It's great to be back in the South - the deep South (with apologies to Louisiana and Mississippi). As is, small-town South Carolina. I've always been a Palmetto wannabe, and oh, I do not regret moving back here one little bit. The people are great and the accent is to die for. Smooth and sweet, it harks right back to the turn of the century. (The previous one.)
"Moanin'," they say, and it feels like I'm in some movie - one where people actually sound like Southerners.
And the food! I've gained five pounds just looking. Well, not looking exactly....and not five, either. But I can sure see why people weigh a lot more here than they do in California (and I mean, a LOT). One can only eat so many tortillas, after all, I guess.
These are the things I did not forget about the South. But others (I am increasingly being reminded), I definitely chose to forget, as Barbra Streisand would sing.
Like mosquitos. Good, grief! You live without those blood suckers for three years and I tell you, you forget the pain. My little girls were so startled to get bites that they started screaming one night, making me think they'd been injured.
"MAMA! LOOK!" howled my six-year-old. "WHAT IS THIS?"
She was pointing at a tiny little ole mosquito bite, like it was early warning of a chickenpox outbreak (remember those?!) Hard not to laugh.
Still in the harmless-but-frustrating category is the pace of life. Okay. I'm sorry, but when people say that Californians are laid back, they have NO IDEA what they are talking about - if "laid back" has anything to do with "slow." Because I'm here to tell you right now that South Carolinians give new meaning to the word "leisurely."
They talk slow, they walk slow, they drive slow. The react slow. Ask 'em a question and they slowly finish what they are doing, turn around like they're in a ballet then smile and say, "Can I heeeellllllllllp you?" Then they take about 30 minutes to get your shake (I told you I was gaining weight).
They also ask you to repeat yourself a lot, and spell things. But maybe this is "slow" of a different kind...
I know I sound like a damn Yankee, and I'm sorry. I appreciate all the sweetness and light. But could we pick up the pace just a LITTLE?
In another category entirely - one that is not even remotely benign, however - is something that has been on the political forefront for the past few weeks, and that would be race. Tuesday was an historic election and a historic moment, to be sure, and I was proud to be an American on that day that Martin Luther King predicted that a man would be judged by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin.
Praise God and hallelujah.
But, here's the rub -and sorry if I'm mentioning that the emperor may not have on any clothes. I'm not so sure we are.
Yes, we elected a black president, with help from about 42% of the Caucasian population - hardly a majority. But race is still a problem. The day after the election, I got a racist text message - from someone I never would have suspected. And so did my colleague. Both were mass text forwards being circulated around.
"It's not looking good," it said. "They've already replaced the rose garden with a watermelon patch."
I was horrified. My colleague's was worse - something about Obama Christmas ornaments.
I didn't even want to hear the details. I just shuddered.
Can I tell you how much I hate this sort of thing? How evil it is? And how ashamed I am to be among the race that continues to perpetuate these horrors - all the while proclaiming that we're progressive and beyond that?
It's foul - positively foul. And it's what I call "wink wink racism" - those not-so-subtle but definitely private jokes which white people share among themselves, to make themselves feel superior.
That's not the only racism I've encountered since I got home, though. A few weeks ago, I took a photo of a white woman kissing her black husband, after he stepped off the plane from Iraq. A hero, mind you. Who has been putting his life on the line, in the service of our country. And it was a poignant shot. She had jumped into his arms and was kissing and squeezing his face.
Naturally, we ran it on the front page. And you wouldn't believe the nasty calls we got. Not a few, either. Probably a dozen, in a town with a population of just 45,000. Each of our three publishers received calls on their cell phones, from different people. One woman, who was furious, said, "What am I going to tell my children?"
Ummmm....how about, "I'm a racist"?
Another yelled, "I'm a CHRISTIAN, and I'm ashamed!"
Of calling yourself a Christian, hopefully.
The whole incident really set me off. "This would NEVER happen in Atlanta," I said, storming around the newspaper.
The next weekend I drove to the beach, to see my old editor from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I told her the story, lamenting small towns in the South. "Oh, we had the same problem in Atlanta," she said. "Every time we ran a photo of a bi-racial couple."
Last week, someone called my editor and told her that she believed that, in order to be a "real American," you had to be white.
I kid you not.
These are some of the things that I had forgotten, living out of the South. The things I simply choose to forget. Not that Californians don't occasionally crack a Latino joke or two, but it's rare, and there's a whole different vibe going down out there, when it comes to race. As it, it isn't really an issue. Not like it is here, anyway.
So, while we extol the virtures of the South on this blog of great Southern authors - most of whom reduce me to a guppy in the great ocean of Southern literature - we must also come to grips with a painful reality.
We're still struggling with racism, however latent it may be, and however much we choose to deny it.
With Southern love,
Annabelle Robertson is an award-winnng journalist and author who writes for a daily newspaper in Sumter, SC. Her first book, The Southern Girl's Guide to Surviving the Newlywed Years: How to Stay Sane Once You've Caught Your Man, won the 2006 USA Best Book Award for humor.