Culture Shock: A Yankee Meets The South

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*I actually wrote this years ago, but the story is still funny, so enjoy! ☺️

Plenty of factors are to blame for my decision to make the all-emcombassing move from Pennsylvania to unfamilar Arkansas, a sliver of the deep south previously nonexistent to me. College, the companionship of my mother and most of all, a much needed change of scenery, all pushed me to pack up my life and journey twenty hours away from all I knew and loved. But let’s be clear: in no way did I want to BECOME Southern; who I am remains the same regardless of my surroundings. But I took a leap of faith and landed in a place so different that it still continues to shock me. Oh, the experiences of a yankee who crosses way beyond the Mason-Dixon…
On my first Saturday as an actual Arkansas resident, I found myself slumped in the backseat of my step-father’s Volkswagen Jetta, stroking the chilled, nubby surface of the armrest, staring out the window at what seemed like some sort of naturally occuring wasteland: brown lumpy rows of mush running along side one another, one after the next forming a muddy stew blanketing mile after mile of barren fields, stretching as far as I could see in all directions. I would soon learn that this hideous landscape was actually acres and acres of rice fields, a staple of the state and the cornerstone of this area. This was the ‘duck hunting capital of the world’: a city better known as Stuttgart, Arkansas. 
I was informed, or rather warned, by my mother upon my arrival that our presence was expected at a party being thrown by Dave’s fellow employees. After all, his position was the reason he and my mother had relocated south to begin with. After much debate and floundering on my own accord, I had made the trek and was en route to what was to be my first true taste of Arkansas living. It turns out this party was in fact a ‘crawfish boil’ and was being held at the company’s ‘duck camp’. Both of these terms were new to my vocabulary and definitely a mystery to me. What sort of secret backwoods tradition could I possibly be getting myself into? Images of ducks running wild through campsites complete with tents, lanterns and smores flooded my mind, but I hadn’t the slightest inkling as to what this ‘crawfish’ nonsense could be; I was unable to find any memory in which to associate with that term. 
Fresh off the plane, soaking in all my obvious Yankee glory, I watched these rice fields whizzing past, shocked by the utter desolation of this place. Never had I been forced to travel longer than ten minutes (and that’s being generous) to reach some sort of convenience, better known to me as civilization, in its most basic form. I was certain we hadn’t passed a single store in atleast half an hour, not even your basic 7-11. I wondered where these poor fools who had actually chosen to reside here got their toilet paper. What if they craved a Dr. Pepper at 10 PM or ran out of coffee in the morning? My mother sensed my disbelief and made some sort of joke that was hilarious to us, but probably would have offended these folks that must enjoy living so far off the beaten path. 
After one misstep in our directions forced us to turn around in a tiny town called Holly Grove (sounds like a serial killer hot spot, if you ask me), which was basically a handful of crumbling buildings and two old men sitting on a bench in what I guessed to be the ‘town square’, we were finally arriving at our destination, which instantly erased all of my previous expectations of ‘duck camp’. We pulled up to a cabin situated on some sort of waterway, surrounded by woods and dusty terrain. Why this place wasn’t simply referred to as a cabin, (which is exactly what it was) was beyond me, but this was only the beginning of what is now a daily reminder of the stark differences between two opposite regions of the same country. Duck camp or cabin, it was a very nice property, filled with mounted animals and stories of hunts long since past. I was reminded of the weeks I spent at my uncle’s cabin in the mountains of Pennsylvania, but this scenery was vastly different, including the high temperature and sticky heat that smacked me in the face upon exiting the comfort of the air-conditioned car. Yes, there’d be plenty to get used to in my new environment.
