I’ve been Southern all my life. Even so, returning home after more than a decade in the Midwest did require adjustments. I call this process my “Re-Southernization.”
1. Overcoming the shock of dramatic indoor-outdoor temperature changes. We’re a strong, heat-tolerant people, but we also love our air-conditioning. I no longer carry a summer cardigan to lunch with friends and instead take a deep, refreshing breath of gratitude inside every chilly building.
2. Dropping the “sweet” from tea orders. Sweet tea IS regular tea, the default down here my friend. Hallelujah.
3. Recognizing weeds. This transition is ongoing. It took me awhile to realize the green leaves quickly cascading over my fence this summer were not a shared gift from the neighbors like the trumpet vines popular in my former Midwestern zip code. No. These were weeds between our two fences, and my hesitation had created a jungle of varied vines including multiple three-leaved specimens. I was raised on bits of Southern wisdom like this one: “Leaves of three, leave ’em be.” Poison ivy, anyone?
Here’s another saying: “Sometimes the only way out is through.” I tackled my task carefully, and two hours and three 42-gallon bags later, my fence was clean. After my shower, I did some Internet research. Although I was spared any rashes or prickling, it turns out the vines I handled with the greatest caution were brambles and berries. I’m not reopening my black lawn waste sacks for a true identification, but the plants I grabbed without any worry were actually the most suspect.
One person’s weed may be another person’s joy. A few of the vines I pulled were muscadine grapes. I have no use for them, but some people see jelly or wine in the making. Like my late grandmother, I love Queen Anne’s lace. When I was kid, she’d hit the brakes and pull over just to grab a few handfuls along the road for one of her flower arrangements at home, but before I moved to Normal, Ill., the town took a woman to court after her neighbors complained about the Queen Anne’s lace she’d planted in her yard. Rainey Becher saw beauty; her neighbors saw a lawn accented with “uncut weeds.” Since there was no list of banned plants, Becher ultimately won, and when I drove past her house with a friend several years later her Queen Anne’s lace was still going strong.
Gardening of any sort makes me think about people, and how building relationships requires not just care and maintenance but also at times our full attention. Compatibility is not measured in straightforward “rights” or “wrongs” as much as what works for us as individuals. Sometimes we need to keep our guard up until we can sort the uplifting opportunities from the toxic ones, and even the best of friends can disappoint or sting us occasionally. The thorns around roses and berries are challenges worth enduring, if we choose.
Whether I’m inviting a plant into my garden or a friend into my home, the choice is my favorite part, and patience the hardest. Look at your relationships today, as I look at mine, and consider when to water the ones worth keeping. Not sure what’s sprouting at your fence? Sometimes we must simply watch, and wait.