Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What I'm Not

There is greater general interest in the place of my birth when I am here.

Here is South of the Mason Dixon Line.

I was born in Athens, GA.

People ask where I'm from and I say "State College, PA. If you took a pink and put it in the dead center  of the state, you'd be about where State College is." Then I talk about Penn State. If they are still listening, we might get around to my family being in Hershey.

But where I'm born keeps coming up this trip. "Why are you in Rock Hill, SC?" they ask. Or Charlotte. Or Charlottesville. So I explain why I was in Athens this past week: a family reunion. And that I'm road tripping back home and stopping by art communities on my way home.

Then their eyes light up. "You were born in Georgia? That's great! Glad to know you're southern." It doesn't all come out in those words. It comes out in a slight nod of approval. Or curiosity. Or the blatant question, "If you don't mind my asking, why would you leave The South?"

The answer is this: my father got a job. We moved. But that doesn't answer the attack I feel has been made on my Pennsylvania roots. In high school, I had a distinct sense that the green farm hills of Central PA were part of my story just as much as the small New York valley town my father was from and the red clay of Georgia were part of my mother.

Its an odd, unspoken complexity. I was in Georgia for just enough of my formative years that it seems like the place I'm really from. My grandmother and cousins and other extended family are down there and we visit about twice a year. I've driven the 11.5 hour drive with my family more times than I can count in the 13 years we've lived in Hershey.

Long enough that when someone says, "I really wouldn't mind if the South actually seceded. And good riddance," I get a little hot beneath the collar.

But I am from Pennsylvania. My home town is in the north. I'm a "yankee baby" as one particularly staunch confederate woman once noted with slight disappointment. I don't have an accent anymore, lost somewhere in the first year we were in Hershey. I don't freak out at the sight of a grey buggy on the road. I know that Lancaster is pronounced "Lan-kester" in falling syllable emphasis and not "Lan KAS ter". It takes me a while to warm up to a large, new group and I generally walk around new places without making eye contact. I do not own a pearl necklace and am generally uncomfortable in the expression of southern femininity.

I stand as the defender of both. No, I do not want the South to secede because they are too "dumb" or "conservative". No, I do not want to be called a "yankee" with that disappointment in your voice, as if I'm somehow a different creature.

Being born matters. I just don't know what part in the story it plays after that.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

preach it.