Dave was bombarded by friends seemingly ecstatic at his arrival. I was introduced to a number of nice people, who seemed to immediately identify that I was not from around here, even before my ‘accent’ came into play. There were some lawn chairs, a few kids messing around on four-wheelers caked in mud, and even a few smiles lacking a tooth or two. I can remember smiling to myself at the unexpected conformation of my expectations (with no malicious intent, of course). Our new companions commented on my poor choice in clothing for such an occasion (I was wearing white shorts, mind you) and delighted in the fact that I had no clue as to what to expect from any of the day’s activities. The Arkansans had obviously dressed in what I guessed was more appropriate attire: various Razorback shirts, shorts, camoflage in many forms and of course, a hat atop each and every head. But the ensemble of the woman I met next was downright comical. In a long black dress, large decorative hat, plenty of gaudy jewelry and (you’re kidding me, right?) white PANTY HOSE with clunky sandals, she explained that she’s who made the fried pies on the table and gave me a once over I would have expected from someone in a far better role in which to judge. I’m almost positive it was damn near 100 degrees and she was in panty hose and what could have been a blanket. I’ve come to learn that supposedly some Southern women are old-fashioned that way. I’ll take my white shorts any day, thank you very much.
After a barrage of questions and plenty of “say this!” “say that!”, followed by rolling laughter at my family’s ‘yankee accent’ (didn’t they know it was THEM who had the accent?!), it was time to feast. Ah, the time had come to find out about this mysterious ‘crawfish boil’. 
As it turns out, most of the food was downright fabulous: huge pots filled with crawfish, corn, potatoes and sausage, all doused in spicy seasoning with all the trimmings. Although definitely unlike the seafood I so cherish back home, I had no complaints. Well, just one: just how do I go about eating one of these little suckers? 
Ask anyone who has even dined on hardshell crabs with me: I can pick apart crabs like a champion, lightning fast, effective and without waste of any kind. It’s a family tradition and I do it with pride. But these tiny crawfish had no clear point of entry; there was no obvious plan of attack. It was time for my next lesson in the ways of the South. Spoken in a slow, twangy drawl, my directions were to crack the mudbug in half and suck the meat straight out of its head. 
Um, excuse me? As horrifying as this process seemed in theory, it actually proved to be quite effective. But even after I was successful in this ‘head-sucking’ hilarity, I munched on mostly corn, potatoes and peach fried pies for the rest of the meal. Covering my face in crawfish juice was something I only needed to experience a time or two.
With full bellies and plenty of liquid courage, the evening festivities at the ‘duck camp’/cabin commenced. More four-wheeling (which I politely declined thanks to my white shorts and favorite flat sandals), some fishing off the ricketey dock and even a few fireworks. As homesick as I was for my Northern roots, this day of introduction to a Southern style hayday was certainly a pleasant one. Worth the ridiculous drive to the middle of who knows where? Debatable, but you’d hear no complaints from me. Atleast until the drive home. I would definitely regret all that soda I drank when there’s no place with indoor plumbing for miles.
For this Yankee’s first weekend in her new Southern home, the crawfish boil was filled with humor, introduction, and the start of what has become a life that is still a constant state of culture shock, even after all of the years I’ve logged here. There are plenty of Southern ways that still confuse me, surprise me, make me laugh or even make me cringe, but as far as a place to be, the ‘dirty’ south is a comfortable homestead. I am proud of my Northern upbringing, and although I’ll never believe in vast close-mindedness, their conservative lifestyles or (call me crazy) closed liquor stores on Sundays, and I’ll never be caught dead in panty hose, or see the necessity in churches the size of the White House, but I’ll admit I like calling Arkansas home. My ‘yankee accent’ is far from a ‘southern twang’, but a blending of these two wild and weird cultures make for a life I can surely be content with.

