Today, I’m going to take you on a journey from where I came from to where I am now. This journey spans three states on two sides of the Mason-Dixie Line. It’s a journey of genetic destiny and Yankee determination, splattered with culture shock and awe.
My story begins in Rhode Island where my two younger brothers and I grew up with an Italian mother and a Portuguese father. Life in our household was very passionate – in every kind of way! The best way I can describe my upbringing is to compare it to the TV show, “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
It’s the most hilarious show I’ve ever watched, probably because it hits so close to home! The boisterous conversation, the food, the emotional outbursts, the in-your-face kind of love. Yep, that’s home!
After graduating from college, I moved south of the Mason-Dixie Line to Virginia and became a Yankee in the South. I suffered immediate culture shock! Have you ever seen the movie, “My Cousin Vinny”? There’s a scene towards the beginning of the movie where Joe Pesci accuses Marisa Tomei of looking like a tourist; her response is, “Yeah, and you blend.”
Well, like Mona Lisa, I didn’t blend. I stood out. No one dressed like me. (Yes, I dressed like she did!) No one acted like me. (How many Italians do you think live in Virginia??) No one ate like me. (Pork rinds? What??) And certainly, no one talked like me! I had to remember the diction lessons my college debate coach gave us and start inserting R’s into my speech so people could understand me.
After several years, I began to adjust. I settled in, grew a small garden, and started raising a son. I swore I’d never move farther south, but I learned never to say never. My next move was to Charleston, SC. I figured I had the Yankee-Southerner thing beat. I was still south of the Mason-Dixie Line, so how bad could this move be?
It was worse! The culture shock began all over again. I went from being a Yankee in the South to a “damn Yankee.” Even using my best college debate team diction, I couldn’t totally hide my Yankee accent; people knew I was “from off.” Charleston is a very close-knit community with its own culture, and Yankees will always be….well, Yankees. Yet, that’s okay with me because you can take the girl out of the north, but you’ll never get the north out of the girl!
After several years here, I finally bought my first house. This Yankee girl had her homestead to grow her garden. I love my garden. My mother says it’s in my genes. (My grandfather was a florist, and I wish he were alive to see my homestead.) But this is not just any garden. It’s an urban farm that has now grown to 21 raised beds and six fruit trees. I learned quickly that this endeavor would take a lot of work. More work than this girly-girl suburbanite realized. Change had to come quickly.
For example, I’ve always hated bugs. Still do. When my first year’s garden was visited by insects I had never seen before, I freaked out! I couldn’t stand looking at them, never mind studying them to learn if they were beneficial or detrimental. Now, I’m so intent on reaping a good crop, I’ll do whatever it takes. That food is mine!
And bees used to scare the mess out of me. I’d run screeching in the opposite direction of any bee. Now, I harvest fruit near flowers buzzing with bees, and I barely flinch. (Wasps and hornets are another matter, however, and you’ll find me running and screeching from them.)
Sweating was another thing I’ve always hated. Well, I had to get over that toot-sweet if I was going to garden in the south! I still don’t like it, and I have to take long air-conditioning breaks every hour or so in the middle of the summer, but I plug away at it. Of course, when I’m done, I can’t get in the shower fast enough!
Then there’s the harvest and all the ways to put it up. That was not a problem. I like cooking. It’s the Italian in me. So, learning how to can and preserve was just another talent I added to my kitchen repertoire. And now I’m entering my garden bounty and showing off my canning prowess at the county fair.
Over the past three years, thanks to my garden, this suburbanite has turned into a full-blown country girl. Well, maybe not a southerner’s version of a country girl. Maybe more like Eva Gabor in the TV show, “Green Acres.”
Afterall, I have been known to come home from work, kick off my stilettos to don my wellies, and run out to the garden in my dress and pearls to harvest something for dinner.
Yes, this Yankee has surely grown in the South….but alas, I’m still a Yankee.