Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Northern boy moves South

I grew up in upstate (Rochester) New York. I loved to play in the snow, cross-country ski, and play hockey on the pond behind our house. I loved the cool fall days with the crisp crunching of leaves under my feet. I loved going to the cider mill and getting fresh apples, fried cakes, and cider. I thought I would always stay a northern boy.

But a funny thing happened: I got married. My wife was actually from Oklahoma and we met in Philadelphia (I was in Medical School - Jefferson, and she was just getting a change of scenery). After residency, we had to decide where to live. I wouldn't have minded going up north, but it was too far from her family. Thankfully, she really did not want to go back to Oklahoma (it would have been too far from my family and it did not really appeal to me). She has sisters in Charlotte and Asheville, and we felt that the Southeast would be a good compromise - planning on living in the Charlotte area. Well, we ended up in Augusta, GA; in the deep south. Quite a change from upstate New York!

Now I have lived here for 12 years, and I have a few observations about life in Dixie.
  1. People up North say: "Isn't it hot down there?" Well, yes it is very hot in the summer, but the rest of the year more than makes up for it. There are 3 months of the year here when the weather is very hot and humid. You just stay inside. The evenings are cooler, and the pool is very nice. However, the spring starts in February and ends in May/June. Fall starts in September and goes to late November. These two seasons are absolutely gorgeous. We have mostly sunny days - twice as many sunny days that we had in Rochester. The winter up north is equivalent to the summer down here - you stay inside. But the nights are worse, and it lasts more than 3 months (in Rochester, at least). So when all is said and done, we have many more nice days (between 65 and 85) - probably 2-3 times more of them, than the northern states do. South 1, North 0
  2. I thought I would miss the fall we had up North. I do. The colors in upstate are spectacular and the feeling of the chill on your face is very nice. However, nobody ever told me about the springs down south. It is a progression of color, starting with the cherry blossoms in March, progressing to the pear trees, wisteria, magnolia, lilies, and incredible displays of azaleas (for which Augusta is famous). It is just incredible to watch it unfold. So I call it a tie. South 1.5, North 0.5
  3. Ever hear of Southern Hospitality? The south is well known for friendliness, and it is fairly well-deserved. I got some taste of this in Indiana, when I was surprised for people talking to me in the grocery store, but it is more so in the South. People just like to chat to strangers. It has probably gotten less over the years, as television has caused people to isolate more, but it still is a friendlier place to be. South 2.5, North 0.5
  4. There is a Baptist church on every corner. Some may think that this is a good thing in my mind (since I am a religious person), but I actually have trouble with the style of religious practice in the South. It is more a culture than a belief. People are made to feel that only good people go to church. To me, that is like saying that only healthy people go to the hospital. As a physician I see many people disaffected by the guilt of "not being good enough," as they have lifestyle habits that go against the predominant culture. As a Christian, I see the shallow cultural Christian as being "inoculated" against appreciation of a more satisfying deep belief. Truthfully, I prefer the moral honesty of the North (as brutal as it may be to my kind). South 2.5, North 1.5.
  5. The children say "Yes Sir" and "Yes Ma'am." I love this. My kids say it (although my older daughter is rebelling against it). I just feel like it is good for them to show some respect to us old folk. They also don't say "Mrs. or Mr. Johnson," they say "Miss Judy" or "Mr. Rob." I can take or leave that. South 3.5, North 1.5.
  6. Racism is not as bad as advertised. The impression is that the South is polarized. The reality is that I have never lived in more integrated neighborhoods than I have down here. We have had many African American staff, and there has been little problems with it. I think the Black Middle Class is bigger down here than it was up North. There are, however, enclaves of terrible bigotry. One of my nurses (who is black) was delivering flowers to a patient at Christmas, and went into a mobile home park. She was greeted at the door by a man with a gun. He put it down when he realized who she was, but it was a scary moment. I see it like this: in Philadelphia, it was dangerous to be white and go to North Philadelphia (my friends had rocks thrown at their cars). In the South, there are dangerous places to go if you are not white. Most people down here, by the way, don't favor the use of the Confederate flag. It is just an obnoxious minority. Still, I will give the North a slight edge on this one due to these idiots. South 3.5, North 2.5.
  7. I just like the way the Southern people talk more than the Northerners. South 4.5, North 2.5.
  8. The South has grits, better Bar-B-Q, and Collard Greens (yecch). The North has chicken wings, bratwurst, Italian Sausage, and Philly Cheese steaks. A big Northern victory. South 4.5, North 3.5.
So I am overall glad to be down here. There are things I miss about the North, but the South is a great place to raise a family.

By the way, do you know where the term "Bubba" comes from? I did not know it until I moved down here. It is short for "brother" (the younger siblings call their big brothers "bubba"). I have no patients with the actual name "Bubba."