Appreciate Your Weird 👽

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One of my friends I cheered with in high school posted this adorable and hilarious story about a conversation with her young son on my facebook:  I told her that it made my night that she specifically thought to share this moment with me and how funny it was because let’s face it, kids say the most hilarious things without even realizing it. But it also made me realize something else: I am an open book. About many things. And completely unafraid to talk about things that some close minded people might call crazy. It made me smile, knowing despite how silly I might sound when I talk about aliens or conspiracies or cannabis legalization or who knows what else, there might always be someone who appreciates it enough to reach out to me when the subject comes up, and to me, that’s cool as hell.

When other moms who smoke weed reach out to me and tell me that my thoughts or advice have helped them in any tiny way, shape or form, my heart swells to 10 times its normal size. I am unapologetic when it comes to who I am, so to have someone tell me they appreciate any part of what I have to say is pure gold to me. Instead of being criticized, I’m greeted with admiration. My favorite teacher, Mr. Fulton, once told me something along the lines of my writing had a relatable quality to it that made my words feel really genuine (the best compliment I’ve ever received) and that’s always stuck with me, even when I’m just blasting my opinions about everything from the JFK assassination to what makes a good mother. Even these simple blog posts I write might mean something to someone, and that in turn, means everything to me.

For instance, this casual facebook status from last week:  Now, I always say these kinds of things on twitter. That’s where I can honestly have no fear about what others think, and where my real friends are (even those who live thousands of miles away!) because we all communicate on a truly personal level. As best as you can with 140 characters, anyway. But imagine my surprise when SO many people ‘liked’ this status, told me how funny and accurately I described myself, and that they’ve always appreciated how unique I am. Quite a confidence booster, considering the bulk of crap I usually see on facebook is people’s highly annoying prayer requests, memes about anything from Jesus to Obama to being a redneck, or highly off putting political views. I speak openly about my opinions, no matter how different from my peers here in the Bible Belt, and it makes me happy to have anyone appreciate it. I’ll never be afraid to talk about something I like, no matter how people might see it. Want to know why I sage and use crystals? Want to know if I (obviously) believe in aliens? Want to know why I think weed should be legal? Want to know who I think was responsible for Kurt Cobain’s death? Want to know if I think ghosts are real? Just ask! I’m always game for a weird conversation.

The point of sharing any of this? To encourage anyone to just ‘BE YOURSELF’. Whatever you’re into, own it. Because not only is it part of who you are, but it makes you awesome, no matter how different it may be from the next person. And remember, there’s always someone somewhere that will say “Me too!” or “Same here!”. In a world as weird and unpredictable as ours is today, those little bonds are a necessity. Own your weirdness. Own your geeky. Own your spooky. Own your magic. Whatever your story, there is always someone who will want to read it.

Until You Have Kids…

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We’ve all been there: a younger, child free version of ourselves, enjoying a night out when *shudder* you suddenly see the hostess setting up a child’s seat at the table next to you. Ugh, there goes our peaceful dinner, you might have said. Or maybe Why would you bring a kid to a place like this?! Even if the child didn’t make a peep, you were horrified at the thought that this little creature could have possibly interrupted your evening. 

Fast forward to today, and suddenly you’re that table that the hostess is setting up a child’s seat for, the one that the patrons are glaring at for possibly ruining the kid free atmosphere you just walked into. A few weeks ago, my husband and I were enjoying a Saturday date night without our son at one of our favorite restaurants. The weather was nice so we sat on the patio, listening to music with a pitcher of sangria. An adorable girl about my age sat down next to us with who was probably her mother and sister, along with her precious toddler, a little boy who I soon learned is two (the same age as my little dude). He immediately didn’t want to sit still, and popped his head up at our table. His mother immediately apologized, to which my husband and I replied: “No worries, we have one too. We get it!” A wash of relief rushed over her face and we traded toddler stories back and forth. I said this to her because I do get it, and it really does make you feel better to know that not everyone in the world is out to judge you as a mother. I’d heard the phrase “Until you have kids…” a million times, but it couldn’t be more true. You don’t know until you have one, so cut us a little slack until you really know what we’re going through.

Lately I’ve seen lots of babble on social media like “Maybe parents should put the phone down and play with their kids instead of posting about them!” or “Don’t you think a mom should only talk about certain things once she has kids?” Let me ask you something: when you woke up this morning, did you decide what you’d be doing with your day? Ok, maybe you have a job, but did you simply wake up, get dressed, and begin your day? That must be so nice; I definitely remember those days. Want to know how my day starts? From the moment I open my eyes, my day is dictated by a two year old. What I’m doing, when I’m doing it: all in the hands of a two year old child. 

