As often I say, it is enlightening to see the South from a non-Southerner’s perspective. Mainly, it reminds me that what is normal for us is sometimes out-of-the-ordinary for others.
It was one of those beautiful days on the coast when the waves sang in perfect harmony of gentle rolling notes, the sun was bright and the temperature mild. I was on St. Simons Island, Georgia, having lunch with a friend, Bud St. Pierre, who is the marketing director for the historic King and Prince Hotel. We were watching a large freighter as it sailed away, guided by a tiny tugboat, from the nearby Brunswick port which is over two centuries old. George Washington declared the Brunswick port as one of the five original port of entries for the 13 colonies.
We were discussing that the ships try to carry a load of something back when they leave after dropping off a load of 2,400 cars.
“Cap can look at a ship and tell you how big a load it’s carrying,” Bud remarked.
Cap would be a reference to one of the most well-liked and respected men on the island – Cap Fendig. Cap, who is descended from one of St. Simons’ oldest families, runs a tour company for fishing trips and trolley tours which I can highly recommend.
Mentioning Cap made me think of a recent magazine piece I had written on Christ Church’s Annual Tour of Homes, an enormously successful fund raiser for the community’s nonprofits. It was co-founded by Gladys Fendig and Ira Towson. Christ Church is historic – Eugenia Price chronicled its early history in her bestselling St. Simons trilogy – and considered a treasure by both locals and visitors. To myself, I was wondering if Gladys might be Cap’s mother.
Aloud I asked, “Does Cap’s family go to Christ Church?”
“I don’t know,” Bud replied.
“You don’t know?” I made a comical face. “You’re not a very good Southerner.”
He laughed. “That’s because I’m not a Southerner.” Bud is extremely proud of being a New Englander. Normally, I would call him a “Yankee” but someone from Atlanta wrote and asked me to stop using the word “Yankee” because it offended him. He was from Connecticut.
Bud grew up in New Hampshire so I thought it would benefit him to know that the third question a Southerner asks when someone new moves to town is, “Where do you go to church?”
The first two questions are: “Where do you live?” and “Whatta you do for a living?”
If you’re a Yankee, Southerners generally don’t care about what you do for a living. Instead, they suspiciously ask, “What brought you here?”
It turns out that I didn’t need to explain the church question to Bud because when his family moved to St. Simons, 17 years earlier, he found out for himself.
“Trust me. Everyone we met asked us where we went to church. Then, they worked hard to get us to come to their church.”
Yep. That’s the South I know and love.
Tink came in the kitchen once after returning from our back pasture having encountered a neighbor he hadn’t met. The man had come over to kindly offer his assistance with a fallen tree.
“You know what I’ve noticed about people I meet around here?” Tink asked as he was pouring a glass of milk. Tink drinks more milk than a baby calf. “People always ask ‘Where do you go to church?’” He took a long drink of milk. “No one ever asked me that in California.”
I laughed because it’s the gospel. Church attendance is of great importance in the South. Especially the rural South which still revolves around Sunday morning church, Sunday dinner, and Wednesday prayer meeting.
“I like living in a place where people ask where I go to church,” he said thoughtfully.
They’re still suspicious, though, about what brought him here.
•Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of Let Me Tell You Something. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.