The Southern Way
by Jamie Berube
I spend a great deal of my time looking and longing for quiet. I am bad at appreciating the mundane, in-between, nonsensical happenings of life because sometimes I simply do not know how to enjoy them. It is a struggle because I do not like long periods of waiting, or quiet, or the tension between what’s happening now and what I want to happen next. This has always been true for me to a certain extent. But living in Orange County, California for four years now is what has shown me just how true, and exhausting, this part of my personality can be. Prior to moving to So Cal, I lived and breathed the South. (And no — not in a confederate flag boasting, girly-cowboy-boot wearing, Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo kind of way.)
To properly unpack this sentiment, I would need 72 hours of uninterrupted writing time and your undivided attention for the 5,000 words I could write about what it means to have “lived and breathed the South,” but for the sake of beauty in brevity and detail, I’ll stick to one thing specifically that I miss and crave from my years living south of the Mason-Dixon. And that one thing is: the quiet.
Oh how I miss the quietness of the South. When contrasted with the clogged freeways and the constant barrage of stuff to do and things to see and places to go here in Orange County, it is as precious and prized as a slice of first-place pie at the county fair. You just can’t taste anything quite like it anywhere else.
The life I have lived in Orange County does not lend itself well to the idea of stopping to smell the roses or basking in hours of unstructured free time for leisure or relaxation in the way that my life in the South did. There is a constant pressure to get out and do and see and stay three strides ahead of everyone else in the rat race. And I am the one who puts this pressure on me. Because ever since I traded in my barefoot, boiled-peanut eating Floridian lifestyle for the busied ways of the Southern West with it’s lollipop palm trees and impossible traffic, I have realized just how hard it can be to simply kick off my flats and relax the way I used to. And this is partly because of the over-stimulation and excess of traffic lights and noise that characterize the county I currently call home.
Back where I hail from in a modest, small town in Central Florida, life is much less rushed and frenzied. Stopping to smell the roses is encouraged, and you may as well pluck a bud from the bush to share with your neighbor while you’re at it. It’s the Southern way.
The South has a way of teaching you how to enjoy what is in front of you and how to be still with life rather than rushing through it. It was not until I moved away that I saw the value and discipline in coasting with the quiet and the space it provides for slowing down and drinking in the world around you. And it wasn’t until I moved that I recognized how I absolutely took it for granted. Things like the songs of crickets and toads and telephone-pole-line crows at sunset like I used to see and hear in my mom’s backyard, where I would sit poolside in an old plastic sun-chair and stare at the sky, decoding it’s stories and contemplating it’s secrets and losing myself in daydreams as the clouds, like dollops of white frosting decorating a blue sheet-cake, lazily passed by in the afternoon.
To say exactly what makes the South more quiet and serene to the senses would be difficult. It’s a combination of many things I think, with the two key ingredients being: pace of life, and nature. Living in the South generally accommodates a slower pace of life and that slower pace of life can help to remind me of what is most important and that there is more to live for than a bottom line. And the nature — the blush and perfume of the Southern aesthetic — it is impossible to measure the quietness of the South without considering the lush backdrop and bronze, sun-stained air that makes it so.
How little I appreciated it when I lived there remains one of my greatest regrets. The long grass stalks on the sides of the country roads that collectively sway in the wind and bend to bid adieu as lone car engines putter by, the way the skies roll on and stretch out into the heavens, where the cottontail clouds of Spring and the rain-clouds of Summer hang suspended in their place in the wild blue Dixie yonder — it is the sort of tranquil beauty that quiets the soul.
What exactly it is about the magnolia blooms and horse farms and rickety old fences and that make the chatter in my head seem unimportant, I can’t exactly pinpoint. And that’s okay. Sometimes in life there are no solid reasons why certain things make us feel the way they do — they just do.
I miss the quiet way of the place where I grew up. I don’t miss it everyday and sometimes, I think I don’t miss it at all. But then I will come across something that takes me back there, and the smell of warm waters and fat green blades of grass and air glazed like a doughnut, hot with the sweet dew of rain and peach-tree perfume, fills me up and reminds me to take note of and solace in the design of life and the gentle flow of nature. This is an intimate and quiet thing — a beautiful thing. And something I so long for after a tired, rushed, and over-booked work-day, when I’m sitting in congested six o’clock Orange County traffic with a growling belly and five exits to go ’til home.
For someone like me who has yet to master the art of relaxation and living moment by moment rather than by the next item on my to-do list, thinking back upon those quiet Southern afternoons, where the only sounds audible were that of crickets and backyard toads and birds at the bath, feels like a comfort — a security blanket I can mentally bundle up with when the rush of the West-coast life gets to be too much and I need to stop and smell the roses. Even if I can only do so in my imagination. And though I can’t cut off a flower-bud from a bush and bring it over to my neighbor like I might if I were still the barefoot, boiled-peanut eating girl in Florida, my spirit still lingers back there, sitting poolside in her mom’s backyard, transfixed upon the sky, decoding it’s stories and contemplating it’s secrets while losing herself in another daydream. Back where I’m from, there’s time for that. There’s time to savor what is right in front of you and nothing more. And you never have to justify it or apologize.
‘Cause it’s just the Southern way.
Jamie Berube was raised in the South for 16 years before relocating across the country to California. She is a freelance writer and social worker. She has a passion for delicious literature and any candy combining peanut butter and chocolate. She’s also the author of A Rocky Relationship, Blame it on Skynyrd and Only in the South, all previously published in Deep South.