I sometimes get teased for growing up in Delaware, and considering myself southern. And that’s fine. Because honestly, you don’t have to live in or have grown up in the American south to be southern. Being southern is a way of being, it’s a way of life, and it’s a beautiful endless combination of sensibilities that comfort your soul and warm (and bless!) your heart.
Because I like to point it out, however, my family is from South Carolina (so stick that in your pipe and smoke it!)—although yes, I grew up in the suburbs of northern Delaware which is technically above (just slightly to the right of, one could even say parallel to) the Mason-Dixon line. No matter. Because it’s true: being southern is a way of life. My parents, being from South Carolina (have I mentioned that?), made it a point to raise my brothers and I with proper southern etiquette.
‘Yes ma’am, yes sir; please and thank you’—especially before, during, and after meals—were all part of our vocabulary. Those metal boxes on wheels at the grocery store were not called “shopping carts” they were called “buggies.” Not going for seconds at the supper table was considered rude. Homemade tea never, ever, had less than 2 cups of sugar per pitcher. Mayonnaise was not a condiment, it was a stand-alone food—and a must if you were making any sandwich, hot dog, hamburger, or anything that involved placing meat or a vegetable between two slices of bread. The phrase “bless your heart” had many meanings, defined in the moment depending on the recipient. Mosquito bites weren’t treated with special ointment—it was straight up rubbing alcohol, or in my case as a little girl: a broke-open cigarette’s tobacco mixed with spit to form a paste to “draw out the poison.” Gardens weren’t a hobby, it was just what was done—grown and looked after with love and attention like our lives depended on it. If you were going through hell, you kept going with a smile on your face and Jesus in your heart and you never, ever, gave up. If something was broken, you fixed it. Rain was something to be thankful for—and front porches were made to sit and watch and listen to thunderstorms (with a glass of that homemade sweet tea). Sundays were saved for the Lord, rest, and extended-family suppers.