[Editor’s note: This story is the fourth of the regional rants that will follow this article about a sense of home.]
I come from Arkansas, a state most commonly associated with hillbillies who don’t wear shoes (thank you Beverly Hillbillies), illiteracy, the Central High School integration crisis and Bill Clinton (love him or hate him). As a result, I used to be ashamed of my state, which ranks first for number of teen pregnancies and methamphetamine addicts and last in literacy, average income and quality of public education.
I used to be proud when someone would say, "But you don’t sound like you’re from the South." I used to see my time here as a prison sentence, waiting to go to college out of state and never look back. But I didn’t go to college out of state. And somewhere in the past three years I learned how to stop worrying and love the South and the state of Arkansas.
Southern hospitality is no joke—I really believe folks are friendlier "down here." I’ve visited bigger cities in the North, and I was surprised at how unhappy people seemed. No one smiled at me on the sidewalks, no one chatted with me on the subway, no one waved at me on the road, and everyone seemed to be in a hurry.
Life in the South just runs on a different clock. People take time for sitting on porches, for talks with strangers about the state of the Arkansas Razorback athletics program (woo pig sooie!!), a source of state pride, even if they seem to lose most of the time
I was in a car accident one Thanksgiving with my Colorado-native fiancé. As we sat in our wrecked car in a ditch on a rainy day in rural Arkansas, no less than five cars stopped to help. My fiancé commented that that sort of thing wouldn’t have happened in Colorado.
I love to sit and drink my mom’s homemade sweet tea. I love to eat my Memaw’s fried chicken and okra and listen to stories about her picking cotton back on the farm her daddy used to run. And I must admit a love for some country music, even though that’s not something I usually tell my indie-rock-snob friends. But country music isn’t the only music the South has to offer, anyway. I love to hear my grandpa tell stories of our hometown of Hot Springs, with folks like Al Capone and Billy the Kid vacationing there in America’s "first resort" to listen to jazz in the speakeasies. I love to drive to my grandparents’ house in rural Arkansas, passing farms with faded read barns and pastures full of cows and horses. The area is simply gorgeous in the fall.
Even the idiosyncrasies that lead to so many stereotypes of my state have become a source of pride, as I’ve learned to laugh at my state’s colorful past. We used to be the "Toothpick State" because so many people used the Arkansas-invented Bowie knife to pick their teeth. The whole not wearing shoes bit is true, as well, because in the early 1900s, when we got our first Health Department thanks to an outbreak of hookworm; but even then, in the debate in the state Senate, one legislator called the whole epidemic a conspiracy on behalf of the leather industry to make people wear shoes.
I come from the land of William Faulkner, Harper Lee and Maya Angelou. I come from the land of fried okra and chicken. I come from the land where we bleed sweet tea and love the Hogs, win or lose. I come from a land where people help their neighbors and wave at strangers. I come from a place where we say "ya’ll." And I love where I’m from.