Editor’s Note: Seeing as how I’ll be gone this week to the Deep South, thought you might like to see why I think the entire place is just pure magic.
I was a mere four months old when I embarked on my first vacation. Granted, I don’t have any recollection of it, but from what I hear, I enjoyed myself. My parents instilled the “travel bug” in me at that very tender age. From that moment, I fell in love with the allure of the open road and big sky. I saw each new family trip as an adventure, an escape to an exotic land. We’ve zoomed all over the good ol’ USA, from the sunny beaches of California to the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. Each spot offered its own brand of culture and did its best to leave its stamp on me.
Now I find myself utterly torn. I’ve always been a Yankee, but lately, the tunes of Dixieland have been ringing in my ears. The two are competing in a fierce battle, pulling at my heartstrings, and I find myself thinking: There is something so magical about the South that just gets you hooked right away. Although my mother loved to take us all over creation on those family trips (I sometimes thought she had a quota of how many brown historical markers we visited), our big trips were always to one place: Fairhope, Ala., a sleepy little town draped in Spanish moss and nestled against Mobile Bay. During Christmas and summer, we made the 1,000-mile journey to visit my grandparents.
After my grandfather worked for Jewel headquarters for more than 20 years, he and my grandmother picked the quaint little spot to enjoy their retirement together. That was in 1978, so I’ve been immersed in Southern charm and elegance my whole life. As a child, I stared out the car window, eyes wide open, waiting to cross the Mason-Dixon Line. I knew the moment the car rolled into Dixie that we were all in for a change. You see, life there moves at its own pace, a pace I grew to cherish. The South is like a duck that just sits lazily under a shady tree all day. People don’t see a need to move fast, but instead choose to fully live in the moment.
This ease allowed my family and me to experience everything the South had to offer. Every morning, even in the midst of the hot and humid summer, we walked to the bay. The walk was so peaceful, and even though we had sweat beads cascading down our faces by the time we reached the water, we still enjoyed sipping a cold soda on the dock. We didn’t say much. Instead, we simply enjoyed the bright sun, cool breeze and occasional pelican that swooped overhead. We could take this moment to truly relax and shut out all our worries, fears or annoyances. It was Southern comfort at its best. On the way home, we’d encounter at least five other walkers. And in typical Southern fashion, these strangers wouldn’t hesitate to be the first to give a friendly “hi, y’all” as we crossed paths. Even their Southern drawl came out slow and steady. As a youngster, it took me awhile to get used to this. But I realized that this was the Southern way of making you feel like family; it was their way of making you feel at home.
Other times, we experienced this friendliness in one of my favorite spots: the supermarket. I’m talking about a quintessential, original grocery store, such as Winn-Dixie, or my personal favorite, the Piggly Wiggly (Are there any other words more fun to say?). These stores are small and quaint, and there’s a certain charm to them that radiates warmth. For example, you can take a stroll down the cereal aisle, and amidst the Frosted Flakes, hear a conversation between two women about their children’s first day of kindergarten. I’ve always loved immersing myself in these environments, and they never failed to put a smile on my face. If you ever get a chance, I recommend you pick up a bag of Golden Flake, The South’s Original Potato Chip, from one of these fine establishments. Tell them Melissa sent you. They’ll hook you up with the goods.
Now, the last thing I want to do is knock Northern life, but my years in Alabama have shown me just how different the two cultures are. Yankee life moves at the speed of light. People are always rushing to their next appointment. They have to pick up their clothes at the dry cleaners. They have to run to the post office to mail bills. They have to go grocery shopping. They have to do 12 loads of laundry. They have to pick up their kids from school and put dinner on the table by 6 p.m. And everything has to be done right now.
Have you ever wondered why people keep going, going, going? It’s like they’re running a marathon that has no end in sight. What would happen if we all just stopped, sat down and – gasp! – relaxed? Would the world crumble to pieces? I hate to break the news, but none of us is Superman, and the fate of the world does not rest on us working all day. We can learn a thing or two from our Southern neighbors. They live at their pace and are artfully able to shut out the hustle and bustle of life. I encourage you, even if it’s only for an hour, to put away whatever project you’re working on and treat yourself to some good old fashioned R&R. Or, the next time you’re walking around the lagoon or shopping in Wal-Mart, give someone a friendly greeting. You just might make their day.
Oh, and if you find yourself whistling “Dixie,” don’t be alarmed. It’s one of the expected side effects.