Growing up Southern is a privilege, really. It’s more than where you’re born, it’s an idea and a state of mind that seems imparted at birth. It’s more than loving fried chicken, sweet tea, football, country and southern rock music. It’s being hospitable, devoted to front porches, magnolias, moon pies and coca-cola…and each other. We don’t become Southern—we’re born that way.
Being raised Southern, you always know the familiarity of homesickness. It’s at hollow pit in the bottom of your stomach, it’s the feeling of your heart falling when you pull out of your parents’ driveway. It’s when your mom hugs you goodbye and even though you may not see her for a week, it seems like centuries. I think we feel this way because the ideas of home and family are so ingrained in us, it physically hurts to leave them behind.
My family is my life. My parents have been married for 32 years this past April 12th, and my siblings are two of my best friends. And though we’ve shared trials, heartbreak, and sadness together, there is one thing that keeps us together: love. My parents always made sure we were never without love. I think that is what keeps a family strong. My dad and mom always told us they loved us and—sometimes by force—always made us apologize, hug out our problems, and rehash fights until we’d practically beaten the situation dead. My family is my foundation; my family is the reason why I am who I am.
In 2010, I moved away from home to finish attending school. And it didn’t really compare to when I moved into a dorm. This time, I was moving to a different state, to an apartment all my own, with bills to pay and more responsibilities than I expected. And the truth is, I was terrified. I mean, here I was, a girl raised LITERALLY in the middle of nowhere, thrown into the big city with no friends and no idea where she was going. I can remember calling my mother every day, hoping and praying she would pick up the phone just so I could hear her voice. (Truth be told, I think she knew I was pretty lonely.) That faded after school began, but every now and then, I feel that homesickness.
Being raised Southern, especially as a Southern woman, had stipulations. I mean, the sexy accent and great sense of style came with birth (I think they hand that to your mom along with your birth certificate…) We were always required to look our best, even if we were going to the grocery. We weren’t supposed to swear, but boy if you got us fired up, you’d never hear a fouler mouth. We were taught to respect life, even if we didn’t respect the person living it. There were rules to follow, but at the same time…I was so free. My family really embraced my creativity, my style, my opinions, and my independent nature—regardless if they were weird or out of the ordinary. But there was always something that remained true: my Southern identity.
You can ask any person who knows me: I am proud to be Southern. Friends of mine from New York, Michigan, Illinois, and several other Northern states can’t help but give an eye-roll when I spout out the excuse “It’s because I’m Southern.” But the great thing is…they know it’s a part of me and that’s a part that they love most, no matter how irritating it can get.
My dad wrote a letter to me the day I left for college and in his last sentences, he wrote, “Never give up, be true to yourself, and always remember that you only get out of life what you put into it.” I was scared of leaving home, I was scared of becoming what I was destined to be. I was afraid that I would lose my identity in a world where people just become a number, where we all fall into this same routine. But those words…they stuck with me. I am true to myself, I am not what other people want me to be, and I follow my rules that I set for my life. And that isn’t just a Southern thing; that is what every person should strive to do. Being raised Southern didn’t teach me that; being me did.