It could very well be one of those generalization chuck holes we try so hard not to step into in this age of political correctness, but I have to say, one I’ve been encountering recently here in the South seems to hold water.
I’m talking about Southern politeness, graciousness even. I lived most of my life in New England. People there are not cold by any stretch, but there is a certain reserve extolled by many who live there. In one of my grief blogs I had commented on a walk along a Massachusetts rail trail and how many people made (or did not) make eye contact.
Having recently moved into a new house, I’ve had many occasions to work with movers, contractors, HVAC guys. All of them to a body have referred to me as “ma’am.”
When I was in my 40’s and a grocery clerk called me by that moniker I was a little offended, as I associated it with advancing age. I was no longer living in the soft-focused lens, youthful world of “miss.” However, here in Virginia it is just one sign of many I am pleasantly encountering that show there is graciousness still in this world. And it’s not just the overt politeness of service people.
I had barely laid eyes on my new house when a slight figured middle-aged man padded over in flip flops to introduce himself as my future neighbor. He extolled the many virtues of the recent workmanship on the house I was eyeing (and consequently purchased) and said he hoped I would be his new neighbor.
Since that day just a few weeks ago, Pete and his partner have walked the short distance across the street to hand me cut flowers from their garden, an Aloe vera plant and most recently the coup de gras: A large woven willow basket laden with Chicken Parmesan, pasta, fresh yellow tomatoes and crusty garlic bread- still warm from the oven. Southern hospitality is not, my friends, such a terrible stereotype.
“Welcome to the neighborhood!” they would exclaim, arms outstretched, inviting this New England transplant into their inner circle. I am bowled over by their warmth and know I am fortunate to have at least one set of such generous neighbors.
Pete is a self-professed rambler and likes to talk about the neighborhood history as he waves his hands around, cigarette displayed elegantly between his fingers which were once knuckle deep in women’s hair as a former stylist for some 40 years. He confides that 20 years ago when he and his partner moved to this neighborhood they had two strikes against them.
“We were white and we were gay,” he said, with a husky laugh. My neighborhood is called the Stuart Addition historic district of Staunton. At the turn of the century, it was where black schools and churches were located in the once segregated town.
My brother was here helping with some home improvement projects recently. Pete noticed from across the way that he was limping around the back yard, tools in hand (my brother has water on the knee – yes it’s a real thing).
Pete came across the yard and handed him a tube of mentholated cream for his knee pain. My brother was surprised and grateful. Grateful for the relief for his aching knee but I believe, even more so that his sister who lives alone in a new city, has at least two attentive and caring people living next door.
When I was young, we moved from Tennessee to Connecticut so my dad could leave coal mining behind and start a new job. I did not realize it until I was older, but my mother never really warmed to New England. I believe she missed the relaxed open door policy, and close knit family connections she had left behind as with five kids in tow, she followed her husband North to a better job, and hopefully, a better life for her family.
As soon as he retired, my parents beat tracks – not back to what I think of as the true South, but to Florida, and spent some pleasant years there.
Me? I like the changing seasons Virginia offers, so reminiscent of New England. I also like living in a town comfortably tucked between the Shenandoah and Allegheny mountain ranges. Will it be my forever home? I don’t know. However, a mural recently commissioned by the city gives me a good feeling so far about my choice to date.