For snowbirds migrating south
Written by Warren Hughes
When you drop by a store in the Carolinas, whether it be in Asheville or Seabrook, it dawns on y’all, there are a lot of folks around here who aren’t from these parts. That’s because almost half million of them a year are hankering to make this place their home.
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Newcomers know why they’ve come, but they soon realize their new home seems more like a new country than just another state. Natives were born knowing certain truths, but migrators soon learn they need a primer before they are primed on our way of doing things and even the language we speak.
People who refuse eye contact in New York are likely to be caught off guard when a stranger on the road honks and waves or somebody at the grocery asks who their daddy is. They probably know southern cooking has gone mainstream, but they don’t realize that barbecue is a religion and high calorie casseroles have never gone out of style. Longtime southerners keep some of those dishes waiting in the freezer in case somebody drops dead and there’s a visitation. And if newcomers think funerals are serious, wait until football season comes around.
“Dogs are like family” is not just a sentimental phrase. It’s what we call the gospel truth in the South. They inspire a lot of our language. We say that dog can’t hunt, (someone is incompetent), we don’t have a dog in that fight (outcome doesn’t matter to us), and, if you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch (pretty obvious meaning, there). And, although “nawtherners” might have a Bichon Frise, southerners also have coon dogs and Boykin spaniels and are right serious about them, too. New Englanders might have lobster fests, we still have sugarcane squeezings as social functions.
Southern writer Tom Poland, said, “Nothing identifies a region like its language, and a language we have, not only because of our magnificent accent, but peppered and spiced with colorful sayings that enthrall outsiders though it can be a bit undecipherable. Take the phrase ‘jack-leg preacher.’ Just what does that mean? It turns out that a jack-leg preacher is a fellow who self-taught himself the ways of the cloth. You can also have a fellow fix your car who’s a jack-leg mechanic. Self-taught.” Poland acknowledges it might take some transplants a month of Sundays to decipher our southern talk.
And when we ask who somebody is, we don’t mean simply their name and address. We mean WHO they really are as in, did his uncle play tight end for Clemson in the 70s, did his aunt know mine at Coker College, was his mother a Blackstone from Greensboro, or did his Daddy grow cotton in Lee County?
The six degrees of separation theory is accepted fact. Kathy Garrick, a Columbia realtor who has a second home at Litchfield, says it doesn’t take her but a few minutes on a beach walk to discover a string of mutual acquaintances, if not cousins, in chatting with fellow strollers. And while speaking of the simple practice of taking a stroll, Heather Atkinson Berland, a Philadelphia native, remembers realizing dog walking in Columbia is not merely walking a dog – it is an occasion for extended visits with whomever you might encounter with a planned five-minute outing easily turning into an hour-long excursion.
Now a Washington, D.C.-based news editor, Evan Berland, Heather’s husband, had his own share of cultural shocks while serving as bureau chief with Associated Press in Columbia. He recalls meeting a new neighbor who asked him if he liked to shag. Urbane and erudite Berland was most familiar with the Cambridge Dictionary meaning of the word “shag” denoting sexual intimacy. He was not yet aware of the word’s southern designation meaning the official form of dance accorded high status in both Carolinas.
The Berlands were also quick to learn that barbecue was not merely a form of outdoor cooking for a range of meats but a serious culinary tradition that started in the South and refers to pork and its regional variations across the Carolinas.
The late Howard Richardson of Columbia was familiar by proximity with the Lexington, S.C. brand of mustard-based BBQ, but naturally he considered the version in his native Lexington, N.C. to be infinitely superior. He always drove across state lines to get his downhome version of North Carolina tomato-based “red sauce” BBQ for any parties he hosted.
Various barbecue allegiances draw an almost religious fervor acknowledges regional barbecue expert Lake E. High, Jr. of the S.C. Barbecue Association. As a Columbian, High is infinitely puzzled over why a fellow resident would remotely consider serving a North Carolina version of BBQ.
“If someone from South Carolina goes to North Carolina for barbeque, that's like going from a Rolls Royce to a Ford for transportation,” High contends. “In South Carolina and only in South Carolina, we have four types of barbeque: vinegar and pepper; light tomato; heavy tomato; and mustard. North Carolina has two: vinegar and pepper found in the eastern part of their state and light tomato in the Piedmont and the middle of their state. Why leave four for only two? It doesn't make any sense.”
But if the Old North State, as NC is called, only really has two official versions of BBQ, that doesn’t mean it is any less revered. “Barbecue is the third rail of North Carolina politics,” says retired UNC sociology professor Dr. John Shelton Reed, who helped found the university's Center for the Study of the American South and the quarterly Southern Cultures. He and his wife, Dale Volberg Reed, coauthored Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue and 1001 Things Everyone Should Know about the South. He is also cofounder and Éminence Grease of the Campaign for Real Barbecue.
While North and South Carolinians may argue about BBQ, commerce, sports and whether Andrew Jackson was born north or south of the state line, they have to acknowledge, even if begrudgingly, that historically they were once one. Established by King Charles II, North and South Carolina originally were simply "The Carolinas." As the two regions evolved separately, a formal division occurred in 1712 and North and South Carolina became two distinct colonies. Scholars and humorists alike have been drawing comparisons or poking fun at each ever since.
South Carolina Attorney General James L. Petigru described his state as “too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.” North Carolina has been described as a "Vale of Humility between Two Mountains of Conceit," a description originally attributed to Alexander Hamilton.
So welcome to those who put up with – even enjoy – Carolina eccentricities as a bit of spice, especially enjoyable when sprinkled over our gorgeous mountains-to-sea geography.
As new SC arrivals from Chicago in 1983, CarolinaLiving.com publishers, Pat & Leyla Mason were assisted greatly to fit in quick when a good friend coached them to greet everyone with, “Hey! How You?” Buttresses their social position to this day.