Wasn’t Alabama just another red state full of backward, unsophisticated people? Most people don’t know it has a beautiful coastline. It’s a well-kept secret. Some natives wish it would stay that way. If you want to confuse your friends, go on vacation to Alabama. It’ll start tongues wagging and gossip flying. Vacationers are familiar with Florida; it sounds more sophisticated. I’ve yet to meet anyone that talked like the cartoon character, “Foghorn Leghorn.” Neither have I met anyone still carrying a grudge because the south lost the war. They will quickly point out, the Civil War was about more than slavery. It was about states rights. Large numbers of industries moved South because of the favorable labor climate. Over the long haul, maybe the South won the war? If you wanted to cause a near riot, bring up the subject of labor unions.
As a transplanted Midwesterner I had a lot to learn. There were many cultural differences. It was customary to address a person by first name preceded by appropriate title. …For example, “Mr. Bob,”or “Ms. Mary.” Shopping carts were called “buggies.” A light switch was not “turned off” or “turned on.” Instead it was “cut off” or “cut on.” The phrase, “I might be able to get that for you,” changed to, “I might could get that for you.” There’s the familiar “y’all,” pronounced “yawl.” A common word I’ve picked up on, is “fixin.” …Means getting ready to do something. I’m fixin’ to take my car to Bubba’s Garage for an oil change. Incidentally, the word “oil” is pronounced with one syllable, like “awl.” The expression, “Well, isn’t that nice?” is a polite insult reserved for special situations–usually northerners with “verbal diarrhea.” Roughly translated, it meant, “You can go straight to Hell, along with the horse you rode in on!”
All carbonated soft drinks are called “Coke.” Sweet tea is the most popular beverage. You can ask for unsweetened tea, it identifies you as a Yankee, Snow Bird, or health nut. Grits are served with everything, like potatoes. Slow roasted pork butt (Boston Butt) is a local favorite. A local restaurant commercial asks the question, “What will you have with your cheese grits?” I’ve tried them–they’re quite tasty. Other southern specialities are boiled peanuts and sweet potato, (not pumpkin), pie. Thanksgiving turkey is prepared with cornbread stuffing. Common green garden peas are called English peas. They’re distinguished from black-eyed peas, crowder peas, chick peas, and pink-eyed/purple hulled peas.
After arrival, the first questions asked were: where do you go to church? What’s your favorite (NCAA) football team? Football is like a religion. There is a fanaticism, the likes of which, this “Yankee” had never seen. If your favorite team isn’t in the SEC, God have mercy on your soul. You will hear recounted, every defeat your team suffered, in every sport, in every encounter with the SEC in its history. Be sure to allow some extra time for this. Another tradition is Mardi Gras. Most people are unaware the tradition started in Mobile, Alabama, not in New Orleans. The celebrations start in late January and continue till “Fat Tuesday,” or “Lundi Gras.” Schools and businesses close for “Fat Tuesday.” Mobile Mardi Gras celebrations are more family oriented than those of New Orleans.
All persons, not born south of the Mason-Dixon line, are called “Yankees.” Distrust goes back to the Post Civil War Reconstruction era. Later, “Yankees,” discovered the area, bought property and stayed. All “Yankees,” like me, are initially treated with skepticism. My first trip was in 1984 for vacation. The decision based solely on camping guide information. The white sand beaches, tall pines, turquoise waters were a wonderful surprise. There was a state park nearby with unspoiled beachfront, a fishing pier, rental cabins, a hotel and conference center. Northerners are still resented by some. Property investors and speculators drove up land prices. Developers lined the beaches with high-rise condos–blocked views of turquoise Gulf waters–created urban sprawl. The real estate boom and subsequent bust hit hard. Now economic recovery has a strong pulse and shows signs of life. There are reminders–abandoned, overgrown, unsightly tracts of land with streets and utilities.
“Snow Birds” from the northern states and Canada spend winters here. Vacationers return every summer. Tourism is the largest source of local revenue. On busy holiday weekends, local roadways are clogged with traffic. I use back roads and shortcuts. I’m not giving away my secrets! I moved here in ’04, just in advance of Hurricane Ivan. It was sad to see the horrible devastation. Nature heals itself, but it sometimes takes years. Annoyances are fire ants, love bugs, gnats, and no-see-ums. There are far more good things than bad. Winters are mild. There are two major types of weather–cool in the winter and hot in the summer. Something I like, is having greenery in the winter. Certain oak and acacia trees keep their leaves in winter. There are no dazzling displays of fall color. I miss fall and “Indian Summer.” Tulips and lilacs won’t grow here. This is more than made up for by azaleas in spring and crepe myrtles in summer.
When I came here on vacation, it was fun to go to the beach. Now, I’m here permanently and rarely go. Usually, it’s when someone comes for a visit. I’ve learned that plants suited for the Miami area don’t do well here. It does frost on winter mornings. People here are warm-hearted, genuine, and down to earth. I’m honored to have been accepted–in spite of being a “Yankee.” There’s no place I’d rather live. “Now, I’m fixin’ to go to the mall with your Mama “n” ’em.” “Are y’all goin’ with y’all?”