Tuesday, October 9, 2012
This is the honest truth. I was probably seven or eight years old when I first met a born and bred Yankee. After the last of the Carpetbaggers had been run out of town late in the nineteenth century, folks from up North just didn't live in the Southland. There were a few exceptions, of course, but for the most part, the few who were here just kept it quiet and blended in.
My, how times have changed! We are experiencing the fourth Northern invasion. The first, of course, was during the War for Southern Independence. The second wave followed in the early part of the 1900s when northern capitalists discovered our fish, quail, ducks and other wildlife, along with our mild climate and bought up large tracts of our cheap “unreconstructed” land for hunting lodges and holiday retreats. They mostly kept to themselves but occasionally had presidents, kings, prime ministers and that sort as guests for hunting and fishing forays.
The third invasion came during World War II. Until then, we just didn't see many non-Southerners in the Southland but the huge mixing of population that occurred during the war brought folks from all over the country to “defense jobs” and to train for military service at numerous bases throughout Dixie. This was still going on when I reached draft age during the Korean War and trained at Ft. Jackson.
Even then, there were those from “up there” who were surprised that we had indoor toilets, our women wore shoes and some of us had made it past the sixth grade. We played along and put on Southern airs for their edification. During WWII and the Korean War, many servicemen were attracted to our Southern Belles; fell in love; married them and settled in the Southland.
One of the first Yankees I remember seeing as a kid was standing on a street corner telling the locals how they did things up North. He barely survived the tarring and feathering that ensued.
The third invasion during WWII even touched my family when I was about nine or ten years old. My beautiful cousin, Ruth, married one! I don't remember anyone getting heartburn about it but it was the talk of the family for a little while.
I was introduced to a whole host of non-Southerners during the war when I visited kinfolks in Abbeville County, S.C., the home of Erskine College, where a number of servicemen were sent for special training.
My Daddy's sister lived, with her husband and two daughters, next door to the college when my cousin met her future husband at a dance in nearby Greenwood. They fell in love and married.
On their honeymoon, my cousin brought her new husband by our home to spend the night on their way to Massachusetts to visit with his folks.
My Dad remarked that it was the first time a Yankee had spent the night in a Brock household since the Civil War but this time it was as an “invited” guest.
My new cousin-in-law was quite delightful and I enjoyed his visit. In fact, it was such a novelty, I remember going across the street to announce, quite proudly I must admit, to the neighbors that, “We have a Yankee staying at our house.” Several came over to see. Woody was not a Boston Brahman. He was a good old blue-collar guy much like the rest of my family.
In fact, after the war, he settled with my cousin and her family in Due West, S.C. He was accepted by pedigree of my cousin and became a valuable member of the community. As Scoutmaster, he led seventeen Boy Scouts to Eagle status and was very active in his church and the Gideons until his death of cancer in 1983.
He, of course, spoke differently than did my family but we thought no less of him. My cousin had about as flat a Dixie drawl as anyone you might imagine. She held out and never once adopted any portion of her husband's dialect.
This was quite contrary to a woman I knew who was a WWII German war-bride of an acquaintance of mine from the mountains of western North Carolina. I knew her for several years before I learned she was German. It seems that after WWII, when she came to live in her husband's hometown in the Carolina highlands, she became the local curiosity. People would run down the street, she said, just to hear her speak. She told me that she was not going to go through life as a dialectical oddity and neither was she going to move. She simply adopted the slow, flat broad “i” speech of Appalachia and soon she spoke just as the natives did - “ni-i-i-ce, whi-i-i-i-te, li-i-i-i-ght, ri-i-i-i-ce.”
Southerners are growing accustomed to our newfound northern residents. Sometimes, better than they are acclimating to us. Interestingly, they are becoming more like us rather than the other way around.
But, like the boll weevil and fire ant assault, this is the way it is going to be, so, we might all just get used to it. On the other hand, non-Southerners might acquaint themselves with a little more of our culture and realize that we're at home where we have always lived and we share a common history that was not always like theirs.
All in all, we're still better off than places like Atlanta and Charlotte which according to historian John Sheldon Reed, have become what almost a half-million Confederate soldiers died trying to prevent.
John Brock, who sometimes writes with his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek, is retired and lives in Georgetown County. He can be reached by mail at this newspaper or via Email: email@example.com.
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