I Always Feel Southern In Spring
The South is often portrayed in the media as backwards, blonde-dumb and poor. But just as no one knows England like an Englishman, or France like the French, one has to be a Southerner to understand the South. And it’s a hard nut to crack, even for a native. Growing up in a part of the country that was on the losing side of a civil war uniquely qualifies one for the perplexities of life. Though a life long southerner myself, I was never quite able to join in the reverence for the “old south” as famously illustrated by another native daughter, Margaret Mitchell. The almost biblical devotion to her novel, Gone With The Wind, passed me by. I couldn’t manage to muster up a nostalgia for plantation life; my eye always drifted past the hoop skirts and ladies fair to the slave shacks and auction blocks. My heart failed to swell with pride when I saw the confederate flag and, even today, I’m afraid I stand outside the majority of my fellow Southerners on a great many issues.
But I always feel Southern in spring.
In springtime, the south wears a beauty that near breaks the heart. It’s a beauty that seeps into the very corpuscles of one’s being from earliest childhood, flooding the soul again year after year from the moment the first wisteria blossom leaps free from the vine. It’s in the very air that hangs heavy in the late afternoon sunlight, trapping the fragrance of hyacinths and honeysuckle so near to the earth that it sails through the windows each time one is opened a crack.
The lemon-scented blooms that polkadot the magnolia tree, flowers as big as dinner plates hanging over an emerald green carpet of moss that blankets the floor of the garden.
The front porch swings that sway back and forth under ceilings painted blue to ward off evil spirits.
The tinkling bells of the ice cream truck as it weaves its way through the neighbourhood streets, a sound that elicits pavlovian responses from both young and old as we dig in our pockets for change.
The cool damp grass on bare feet.
The glass of iced tea sweating in the sun atop a stack of books by a wicker chair.
The gardenias. The jasmine.
This intoxicating beauty that covers the southland in springtime stands in razor sharp contrast to the ugliness of much of our history and in doing so illustrates better than any textbook the contradictory way of the world. To those of us Southerners rebellious enough to think for ourselves, this ever present dichotomy teaches us that life is never merely black or white. Neither is it fair. We learn that the world, though quite often unbearable in its cruelty and ignorance, can also be unspeakably gorgeous - full of hope and nigh on dancing with beauty.
Life in the south is unique and that uniqueness has produced some of the our country’s most transcendent writing - from Faulkner to O’Connor, Welty to Lee - authors unafraid to look their homeland dead in the eye in order to fully illuminate both the pain and the grace.
For all of its frailties and faults, this is the time of year when the South shows us the sweeter side of its nature. This is the time when its highest aspirations are fulfilled to bursting with wedding dresses of beauty everywhere that I look.
Yes, I always feel Southern in Spring.
Painting by Jessica Hayllar
Painting by Jessica Hayllar