When my husband and I married in June of 1988, we knew that upon returning from our honeymoon, we’d be packing up all of our belongings and driving to South Carolina in order for my husband to begin his first chemical engineering job. Amid the hugs and tears from our parents, we headed out on a sunny day, a weekday to be sure, since my
husband had to report to work the following Monday. My memory is a bit faded these 23 years later, but we had the necessities with us, packed in my 1984 Ford Mustang. The movers were bringing the furniture to our new apartment a couple days after our arrival, so we wanted to get there, to our new home, before they did. We were young, 23 years old, and excited to start our new life together, in a completely new place to us, The South!
My husband and I both grew up in Defiance, Ohio, in the northwest corner of the state, Toledo the big city to our north, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, the big city to our west. We were surrounded by flat land, corn and soybean farms; Yankees through and through. Driving to our new town, North Augusta, SC was a lovely trip, especially pretty when we drove through the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. I marveled at those mountains. Northwest Ohio barely had hills! Humidity was reigning supreme as we drove further south, but all of the shops and restaurants and hotels we did business with had air conditioning, I noticed. God bless the man that invented air conditioning and his descendents!
I noticed that plants in South Carolina and Georgia were somewhat different than what I had grown up with. When we bought our first house, our neighbors talked about Bermuda grass and Zoysia grass in their yards. Magnolia trees were stunning to me with their large, thick, deep green leaves and their lemon-scented, creamy white blossoms. Gardenia bushes-equally sweet smelling, crepe myrtle bushes, pampas grasses, azaleas, and kudzu were more examples of new plants for me to study. Kudzu, a very stubborn vine that loved to cling and grow on anything it could find to cling to. I had read it was introduced from Japan in the 1920s and it took over the South! One could see it growing willy-nilly in very thick patches along most southern roads and highways. Spanish Moss, ah, we never saw that in Ohio! It reminded me of a dried, grey seaweed, gracefully draped over many a deciduous tree branch, waving in the breezes. Mulch, in our part of the South, was pine needles, or pine straw as the locals called it. No wood chips here! Tall pines with long trunks reaching high to the heavens before a branch appeared were the norm and using their needles for mulch made sense to me, after awhile. Hurricance Hugo hit Charleston, South Carolina that first Autumn we were in the state. Fortunately, we lived on the western side of the state, and merely had a heavy rainstorm for most of the day, and I will never forget those tall pines, bending all the way over with the needled branches touching the ground before being snapped into another bend, needles touching the opposite ground of where they had just touched. Palmetto trees were another tree that I never saw in Ohio. These palm trees were common on South Carolina’s coast. Short, stocky palm trees and a symbol on South Carolina’s state flag.
Foods, we noticed, were somewhat different in the South, too. Due to the former agrarian lifestyle that was common all over the South, the older generations could make many meals for their families from one pig! Ham, ham gravy, biscuits with sausage gravy, ham and green beans, fried chicken, greens, chittelings, corn bread, grits, peach pie, peach cobbler, Brunswick Stew, she crab soup, sweet iced tea, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, bbq South- Carolina style, slaw dogs, these were some of the foods that I learned about, some to enjoy, some to avoid, and some to make. Our side of South Carolina was the peach growing capital of the U.S. despite Georgia making that claim. It was nice to drive past the peach orchards on our trips north to visit our families. I learned to identify a peach tree quite well and still can do so to this day.
South Carolina was one of the original 13 colonies. Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, is where the Civil War began. ( Excuse me, since I used that Yankee word for that war, as I learned from my teaching colleagues, most of them Southerners born and raised, they don’t call that war by that name!) A Revolutionary war battle had been fought in the northern part of the state, at Cowpens. The sea islands off the coast near Charleston also fascinated me, as the natives that lived there, descendents of slaves, spoke their own language called Gullah, a mix of African words and who knows what all else, and they still speak it, which is quite remarkable to me. They haven’t lost that part of their culture. Our town, North Augusta, was right across the Savannah River from a larger city, Augusta, Georgia. Home of the Masters Golf Tournament, always held in March or April, inevitably around Easter. As I taught school in nearby Aiken, South Carolina, many of the schools in our area took Masters week off for Spring Break. My husband and I were fortunate to go to two of the practice rounds two years in a row. The course at Augusta National is so beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful. The azalea bushes all in bloom, with colors of white, red, purple, and pink. Bobby Jones, the course designer, did an outstanding job all those years ago. I was told by a friend that if the azaleas threatened to bloom too soon, the groundskeepers packed them in ice to slow down the process so the azaleas would bloom their best for the television cameras!
Southern speech was full of different slang terms and many I had not heard before. “Y’all”, was the only one I already knew. My students liked to get me to utter the slang terms I used while growing up in the North, such as, “You Guys!” I learned from my students that you don’t push a button, you mash it. Grocery carts were buggies. If you were about to start a project, you said you were “fixin'” to start. If you thought you might change your mind, you said, “I might could”. If you wanted a soda to drink, you said you wanted a “Coke”, and then when asked what kind, you would tell them orange, or Sprite, or Root Beer! My students were also trained to say “Yes, Ma’am” and “No Ma’am”, which was a nicety that I really appreciated.
Does Southern Hospitality really exist? Yes, it does. I noticed it right away as we settled into our first home. People were quite friendly, holding doors open for people, making people feel at home when they came to visit for the first time. Life seemed to move a bit slower in the South too. Not so many hurrying people as in a big city. The closest we got to feeling that hurry sensation were the few times we ventured to Atlanta.
When I think of Spring, or see ads for The Masters on television, my mind and heart always travel back to those five wonderful, sweet years we lived in North Augusta, South Carolina, attending church and shopping in Augusta, Georgia, and teaching school in Aiken, South Carolina.