Monday, January 22, 2007

Place Matters

Place is a big deal to us Southerners. After all, we maintain a fierce loyalty to a piece of ground, a place known simply as "The South," with a tenacity rivaled only by those hailing from the pseudo-nation of Texas. Furthermore, our literature consistently exudes themes centered around the importance of place. These places even sometimes become characters. Sweet Home in Morrison's "Beloved." Twain's mighty Mississippi River. Home in Lee Smith's novel "Oral History." Faulkner's infamous Yoknawpatawa County.

For whatever reason, place seems to matter to us.

A Southerner once spent a summer living in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. This Southerner met many new people, and in trying to get to know them better, he would immediately ask, "Where ya from?" Why, you might query? Because this is just what you do, of course. Whenever his new friend from the commonwealth answered with a Bostonian suburb that the Southerner had heard of (or even - gasp! - been to), he would respond with great excitement, even though the fact that two people know of the same town means nothing substantial. His new friends rarely ever returned his excitement, simply gazing at him in confusion and often calling him "cute." The Southerner just loved to relate to others about place.

I spent this weekend in the mountains of North Carolina. While my roomates carved and shredded the half-pipe on their 'boards, dude, I hung around the condo trying to find some peace, doing things like sleeping, reading, praying, and the like. My day looked remarkably similar to many of my days off back in Charlotte. A newly working young male looking for rejuventation by any means available.

Something was different this weekend because I actually found this rest that I had so craved. My times in prayer were more focused than they'd been in months. The two places I read from in the Bible actually possessed near identical themes (it's so coincidental how that happens, don't you think?). Throughout my day, I never felt the oh so familiar urge to take a nap. Something was different.

The odd thing about this weekend was that it should not have been that odd at all. The same people were in my life (that being my roomates). The same temptations to sloth were literally in my face (Mr. Television, I'm looking at you). There was no reason I shouldn't have wanted to nap like usual. Yet, for whatever reason, a patient and peaceful rest met me there in the mountains that I had not felt in a while. The only thing different was the place.

(As a sidebar, I was unable to follow my fantasy basketball team without internet access which was a substantial difference between my Charlotte life and this weekend. Perhaps this is telling. Without my constant vigil, however, my shooting guard Josh Smith felt the need to get ejected from Saturday's game and leave the court with both middle fingers skyward. Classy. What's more important is that this will certainly merit a suspension, slowing the fantasy basketball buzzsaw that is "Ridin' Dirty." But I digress.)

Maybe us backwards Southerners are on to something. Maybe the question, "Where ya from?" isn't irrelevant and worthy of condescending smiles. All I know is that something was different this weekend though the distractions, the temptations, and the main character were the same. I can't explain it.

Or maybe I can. After all, I'm a Southerner. Place matters.


Wilson said...

Seems I've heard that story about the Southerner heading to the Commonwealth, even experienced it. Weird....
Man, I'm trying the fantasy B-ball this year for the first time, but I just can't get into like football. I think its the changing the lineups everyday or near about. Still, I'm just not feeling it...what's your secret?

Chris Pappa said...

Being from "the North," I offer a different (though not completely exclusive) reason for the emphasis on place. City v. Country. I've maintained for awhile now that differences usually attributed to "north/south" would actually fit better in "rural/urban." The South just has a whole lot less my count, it has two (Atlanta and Charlotte--Raleigh isn't there yet and Miami doesn't count).

In any case, it may be that people who grow up around big cities don't associate with place as much as the rural folk. My dad, for instance, grew up a country boy in Pennsylvania, and he remembers EVERYTHING about where people are from. It's the coolest thing in the world to him. My mom grew up outside of Philadelphia. She doesn't care. To my dad, places have personalities; for my mom, places are just addresses for people to live in (cf. West Side Story).

Keep rollin', Ben. You're a fresh read.

Ben said...

Thanks for the encouragement! I took it and ran, maybe a little too far today. Loooooong post.

Interesting thoughts concerning regional attitudes toward place. I've been fascinated by the importance or lack thereof that places possess ever since I took a Geography of the South class. We really do care about place down here, even to the point of unexplainable excitement. I'm not sure why, and I'm not sure it really tangibly matters. It's just a fascinating phenomenon that's worth some thought if you like observing people.