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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Connecticut Yankee In a Southern Box Plant

I come from a place in the South where grease is considered a major food group, biscuits beyond breakfast are as common as watermelon seeds in July, and sweet iced tea is always in season. I’ve traveled extensively from Macon clean up to Roanoke, so I was convinced that these were universal truths.

That is, until I went to work as secretary in a corrugated container plant in South Carolina, under the direction of the Human Resources Manager, a transplanted career woman from Connecticut who said “car-mel” instead of “caramel” and couldn’t use “y’all” correctly in a sentence, even if I spotted her the verb. This wasn’t just a culture clash. This was culture wearing a striped shirt and plaid boxers with Girl Scout socks and a seersucker blazer.

Our differences stuck out like peanut butter on pintos. I thought UConn was a territory in Canada. She had to read the comics out loud to understand the dialogue in Snuffy Smith. We debated mightily about whether it was proper to flip, flick, cut, or turn on the lights. And although there were many times she was starting, getting ready or preparing for something, she was never, ever “fixing” to do anything.

She ate fried chicken for the first time when she migrated South to study for her Master’s at the real USC. When fall holidays drew near she reminisced about Thanksgivings on Nantucket where they feasted on fresh lobster with drawn butter, and rolled her eyes like a hot dog on the Speedy Mart rotisserie when I insisted that a proper Thanksgiving meal boasted at least fifteen different carbohydrates and was smothered in giblet gravy. When I tried to explain about collards and black-eyed peas at New Year’s, she looked at me like I’d suggested wearing hoop skirts to Yankee Stadium.

Extending the hand of Southern hospitality, I invited her to a fine restaurant nearby to show off the local cuisine.

“Everything here is either fried or covered in gravy,” she announced, wiping a spot of yesterday’s special off her laminated menu and peering across the vinyl tablecloth at my plate of chicken-fried steak.

“That’s not true. Some things are fried AND covered in gravy. Have some cornbread.”

“What’s in it besides corn?”

“Bacon grease.”

“No, thanks.”

We straddled the Mason-Dixon line without serious injury for four years, teaming up on everything from safety promotions to company picnics. I discovered that UConn was a fine educational facility, even if it didn’t have a feral feline or saber-wielding rowdy as a mascot , that I could “turn” on the lights without invoking the mental stress clause of my health insurance, and that lobster is a festive and tasty holiday dish, although it doesn’t make for very rich gravy.

And even though my new friend never learned to fry vegetables or to appreciate the subtle humor of Snuffy Smith, she developed a lasting affinity for iced tea.

Sometimes life’s little victories are the sweetest.


Nancy said...

I loved this! You do have a way with the words, hun.

the Bag Lady said...

What exactly are collard greens, anyway?
Loved this post - need more comparisons with "northern cuisine" - up here in the frozen north, we aren't acquainted with some of the things y'all take for granted (did I use that correctly?)

plaidearthworm said...

I must be the only Southerner who doesn't like sweet tea, LOL. I wondered why people have been following me with sugar packets! Great post, you can always count on my attention if the discussion is on food!

Amy Mullis said...

LOL--glad you liked it, ladies.

Bag Lady, I do have a longer version of this with more examples, but was afraid it was too much! Collard greens are like turnip greens or spinach, a leafy green thing that Southerners cook to beyond death and eat on New Year's Day saying the more you eat, the more green money you'll get during the year. People in other parts of the country use it for animal feed.

Plaid, if you don't like sweet tea, please tell me you crave bananb pudding. It's your only hope to avoid lynching.

Amy Mullis said...

Looks like I can't even spell banana pudding, much less eat it!

And yes, Bag Lady, you used y'all correctly. You win a batch of biscuits!

colbymarshall said...

As a fellow southerner, I can attest to the fact that collard greens are cooked the heck out of down here, and delish. I eat them with hot sauce!

Melanie Avila said...

Sweet tea is the one thing I still long for from my years in Virginia. :)