I say y'all with alarming frequency. It beats youse or yinz or you guys. It seems friendlier and more caring, less abrasive. The pleasant twang of my neighbor Harlan, his real name, has seeped into me and started to turn me Southern. I have tried grits and chicken fried steak and gravy and even greens. I have sat on the porch with a glass of sweet tea and watched the sky turn blue to red to purple to black. I have ambled - honest to God. I just stuck my hands in my pockets and strutted down the street and discovered the neighborhood. I took my time and observed the surroundings, unconcerned about my pace or heart-rate. I enjoyed the sound of the crickets and cicadas and the finall tweets and coos of the wrens and nesting doves.
I find myself changing in ways I approve and applaud. I nod and smile at everyone I pass on the street. I find a ma'am and sir pushing out of my mouth when I address elders. I am content to listen to someone speak before speaking. I am not anxious to do anything on some days. I am changing.
My neighbors and acquaintances smile and shake their head at my growing enthusiasm for my adopted homeland. They think I am making fun of them and don't see that I am serious. Predecessors have made it difficult for me to assimilate and win over my adopted kinfolk.
It is a better life for me here. I have not come across a stereotypical yokel with a wad of chaw in his sheek spittin' and grinnin' and pluckin' at a banjo. The quiet and casual pace of the South attracts me. The effort to decide for action and then to move forward with convinction attracts me the most. I have not experienced the gothic aspects of the South, but I see hints and savor the emerging possibilities.
I spend some time every week with Missus. Colleen, a withered old lady hunched and brudened by her life who lives a few houses down from my own dilapidated structure. She does very little these days, puttering around the house and grounds with the help of a knotted hickory cane. Her life lived, she contentedly awaits her fate, her ultimate reward. She quotes the Bible from a memory built over eighty years. She tells and re-tells stories about her life and the people around her. I help her around the decaying house she occupies, alone, and she rewards my kindness with sweet tea and stories. I adore the time I spend with her, to understand not only her but the place I inhabit.
I do not regret my birth or upbringing. I regret that I shunned the South until forced to acknowledge the existence of that other part of the country. I regret I demeaned the people I never knew until my life took me there. I am aware of the history of the region and I do not agree with the decisions of the forefathers. I disagree with those I meet who offer opinions of the good old days. I do not abide the past in totality. I do abide the good people I meet, no better than my people, but different.
The sweet twang of Harland affects me in ways I am only now understanding and accepting.