A Whole New World of Cheese-Grit Paradise

I reckon y’all know already what I’m fixin’ to rant on about,
but hear me out on my reasoning why.
I reckon y’all know already what I’m fixin’ to rant on about, but hear me out on my reasoning why.

In California, and even in the small towns of the South Valley, we have a diverse demographic. One of the things I’ve always been so proud of is that I have been exposed to so many different cultures, religions and ethnicities through school and friends. Just in my small group of tight-knit gal pals, we’ve got someone of Arabic and Guatemalan descent and another who looks like she just arrived from Brazil.

But as we in California pride ourselves on our multiethnic surroundings, we’re completely blind to a whole other culture that’s alive and strong in one-fourth of the country.

That’s right, people, I’m skeetin’ on about the South, where I spent the last year working and living. And although many people might adhere to the stereotype that Southerners are slow-speakin’, God-fearin’, “redneck” folk, they in turn find us Californians to be a different breed, straight from the liberal-lovin’ land of fruit and nuts.

Just as someone from Elkton, Ky., – a town of 2,000 in western Kentucky – might have a culture shock moving to Los Angeles or San Francisco, I too went through a series of “are you kidding me?”s and “how the heck?”s when I arrived in good ol’ Clarksville, Tenn.

Although I lived in Tennessee, I worked in Kentucky, which was only 35 minutes away. Hopkinsville, Ky., with a population of about 35,000, has more than 10 Baptist churches. Just last month, the city council legalized drinking on Sundays – but only in restaurants seating more than 100 people.

A town with a strong political “Good Old Boys” network, which many of us here can understand, Hopkinsville has gang activity and racism, just like in the South Valley. But it’s the subtle differences that make the South Valley and this town like night and day.

It was last December when I decided to perk up my homesick self by baking some Christmas cookies. I wanted to make about 12 dozen to share with friends, so I headed to the grocery store to buy what I needed. When I got to the register and threw my 5-pound bags of sugar on the conveyer belt, the cashier said, “Ummm, honey, you know you can’t buy all that.”

Turns out the amount of sugar you can buy at a grocery store in Tennessee is restricted, because people who hoard too much sugar can make moonshine (whiskey that’s illegally distilled). I ran into the same problem when I tried to buy beer on Super Bowl Sunday. Couldn’t do it.

Another thing that threw me off was receiving invitations to “dinner.” One day around Thanksgiving, my co-workers at the newspaper I was working for decided to have a potluck dinner. So, before leaving for work on the day of the potluck, I thought to myself, “OK, I’ll have time to run home after work and pick up the dish I’m bringing,” (which, by the way, was garlic bread). Well, at noon, my co-worker turned to me and said, “Aren’t you coming to the potluck? Everyone is already in the kitchen.”

Little did I know that “dinner” meant lunch and “supper” meant dinner.

For several months, I got stuck on all the differences between me and my new neighbors. How can people from the same country be so different? In the South, vegetables are fried; ours are fresh from the fields. Hopkinsville and Clarksville saw their first in-town Starbucks this year; we have more than 10 in this region. Every time I read the police reports in the morning before heading to the office and saw that another rabid raccoon was holding people hostage in a barber shop, I thought to myself, “This can’t be real.”

After about seven months of becoming more and more frustrated with my surroundings, I made a change for the better. I realized if I was going to make it in the South, I’d have to focus on the things we had in common instead of the quite-obvious differences.

Just like Hollister, Gilroy and Morgan Hill, Hopkinsville had families who have lived there for generations – even longer than some South Valley residents have lived here. Hopkinsville had the list of “who’s who,” like the people you read about in the local newspapers here, and children who once played together grew up and now have children who play together.

Although Southerners may gather around the dinner – or, excuse me, supper – table as a family for fried okra and cheese grits instead of sushi and steamed vegetables, they’re still part of a small town and a tight-knit community.

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