Friday, July 05, 2013

Long Discourses on Lots and Lots of FEEEEELINGS

No, really, it's going to be really long.

Okay.  So I grew up in a moderately rural area of this fine state - gravel road, nearest grocery a 15-minute drive, no cable or cellphone reception or sushi or any of the other hallmarks of civilization.  But the state capitol was only a half hour away.  So the non-rural was accessible, but also half of everyone at my high school drove trucks with gun racks (it's only illegal if it's concealed, you see), and my parents' neighbors are - still, twenty years later! - two houses, a church*, two llamas, three donkeys, the llamas' owners, a corn field, and a horse pasture.

I went to college in a very (VERY!) rural area, but then spent the next eleven years in cities.  I guess I never once pictured exactly what it would be like to move back.  I was picturing dinner with my parents, and hiking in the mountains, and not all the Oh My God moments.  Much like, before having children, one is thinking of snuggling a fuzzy little baby who will look up and smile, and one usually doesn't have a crystal-clear picture of the seventeenth 2 AM in a row.  (This is as it should be; otherwise no-one would ever reproduce.)  So here we are, and there are a lot of Oh My God moments.  And I want you to remember, as you read this, that really, I have done the Rural South.  A lot.  So this isn't some lifetime city-dweller experiencing culture shock, this is... not stepping twice into the same river, or something.

Walmart: I last bought something from Walmart in 2003.  The Walmart here is the best-equipped grocery with the most reasonable prices and, unlike the moderately-fancy chain, actually has such exotic items as anchovies.**  (Also forty linear feet of ham, by the way.)  I...  I... I don't even have words to express how much this makes my brain hurt.   Supply, demand, markets, etc., I know.  But I need to go ice the sprain in my world-view.

The local Southern States:***  It has things. Useful things.  Boots!  Proper leather treatments!  Chain!  Feed!  (I don't need feed.)  Trowels!  Growing things!  It's like living out in the country again.  Oh... wait....

The local utilities: Bafflingly incompetent.  They are billing me starting next week.  I could not convince them to do otherwise - nor could I set some of them up in advance; the water bill requires an in-person appearance at the Treasurer's office, which is right across the street from the most palatial fraternity houses I have ever seen in my life. 

Town and Gown:  Oh my word.  I can only imagine what most of the people in camo hats (also, at Walmart for the third time in three days, I saw a gentleman in his sixties, dressed in worn brown Carhartts, a battered straw hat, suspenders, boots, and a tee-shirt which read 'Van Helsing') think of the extremely wealthy college students (well, half of them; the other half are state-school students) and their billion-dollar endowment.  And then there are the horse-riding socialites who retire/move here for some Gracious Southern Living.  There's a whole clothing store for Southern Ladies Of A Certain Age.  (I saw an immaculately coiffed white-haired woman, also of a certain age, dressed in beautiful navy capri pants and a matching sleeveless top, with pearl earrings and espadrilles, mowing her lawn this morning.  Because the South.)  And yet, the farmers do profit from the farmers' market (Wednesdays and Saturdays), even as they're sniggering up their sleeves, no doubt.

I suppose the real problem is I don't know which group I fit in with least.

And that brings me to the wedding.  Theme: fake country.  As in, greenhouse-grown colored yarrow, and those soft yellow flowers people grow as annuals, and not a Queen Anne's Lace or sweet pea in sight - not even the groom's mother's daylilies.  Little cowboy boots on the little flower girls.  Twee canned goods on the tables, and those brown paper labels tied onto the favors.  Mason jars as far as the eye could see, but not old ones, new ones bought for the purpose.   They didn't even go to the local goodwill/ junk shop for the glassware.  The feeling was all... fake.  I've had a country wedding (mine) and helped a friend (R) have another.  I got dropped off at the side of the road with a bucket and scissors to pick actual wild flowers.  For example.  And!  There was a whole reading during the wedding ceremony about - I am NOT making this up! - bruschetta.  I can't think of a single more pretentious, yuppie thing to do.  Really, I can't.

(I was, in fact, the only woman in attendance wearing a hat.  Three people came up specifically to tell me how fabulous they thought my hat was, and one - as we were chatting - commissioned one.  I rest secure in the knowledge that I was dressed with impeccable correctness, even if nobody else felt like a hat.)

What was missing was that kernel of humility - the recognition that the countryside has something genuine and valuable to offer, even if it's only wildflowers.  This was a veneer of country over pure city, with not a single ounce of waste-not-want-not or even of genuine feeling.  Everything was done for effect, and not because they thought it was a good, real thing to do, or even because they just liked it.

In my world, a wedding is a party, and the objective of a party is to bring people together in joy for an occasion.  (A funeral is a completely separate event, even if they frequently are like parties.)  Also, seriously people: the way to show off one's wealth or design ability is to display impeccable taste.  So the bride's mother was dressed in a filmy, very fancy, silk georgette floor-length ballgown, even though the bridesmaids were dressed in belted knee-length medium-casual dresses (very lovely and appropriate to the event).  To me it was like wearing your diamonds in the daytime (for diamonds, I really mean cocktail jewelry): it's vulgar and shows not that you have money, but that you have no taste and want to show off, but all you're really showing off is that you have no manners.  The correct thing to do is to wear a dress that's as expensive as you please, but appropriate to the situation.  So wear a Chanel, but by God, wear a short dress to a late-afternoon outdoor wedding in the South.

