherness—one finds only in Dixie, a land of stark contradiction, where grace and guilt sit shoulder to shoulder, where the past isn’t past, and redemption is ever on offer.

“Count of three?”

The fall was, as all falls are, exquisitely rousing. We popped from the water like corks, hearts pumping, skin smacked pink, breathless.

Home.

Allison Glock is an award-winning journalist and non-fiction writer. Her column, South Towards Home, appears monthly in Southern Living.

COMMENTS

  1. Keith Talbot

    For as long as I can remember I have wanted to live in the south. From MI I moved a little too far south to Fl 2 years ago. I can’t wait to move up to the real South in the Carolina’s. Thanks for giving me even more reasons:)

    September 14, 2012 at 8:34 pm
  2. Patty

    Born & raised in Michigan, I fell in love with the South during high school……a class on Southern Writers. I loved the complexity, the beauty, the manners, the graciousness, the history. I longed to be part of it. After college I moved to North Carolina, and then recently to Alabama. I would never leave the South. Life is more colorful, slower-paced, and beautiful here. This is where I am raising my children.

    September 14, 2012 at 9:09 pm
  3. Lauren

    You’ve managed to capture how each of us truly feels who had to move away. Born and Raised a South Carolinian, I took my first job out of college in Eastern Pennsylvania. Even with a good spirit I was miserable. People always in a hurry, no manners, nothing but a bad roads with meager mountain views. Did I get to do some neat stuff in NYC & Philly? Absolutely. However the second I was able to move back, I did. People asked me why and my answer was “my family,” but the real reason was I missed so many of the things you described. I missed Southern Football, ladies and gents who actually cared about looking proper, men with proper manners, Yessirs and Yes Ma’ams, talking to someone in a line, sunsets over the Blue Ridge Mountains, a REAL beach, golf courses galore and much more. Thank you for putting it into words.

    September 15, 2012 at 6:52 am
  4. Jene Davis

    WOW! That says it all! Born and bred in the south!

    September 15, 2012 at 8:43 am
  5. Cathryn Collins

    This could not be more true. I was born and raised in South Carolina to a very southern family. I wanted to broaden my horizons so I chose to swim for a university in Ohio. It was a lot of fun and I made amazing friends; but I accepted a full-time job back in South Carolina before I even graduated. Parents up north always felt disrespected when I replied, “Yes m’am, No sir,” while for me it demonstrated the highest level of respect for my elders. I will never, and I repeat, will never, leave the south again. I couldn’t wait for the next break to come home and not feel like the weird one at the party because I had on seersucker and my stomach wasn’t showing. I love South Carolina and could not imagine my life anywhere else or how I ever left.

    September 18, 2012 at 12:41 pm
  6. Debbie

    I am planning to move to SC. I’ll be there first week of Oct. looking at rentals for friends and my hubby and myself. Retirement!!! Yeahhh!!! Friends will be there in Dec. My hubby has to work another year till he’s 60, hope to see you all down on the beach after Dec, 2013!!! Can’t wait!

    September 25, 2012 at 9:17 am
  7. jeannelle

    Left me in tears! I am a California native but a southern girl at heart. Spent a few years in Texas then unfortunately back to California. My prayer is to move to the Carolinas so I can raise my girls in the south, a little bit of heaven on earth! Thank you for this amazing story. I will read it often and pray for it to soon be my reality!

    September 25, 2012 at 6:11 pm
  8. Debbie

    Jeannelle, Good Luck my Dear. Perhaps one day we will meet. I spent time in Fort Bragg, NC as a child with my uncle’s family. He was a Green Beret. The south is beautiful, but, bottom line, South Carolina is our choice. I love the laid back, kindness, as I am a ‘Pay it Forward’/’Random Acts of Kindness’ type of person. My daughter showed me this way, before she passed away at a young age. I guess I always was this way, but never realized it. But, since there’s not a whole lot for me here in PA, hubby and I just want to leave it all and enjoy what is left of our lives…

    September 25, 2012 at 8:32 pm
  9. Linda Anderson

    I have lived in the South all my life, and never, ever want to leave it.. familys here seem to love deeper, have such a love for fairness, and family.. No to mention the food !! I am so amazed at the people who move here from up North, and cannot believe the depth of the flavors and love that is put into the preparing of it… …

    September 28, 2012 at 1:37 pm
  10. Cherrie Carse

    Absolutely what I miss about the south! Plus a sense of humor-no one laughs at my jokes out here. : ( People raucously laughed in the south.

    September 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm
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    October 4, 2012 at 8:39 am
  12. Stephen M Jex

    I grew up in Seattle and still, to this day, love the beautiful Pacific Northwest. However, I moved to the South in 1979 with International Paper and have been here, mostly, ever since. I tried a brief stint back in Tacoma Washington but the teachers and children ridiculed my children for saying yes Sir and no Mame. It wasn’t what I’d remembered and we soon moved back. My children were raised down South and now have grandkids here and here is where I will be! You see, I married a Southern women who was born and raised here and never left her home town. This article tells it like it is and hugging people you don’t know is just a small part of the wonderful heritage of the southern temperament. And as an aside, I had to learn to slow down, walk, talk, and most things I did but I’m still here and will be from now on.

    October 31, 2012 at 7:01 pm
  13. Florence Maloy

    Oh, how beautifully stated. Born in Mississippi, raised in Alabama, now in Lousiana with a cabin in the Smokies. North Carolina is as far north as I ever want to go! The statement about raising children with manners is fundamental to being a true Southerner. Hugging strangers, living life, loving little silly things and appreciating the beauty our slower rhythm offers; there is nothing at all like the South. How lucky we are; and how lucky I am to have a northern born husband who could not manage another dreary nothern winter after being in Jacksonville with the Navy.
    Let us drawl on y’all!

    November 2, 2012 at 10:56 am
  14. Annonymous

    I moved from GA to Seattle. What a misery is the cold hearts and chilled wind and oceans even us summer! Not to mention the Seattle freeze ( unfriendliness) free freak shows…no manners, no grace, cloudy days, secular, no kindness, rudeness, and scools are terrible.

    I miss the south the ladies and gents…the lush beauty and refreshing waters in the summers, the traditions, family love, people love and civility…

    February 15, 2013 at 7:33 pm