Cheesy grits and hogwash

I am a transplanted Yankee who grew up in the South.  My parents came South to work for FDR and help Southerners find equity in a country that had denied them for over 100 years.  As the child of these parents, I have seen the South change dramatically over the past few decades.

The new South is nothing like the old South. 

David is the child of a Southerner and Pola, an immigrant from Russia. David Senior met Pola when he was serving with the US Expeditionary Force in Siberia during WWI. David Jr. grew up in the South, and learned to speak English in small southern towns. His mother Pola used to say, “I’m not Carolina born, or Carolina bred, but when I die, I’ll be Carolina dead.” 

David tells me he does not have a Southern Accent.  He lived in Estonia when he was younger, in Pennsylvania as an adult and Germany for a while longer, but when he begins to talk about his days at UNC, his drawl comes out. He can’t help it.

After living with him for 30 years, I have a slight Southern accent.  I say slight, but to some Northern ears, it is more than slight.  Because my parents were Yankees, I thought I sounded like them. I was further convinced of this when I visited my cousins in Wisconsin, and they told me I “didn’t sound Southern.” My accent was and is not very stable. I acquired their Yankee accent almost immediately. My first conquest was to call coke ‘pop.’ 

Thus, I notice when politicians come South and being speaking in Southern tones and intonations.  These accents are “put on” for the locals who think they are idiots for talking down to them.  The most recent example, which has played far and wide in the press was Mitt Romney and his ‘cheesy grits.’ But Mitt wasn’t the first. Mr Obama drops his “g’s” every time he comes South, and Mr. Santorum, who is from the Pennsylvania coal fields, to tell his version of reality, has followed suit. Santorum is on a roll.  He just told the Puerto Ricans they need to learn English. Obviously he does not know that half of all Puerto Ricans live outside PR.  All the Puerto Ricans I know speak English with New York accents (like the kids in West Side Story?).  Duh.

The really ridiculous fact is that many Southerners are not as depicted by ignorant Hollywood moguls.  Most Southerners these days come from somewhere else.  Many ‘newcomers’ have migrated from the North looking for a new life.  Many Southerners like me are the children of earlier migrants. 

No, the new migrants are not carpetbaggers, whose welcome never was.  They are snowbirds, half-backs, business people, and others.  The big story in recent years, before the recent economic downturn, had been the flood of new migrants to the South from other states.  This great push South began in earnest after WWII with the move of textile factories from the North. And, it has continued with the migration of African-Americans, like Morgan Freeman, returning home to their roots in the South, and migrants from Cuba, Mexico Salvador, and points South. In addition, Indian Americans from India have been migrating here for some time, like the families of Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, and Nikki Hilton in South Carolina. Although Vietnamese and Cambodians were settled all over the US, many have migrated to Louisiana where the combination of French accents, and the Gulf of Mexico made them feel at home.  

Actually, the newer trickle of Yankee migrants began moving South with my Mom and her parents, who arrived from Michigan during the Depression to work on the TVA project. My Dad and his pals came South with the CCC. Dad and many other professionals stayed in the South to work for the federal government.

But it wasn’t just professionals like our friend Dr. Chan who grew up on Long Island, moved South, and became a doctor in West Virginia before migrating to northern Virginia, or my dermatologist Dr. Walia, child of Indian immigrants who grew up in New Orléans. Many working people from the North have found their way South. Many migrants from Michigan auto plants have found work in Southern plants in Right to Work States like Tennessee where GM, Toyota and others have built factories. 

True, there are plenty of the “original” Southerners in the South, but they are not immune to the influx of migrants from elsewhere. The result has been that the Southern culture that existed even 40 years ago has changed dramatically and will continue to change.  

 No, the South isn’t what or who you think it is.  Times change and so do people. BTW, I never heard of cheesy grits until last week, although I love sweet tea and collard greens. David hadn’t heard of them either and he is a real grits fan.  Strange isn’t it, as both of us lived in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas before we moved north to Virginia. Both of us also lived many other places, including Europe. Gosh we even know Calamari isn’t a desert. 

(Above, my new hydrangea, a southern plant from Connecticut.)





12 thoughts on “Cheesy grits and hogwash

  1. I would be highly suspect of the genuineness of any kind of acquired accent appearing in someone’s speech if they had only been present in the locale for a short period of time.

    I came to accept being addressed by waitresses as “Honey” or “Sweetie” when I was a youth living some years in the south during the fifties. After I returned to the north, and later moved to the southwest, I experienced being addressed by those terms as rather demeaning unless they were said by southerners — especially so as I’ve become older.

    When I lived in the south my northern accent was an attraction to classmates. Meanwhile, over time I was unconsciously acquiring southern lingo. An in-law born and raised in a southern state, who later lived in numerous U.S. and foreign locations, became aware that she unintentionally, but automatically, acquired predominant accents wherever she lived. But, she was generally in these locations for quite a period of time.


  2. In the late 70s my husband and I, both native Mississippians, spent half a year van camping around the U.S with our 5-year-old son. During several days in Maine, we realized that in all our interactions, we were asking the local residents to repeat everything and they were doing the same to us.

    Years earlier that fake Hollywood southern accent used to make me burn until I attended a weeklong event with other high school girls from all over Mississippi. That is where I met girls from the Mississippi Delta. I was amazed. Their accents were close to the movie version. Years later on my first visit with my future in-laws, I overheard my future brother-in-law commenting on how country I sounded. He was on target. I had already heard a tape recording of myself. I sounded little bitty country girl. No surprise. My roots are definitely rural.


  3. In the major cities in the south, it is hard to find a southern accent that hasn’t been watered down. Hit the fringe areas and you will find it difficult to understand the locals. I lived most of my time in Florida about 100 miles from the tourist attractions. Southern accents are heavy inland while on the coasts, NY, NJ and midwest accents rule.
    Rural Fl is very southern so I do have an accent. It fits right in here in rural Arkansas.


  4. Happy hydrangea. 🙂 I’m grateful that I lived cloistered on a military base in the 60’s. From the prejudice, the segregation, and the heat, I wasn’t ready for any of it. And the bugs. I was a sheltered Southern California teen who missed Mexican food, and what I got was grits. It’s a good thing I liked grits.

    Yup, I like getting to know folks after the meetings. Don’t you go any more. Perhaps we can drag David out to dinner of any sort….not Vegan.


    • Oh he will come. He is looking forward to it. I too was living on various military bases in the 1960s and they were integrated. David was living in Europe with wife #1. They lived off post and were civilians.

      I prefer Tex-Mex food to grits any day.


  5. The first time I was South (except for south Florida and I don’t think that counts) was as a newlywed and my husband was stationed in Charleston SC. We went to a restaurant and I just stared at the waitress – I could not understand a word she said. That was forty years ago…


  6. I have been to Virginia, D.C., and Florida — that’s all of the South I have seen. During my brief jaunts there, I didn’t notice anything extraordinarily different from the northeast where I lived for 5-1/2 years (New York City). There’s lots to see in good ole USA. Maybe, David and I should pay it a visit instead of seeing India and Bali. Lol.


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