The other objective of the party is to celebrate with one's guests.  Except this party was clearly to show off.  I tried to go say goodbye to the bride and groom before leaving, but all I saw of the bride was her retreating rear, because by God she had to go do a formal procession thing into the reception.  (I did manage to say goodbye to the groom. His mama raised him right at least in one way.  His father was very embittered about the procession; we decided that a fanfare of trumpets and cymbals would improve it.)  Also, although I was assured the event would be appropriate for small children, it started at 6:15, and pictures lasted until 8:15.  Apparently dinner was served around 9, to the accompaniment of all the other small children melting down.  I wouldn't know; mine were in bed.

So what I'm saying is, the nicest thing I can think to say about this wedding is "I'm sure it was just as the bride and groom wished it to be."  And that's probably the nastiest thing I can think to say about it, too.

(I have more FEEEEELINGS about moving here but they will have to wait until another day.)

* Southern Baptist.  Of course.
** Even 20 years ago, anchovies were not an exotic item in a coastal state. 
*** Which has, mercifully, finally ditched its swastika logo (really!), which left a bad taste in my mouth.
 In fact, I have been to this town dozens of times, and have seen these very same frat houses, but it must not have registered how amazingly well-kept they are.
† Or at least that's how my very snarky self feels about it at present.  


  1. This reminds me a bit of how I felt after my last visit to my hometown. It is decidedly less rural than what you are talking about, and hey I live somewhere where everyone was downtown today in cowboy hats and boots. But still after living in big cities around the world I couldn't believe how small and soimple my hometown felt. Which was weird because I remember it as this big place, and it kind of shatters my illusions to see it in that light.

    1. It's different when they're wearing the cowboy boots for effect, right? It is just infinitely weird to go back.

  2. Well, that may have been hard to live through, but very entertaining to read about :)

    They say one of the hardest things of being an expat is going back -- you may not have fit in abroad, but you don't fit in at home either. You may not technically be an expat, but it seems like a very similar experience.

    1. I'm trying to avoid falling on the floor weeping.

      An expat from the rural South! You're precisely correct. Or, as a friend of mine likes to quote, the past is a foreign country.

  3. Oh, the absurdities abound! "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?" My favorites of Midwest Utopia are the people who have $1,000 road bikes, spandex outfits, and sometimes bike 1 mile to work. Oh, or the knitting hippie on the bus with her infant named after a plant, discussing whether her infant will accept her sister as a wet-nurse. I am not kidding.

    Your stories remind me a little of the middle of my state, or rural areas where not even the interstate passes through. Minus the Southern accent, and Gracious Southern Living. We are much more likely to get weekenders to lake country from Windy City. The best years of my granmpther's life were spent teaching rich girls to ride at a certain camp up north. (Her one true love was horses, she has extremely fond memories.)

    Anyway. You haven't been there long enough to categorize all the groups, and I'm sure the most obvious are the shocking ones. There are two universities, you're quite likely to meet the educated people soon. They even chose to live in a rural area, so they are likely to appreciate the charming parts and shrug at the rest. Also, berries! Mama! Gorgeous mountains!

    Change is hard, and splashing into rural reality is a shock. I'm sure after a while, you'll think the water is just fine. (I will remind you of exactly how cold it gets here in the winter. Really. Cold.)

    1. I laughed out loud at the plant-named infant. And Dr. S loves to mock the road-bikers.

      Nicky, I sincerely hope the educated people come back before I die of culture shock. :)

      Keep reminding me how cold it gets there. Right now I want to go back to my house and cry "Don't make me leeeeeaaaave!"

  4. "ice the sprain in my world view"
    What a brilliant turn of phrase. Thank you for that.

  5. Anonymous4:04 PM

    Oh my, what a lot of good identity reshaping times! I love the "we got our southern wedding out of Martha Stewart Living" episode. I'm sorry you're not slipping back into your old pond like a happy frog--I did have quite the fantasy about you suddenly being happy 24-7. But I DO think it will get better in time, if you open your heart to Walmart. (Last time I was in one--2008) I got dizzy and saw spots and had to sit with my head between my knees. NASTY PLACE.

    1. That is EXACTLY where they got their wedding! Suddenly ALL IS CLEAR.

      It is getting better- I went to Walmart twice today! - but now of course I'm happier, and therefore less impelled to write about it.

  6. Anonymous10:14 AM

    oh my maud, if fake, laughing-up-our sleeves country isn't the most enraging trend of the past ten years.... (okay, i know there have been iterations before now, but this is the generation of it i'm living through, and it seems therefore the worst.) a restaurant opened down the way from us maybe five or six years ago that fancies itself a barn. no, really, the sign for their bar side says "barn" except only the first three letters are painted red, because aren't they clever? it's name includes "farm," and it is on one of the busiest streets in brooklyn, in view of downtown. and it is utterly loathesome in a way i have thus far failed to communicate to my big city friends. the milkcans above the lacquered bar, the black and white arty photos of hands that have done actual labor, now reduced to a decorating scheme in a place with $15 drinks.... nauseating, is what it is. i'd like to stab them with their cutesy pitchfork collection.

    meanwhile, i imagine much of what you write here is how i would (will?) feel about moving back south, should we ever manage it. tough life, expatriotism. and yet it's not as if i feel at home elsewhere, either. xo


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