As the weather warms, the South unfurls from social hibernation.
I know it is officially spring when Lois and Ty’s fish thaw.
Just down the block, my neighbors tend a koi pond in their yard, and for most of our East Tennessee winter, their fish live in a chilly suspended animation, hearts slowed to a sporadic pulse until the weather turns and they can resume swimming in tiny circles to the delight of my children (and maddening frustration of my dogs).
As go the koi, so too our neighborhood. When the temperature drops, we sink to the bottom of our respective ponds and embrace the seasonal torpor. Our historic district is a tight one. As my friend Peggy says, “If I’m out of milk, one text and I’ve got five people that will bring a quart within two minutes.” (Same goes for bourbon. And baby diapers.) But during the winter, most of us squirrel away indoors, the sidewalks empty save for the few poor souls who have to walk their pets in the freezing gray. Thankfully, ours being a Southern town, the hibernation lasts only 12 weeks.
Then the koi are reborn. As is Peggy’s mint patch, which she futilely tries to cordon off. Next door, Kelly puts tomato seedlings into her raised beds, which only a month ago held kale. Her husband, Kevin, brings out the old paint cans so his daughter Josie can decorate her now-inhabitable tree house. Across the street, John does his first hedge trim with the same busted clippers he’s had for years, which leads to their inevitable breakdown and John sitting on the front porch, beer in hand, halfheartedly trying to rejigger them. Scott brings his raft of kayaks out of storage. Jeff does the same with his water scooter and his cornhole set. Ashley and Levon hang their laundry to air-dry in the yard, their toddler Addy looping gleefully in and out of the damp swinging sheets. Best of all, Holly resumes her impromptu porch parties—spontaneous affairs that start with a little cocktail hour and inevitably become epic feasts of barbecue, chili, bean salads, flavored moonshine, and delicious sweets of every imagining.
By nightfall, the spring sun has given way to the remnants of the winter’s frostiness, but nobody seems to mind. We are all too busy sinking bean bags on Jeff’s boards, gobbling up Peg’s mini cupcakes, and licking our glasses clean of Holly’s sweetened hooch.
It is in the spring that the South most reminds us of why we live here. Azaleas and sweet peas show their colors. The hateful low winter glare softens. Buds dot every tree with reassuring green. Blooming season comes early here, inviting us outdoors to again be swimming among our people, soaking up all the warmth we’ve been missing.