Sunday, February 09, 2003

Which Side Am I On?

“In New York, the fact that I used to hunt – with an actual gun – made me a Neanderthal. In the South, the fact that I stopped made me a homosexual.”

“New Yorkers pretend they’ve read book they haven’t. Southerners deny reading ones they have.”

-- Michael Graham, Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War

The Oxford American began publishing again at the beginning of this year. Like The New Yorker, it sets me to making lists of books to read, art exhibitions to attend, and movies to see. I have not read the above cited, enticingly titled book. The quotations don’t even come from a full review, just a page of tiny excerpts – enough to make me reach for the To Read page of my notebook.

I nod knowingly when certain titles or authors come up; I omit mentioning that I’ve read others. I went to college in Massachusetts, and friends and classmates sometimes asked me to speak for The South. When I lived in Oxford, Mississippi, a coworker said, as flakes began to fly, “you’re probably used to driving in the snow, being from the North, and all.”

Time as a curator at the Valentine Museum, plus the time living the Southern Studies program (Center for the Study of Southern Culture Home Page) through Christopher, prepared me to Speak for The South much better than did spending about sixteen years growing up in suburban Richmond before going to Mount Holyoke. I wasn’t raised a Southerner, and I don’t think real Southerners take me for one. If I had to check a box, I’d probably reach for “other,” like children of different-race parents do. I would feel okay checking “Virginian,” feeling that I am a type of late 20th century carpet-bagged, suburban Virginia. I missed ham biscuits at Mississippi functions and Massachusetts McDonaldses, but the CCV and Junior League haven’t come calling. Still, on the return leg of a roadtrip, green signs with giant white arrows pointing the road to RICHMOND fill me with gladness and security. Maybe that’s how everyone feels about home, though. It’s the place where you know the rules: whether hunting and reading are good or barbaric.

Capital City weather: bright blue skies, about 40 degrees.

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