We are, without a doubt, in The South. And although the region can be characterized geographically or historically, the most important distinction between The South and Everywhere Else is culture.
Which isn’t to say that those other factors are irrelevant. In northern Arkansas we’re well south of the Mason-Dixon Line and west of the Mississippi River. Viewed historically, this is one of eleven states that seceded in 1861, and we’re just a few miles from the Confederate “border state” of Missouri.
America is 159 years removed from that nation-rending conflict — as a southern friend still calls it, “The War of Northern Aggression” — and it’s been over a half-century since our country needed a “civil rights movement.” So, no matter what we hear in the media, The South cannot be defined by its arguably unflattering past.
As a kid in the ’60s I traveled with my family from Ohio to Florida every spring. We drove through West Virginia, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee. Everything, it seemed to me, was just different in those states — the speech, the pace, the manners. The weather, of course. Faces wore easy smiles.
Today, through aging eyes, I look at the same things and, with the gift of perspective, I understand what I see. The South seems different because, at its core, it is different.
It’s the culture.
There’s heritage here worth preserving, worth celebrating. The South is proud. It’s inescapably provincial. Southerners view most outside influences as either pollution or invasion. Still, people are friendlier and more accommodating in The American South than anywhere else I’ve ever been.
“Southern hospitality” is a real thing. So, by the way, are actual manners.
Life moves at a more relaxed pace. Southern speech is more deliberate, more colorful and more musical. Customs change slowly, if they change at all.
And if we’re talkin’ food — comfort food, American food, my kind of food — I say there’s nothin’ better than Southern cookin’ (pictured). For me, it’s gastronomic heaven.
Southern culture isn’t homogeneous, of course. The Authentic South thrives in rural areas and small towns, less so in big cities (which have been invaded and polluted) and tourist traps (where “southern hospitality” often is peddled like a souvenir).
We’re fortunate to be nestled in The Ozarks, a region that has its own unique southern subculture. This particular swath of northern Arkansas, extending a few miles into southern Missouri, is almost frozen in time — not backward but traditional, independent, old-school.
Distrust of government is high and jab rates are low. People take care of their neighbors and mind their own business. Flags fly. Handshakes and “darlin'” and “bless your heart.”
My lovely wife is addressed affectionately as “Miss Deb.”
The territory is, for us, the ideal mix of farm country and small towns, backwoods and mountains, with all the hospitality and cultural perks of The South.
If, as the late Jimmy Peacock used to say, “Where you’re from is who you are,” then I’ll always be a Buckeye and Deb will always be a Mountaineer. In another way, though — and I believe Jimmy would agree — we were brought up in an America that imprinted values and traditions we carry with us to this day.
That culture, more than geography, is where we’re from. That’s who we are.
And that’s why The South — and specifically The Ozarks — feel so very familiar to Deb and me. So far it looks like they recognize us, too.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.