To Southerners, Homesickness Is a Hobby
Written by Chuck Reece, Reported by Kyle Tibbs Jones
Tracy Thompson’s essay this week makes many conclusions that ring shockingly true to us. One in particular: “Maybe it’s just that all Southerners, even those of us who have done all we can to stamp it out, are fatally afflicted with some degree of moony sentimentality which makes it hard for us to shut up about how homesick we are.”
Yeah. That’s us in the mirror.
I’m no different. I’ve lived my entire adult life in big cities — Atlanta and New York, the latter for a grand total of seven years — but I grew up in “the apple capital of Georgia,” Ellijay. My favorite apple grown there is the Stayman Winesap. It's the last to be harvested in late fall. It's relatively small, and it strikes a sweet-tart balance better than any I've ever tasted. Plus, Winesaps make the best cobblers known to man, especially when you use really high-quality butter. Every year when I lived in New York, my dad would ship me a half-bushel of those Winesaps, and it would be cobbler time in NYC.
We figured that many Southern expatriates (or former expatriates) had similar stories of homesickness and how they assuage it. So we collected a few. Enjoy.
Jim White is a singer-songwriter originally from Pensacola, Fla. He lives in Athens, Ga., now, but spent many years as a resident of New York City. He is responsible for perhaps the greatest album title ever: “Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See.”
“I used to watch ‘The Joy of Painting’ with Bob Ross just to hear his lovely Southern accent. Eventually, I became a devoted follower of his and came to think of him as ‘Sri Babba Bob,’ my aesthetic/spiritual father. My favorite Bob Ross quote is ‘Just remember, when you get your first tube of paint, that's when you get your license to be creative.’”
Kelsey Keith is a senior editor at Dwell magazine. She lives in Brooklyn. She grew up in Knoxville, Tenn.
“There is an entire case of Cheerwine sitting in my office that was shipped straight from South Carolina. Most people don't understand the appeal, to their detriment.”
Wayne White is an artist, art director, puppeteer, set designer, animator, cartoonist and illustrator. In 2009, he installed a giant puppet head — the head of the late, great country singer George Jones — at Rice University’s Rice Gallery in Houston. You could pull on a rope and make George open his mouth and snore. He grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn. He lives in Los Angeles.
“I've been gone from the South since 1981, so I'm sorta over the homesick thing. But I do think about Dixie every day, and I still love it. Pinto beans and cornbread with chow chow relish is still one of my favorite meals. My wife, Mimi (editor’s note: Mimi Pond, a legendary cartoonist and writer), makes it real good. Of course, we have to have Martha White corn meal shipped in, along with the chow chow, from the South. The real frustration is you can't find raw turnip greens to cook up with some salt pork. They just don't exist anywhere out here in L.A. It would be nice to have them on the side. Sigh.”
Cecily Walker is a technologist and user-experience expert who now works building online engagement for the Vancouver Public Library. She writes the brilliant blog Librarian With Attitude. She grew up in Atlanta. Today, she lives in Vancouver, B.C.
“I stay connected to the south through football. My family — mom, dad, sisters, brothers — everyone in my family was mad for football. Except me. When I moved to Vancouver, I couldn't always get Falcons (or Georgia Bulldogs) games on TV up here, but on those rare days when the Falcons were on Sunday Night Football, or the Dawgs were on SEC Saturdays on CBS, I'd tune in just so I'd have something to talk about with the folks back home. Somewhere along the way, I became a football fan. Often, in the furthest reaches of my brain, I'm thinking of cobalt blue October skies, fiery red leaves, and the sound of a crowd being carried away on a brisk autumn breeze.”
David Morrison is a cinematographer, director and photographer. He was born in Virginia and raised in North Carolina. He lives in Los Angeles.
“I carry my manners with me wherever I go. I still say ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’ and hold the door open for anyone, and yes, I still open the car door for wife of 18 years when we're on dates. More than anything I'm proud of my Southern grace and civility, and when I practice what I was taught, it connects me to my family and hopefully invokes a smile from my grandmother, who still visits me in my dreams. I teach my kids the same, and Los Angeles will never erase or diminish my Southern virtues.” He adds: “Lastly, I love to drink whiskey and play my guitar.”
Susan Rebecca White
Susan Rebecca White is the author of three novels — and of “What I Took” here on The Bitter Southerner. She’s back home in Atlanta, but she lived for a long while in San Francisco.
“My mom sent me a copy of Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s ‘The Gift of Southern Cooking,’ which I cooked from as if it were my legacy. I would invite friends over for roast duck stuffed with red rice and oysters, chicken brined in buttermilk before hitting the hot grease, cheese straws and shrimp paste and chess pie. I would pretend that this was the food of my youth, when really the food I grew up eating was much more pedestrian: peanut butter and banana sandwiches, chicken tenders dredged in Ritz cracker crumbs then baked, Bundt cakes that started with a box of Duncan Hines. At parties, I was a Southern apologist through and through, arguing that the stereotypes depicted of my homeland were without nuance and often untrue. I still think this, though I can now see the high gloss with which I painted the South. It was beautiful, the South I made, when I was living so very far away from home.”
Tracy Moore is the deliciously foulmouthed author of Jezebel’s regular “Motherload” column. Born in Atlanta, raised in Tennessee, she lives in Los Angeles today.
“To stay close to the South, I cruise Los Angeles for meat-and-threes, get a little bit misty-eyed when I stumble across a legit Southern-style biscuit and bug my friends back home to send me Vines of Tennessee thunderstorms. To date, no one has honored this request.”
Robin Reetz is a fashion writer from Atlanta whose career took her to New York and whose marriage took her to London, where she still resides today and writes the blog “Second Floor Flat.”
“One of the first things you notice as a Southerner in the U.K. are the ‘chicken shops’ — basically KFC knockoffs that live on every corner of the capital and sell cheap fried chicken and french fries. With names like Kennedy Chicken, Dixie Chicken and Tennessee Fried Chicken, their signs are cheap, bright and usually covered with American flags.
Londoners love chicken shops, which is funny to see as a Southerner. Like most of us, I also swear by Coke as a cure-all for anything, and secretly feel prideful drinking or buying it. And did I mention ‘y'all’? I couldn't drop that word if I tried, and I never want to. To stay close to the South, I Skype as much as possible. My parents are also great about sending me photos from home — backyard flowers, dogs in the leaves, you name it. I also try to go home as much as I can, but when the going gets tough, I'll throw on my Atlanta T-shirt, drink a Coca-Cola, call my grandmama just to hear the drawl, and I'm home.”