Adult conversation? Forget about it! An hour of reading with my coffee? Haha! Riiiight! A real shower everyday, whenever I want? Dear God, I wish! And don’t think I’m complaining, because I’m definitely not. I am well aware that there are definitely chunks of my day spent in sweats catching up on Real Housewives. But being a mom, even one whose happily married, can be SO lonely. Your interactions with your child are amazing, but they can’t chat with you about real life; about the big stuff or the stupid little things. So I’ll use that “Until you have kids…” line to tell you: if I want to take five minute breaks out of my kid friendly day to escape on my iPhone, I will. And until you have kids, you’ll probably keep judging me, but I’ll be there to reassure you that it’s ok when it’s your turn, regardless. 

What topics are off limits for moms? Oh, you gave birth, so no swearing. And no talking about drinking. Or drugs. Or anything remotely inappropriate. Tell me why people (especially younger people!) without kids get to decide what’s right and wrong for mom conversation. I understand not blasting your personal business for everyone to see (especially because there are some nasty souls out there who threaten moms with CPS calls. I’ve seen it and find it disgusting. How dare anyone just loosely throw around such a thing?!) but guess what: I’m still a cool person with a rad opinion to offer the world, and I just so happen to have a precious sidekick to do it with. Stop making moms feel like they are only defined as a parent and nothing more! Because again, until you have kids, you have no right. None. Zilch!

Things are tough enough out there. Protecting our children from all the sick things that unfortunately exist in our world these days is hard enough. Don’t make mothers feel like they have to shield their and their childrens’ lives from judgement from those who don’t even know what they go through. 

Next time you’re at a restaurant, smile at the family with the kid at the next table. You have every right to be annoyed when the kid starts wailing, but until then, just stop and think how to go to dinner that night, you got dressed and drove there, simple and easy. But I promise that that mother you see had to change two sets of clothes atleast twice, put on two sets of shoes, remember to pack a bunch of nonsense, wrestle a mini sumo wrestler into a carseat, and listened to mostly incoherent child babbling for most of that day, all to simply enjoy a meal outside of her own house and feel like a normal person for a few hours. 

Until you have kids…” don’t be so quick to think you know what it’s like to actually have one. Us moms you’re busy judging will be here to answer all those questions you’ll definitely have, and to make you feel less bad when people (like the current, judgemental  you) question every move you make.

  

First or Third Person: The Story of This Currently Conflicted Writer

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After what seems like months with nothing but dry ideas and lack of motivation, some promising inspiration suddenly hit me last night. I was up for what was probably way too long trying to plant specific story points that came to mind, hoping that by morning I wouldn’t forget all this creative gold (it had been a long time coming, ok?! 😊) and lucky for me, I woke with a head full of characters and plot lines, scenery and tone, not to mention lovely optimism towards finally wanting to write.

I do realize I am getting way ahead of myself, that this is all just still free writing and we all know that what may or (usually) may not come of that. But my main issue lately, the bane of my writing existence is deciding between writing in first or third person

I’ve played around a bit with both ways, and while it seemed I could probably go either way, atleast in the short beginning drafts I was toying with, but I worry. 

If I go for first person, am I going to be able to throughly build a good story from only one perspective? But if I choose third person, will I get too bogged down with description and struggle creating necessary dialogue?

Please tell me you’ve been there, too. I guess this is why they say the hardest part of writing is actually starting to write. 😊

Whatever It Meant.

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Any day is the right day for some HST! As obsessed as I’ve been with his work for years, I still read his words in his Gonzo style with great wonder; not before or since has a writer been able to capture a feeling, a memory, or a moment so vividly for his many avid readers.
I wonder what my son will think when I tell him I read Fear and Loathing for the fourth time out loud to him while he was still in my belly 🙂