Y’all, I have a confession to make:
Talking about sweet tea at McAlister’s and the orange that paints Knoxville on a Tennessee football morning with Leslie has made me really miss home this week.
But when I was 15? I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I grew up in Kingston, Tennessee, a small town of about 6,000 people right outside of Knoxville. Kingston is your quintessential small, southern town. The entire town turns up for Friday night football games, folks wear their Sunday best to church and your high school English teacher is the same lady your Aunt had 30 years earlier. And while I loved Homecoming week and the freedom our parents gave us to run around town, I was itching for something more.
Just like Kingston compares to other small towns scattered across the South, I had the same story as hundreds of other small town girls: I wanted to experience life in the big city. During my four years as a college student at MTSU, Nashville gave me a taste of what a bigger city has to offer. Thursday evenings were spent listening to up and coming musicians at open mic nights, I went to my first Monday night football game and met people from other corners of the country. But I also discovered that sometimes the “big city” wasn’t everything I had imagined. I can’t tell you how many times I called my Dad and said, “the Batman building is to my left, which way do I go?” I’m still not sure how I managed to get around anywhere during those pre-GPS or smart phone days.
But my sights had been set on New York City or Washington, DC since a report I did in the 7th grade and I couldn’t get those dreams out of my head. When Nick had the opportunity to take a new position in Maryland, I jumped at the chance and had our bags packed without giving a second thought to what I was leaving behind. On my first day of work in DC, I stepped off the metro and remember just looking around and thinking, “hell yes, I did it!” And then a homeless man asked me for money and thus began my introduction into everything that weaves together to create this city I love so much.
But you know what? As much as I love having an endless list of restaurants at our fingertips or seeing the Capitol dome pierce the sky on a clear summer day, living in DC has done something I never imaged when I was plotting my escape during middle school.
It’s made me appreciate and truly love my southern roots.
There are lots of superficial things spread across the South that I love. I love spending a week at Hilton Head, wondering the halls at Biltmore Estate, or going to Graceland with my Mama (told ya we like Elvis in this family!)
Outside of those places, sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I love so much about the region. But as cheesy as it sounds, I think what I love so much is the spirit of the South.
It’s being taught to say yes ma’am and no ma’am (I can’t tell you how many times my Mama prompted me to say that when I was younger and now it’s second nature).
It’s the history that is seeped into cities like Charleston.
It’s raising your children to love Jesus.
It’s taking the time to smile and say hello when you pass someone on the walking trail.
It’s a fruit stand where people trust you to leave the money when you take fruit.
It’s Sunday dinners with the family after church.
It’s knowing that friends and family are more important than how late you stayed at the office last night. (Seriously, this seems to be a competition in DC).
It’s knowing that your neighbor will come over and ask if you need help if they spot you working outside.
We have an entire publication dedicated to our region! I love Southern Living, y’all.
It’s feeling the pace slow down when we leave DC and you know people are enjoying life.
It’s the excitement that rolls around each year when football season arrives.
I could go on forever, but basically it’s that good old southern hospitality we are known for. Each time we go home, it’s never long before Nick or I will remark, “everyone is so friendly!”
Part of me squirms a little when I think about giving up my big city dreams and heading back home. But you know? When I picture my life a few years down the road to a time when Nick and I will hopefully be chasing around a few babies of our own, you know what I see?
I see us sitting on a front porch, sippin’ sweet tea as we watch our kids scamper across the yard, mason jars in hand in pursuit of that one elusive firefly as their laughter floats across the East Tennessee night. Just like I did.
I think about lazy summer days spent in the water being “baptized” by one cousin or another or threatening to splash their Mom’s and ruin their perfectly curled hair. Just like I did.
I see watching them walk off with a bucket full of coke cans with their Granddaddy surrounded by a chattering group of cousins ready for lessons on how to shoot a BB gun. Just like I did.
I hope some of the friends that they spent endless hours giggling with as little girls will be the same ones that stand next to them on their wedding day. Just like I did.
I’m not sure they will appreciate that people all other town will not hesitate to call your parents if you misbehave, but when they get older, they might think it’s pretty cool. Just like I did.
I want them to experience homemade ice cream on July 4th and crowd on a blanket with their friends to watch the local fireworks. Just like I did.
I really don’t think there’s any better place to be.