Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Myrtle Manners

The last time I posted on this blog (quite a while ago),  I was a Northerner and Eastern Pennsylvania resident. This week marks one year since my husband and I became residents of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In that year, nothing has changed and everything has changed. Paring down to essentials after 60+ years of collecting stuff was painful, to say the least. And then there was the renovating/selling of the former home and the building of the new one. The first time we saw our new home was 2 days before closing. I do not recommend this approach to home construction. Thankfully, we had excellent realtors who visited the site frequently, corrected errors and sent us pictures of the progress.

For many years we had vacationed in Myrtle Beach, loved it, and finally decided we had had enough of the cold Northern winters and it was time to move south. So we did. The enormity of this move at the age of 65 did not really hit me until recently when I had some time to reflect on what we had done. We were initially too busy with all the details of the move and getting settled, and too excited about living in a place we had come to love, to think about the huge changes we had experienced and were still going through. I realize now there were days when I felt embraced by the warmth of the weather and the sweet Southern hospitality, and then there were days when it seemed as if I had been abducted by aliens and plunked down on a foreign planet. There are lots of former Northerners here, but most have quickly discovered that you either “go native” or get smacked with a cultural 2 by 4.

I’ve tried my best not to say things like “back up north we did thus and so or we did it this way.”  Southerners, no matter how sweet, do not like to be reminded that Yankees do things differently and often think the Yankee way is better. In some ways, being a transplanted Northerner is like being a high school student who has moved to a new school and is trying to figure out how to fit in without being “slushied” like the hapless kids on the TV show, Glee.  

I am trying to get used to a different concept of time. The combination of a laid-back Southern lifestyle and the perpetual vacation atmosphere of a resort area produce the prevailing idea that there’s no need to hurry anywhere or do things asap. The coin of the realm is the “round toit,” as in “ma’am, don’t you worry, we’ll take care of that when we get around to it.” Apparently it takes quite a while to acquire that coin. To an extent, this is a healthy approach, except when it results in Northern blood pressure rising when things don’t happen on schedule. Actually Northern  and Southern blood pressure has probably already risen because they fry everything here, including pickles.

After a year, we are still working on some of the punch list items we identified during the walk-through of our home last August. And we are still waiting on new doors to our refrigerator so that it will close properly; that’s another story. The builder’s construction manager has spent so much time here that our dog thinks he’s a member of the family. I don’t even want to mention the snakes, lizards, palmetto bugs, mosquitoes, fire ants, and feral cats, who sleep on our doormat at night. I’m slowly  getting used to the fact that at least some people sitting near me in a movie theater or restaurant are packing heat.

Although I still won’t eat grits, all in all, I am quite happy to be living in Myrtle Beach. There is very little, if any, snow, and it melts almost as it falls. You can go Christmas shopping in December in shorts and flipflops. There is an endless variety of things to do and restaurants to try. There’s world class entertainment such as the Carolina Opry and other venues. Yes, July is a big wall of humidity and tourists, but you can’t have perfect weather all the time, and the tourists keep our taxes low. People are usually friendly and helpful (even in Walmart), and a big smile and friendliness on your part can work wonders when you need a strong person to load heavy items into your car. Up north they just ignore you.

I have landed in a foreign culture, but I’m learning the language and the habits of the people. And I know useful things like always look for a parking space in the shade during the summer, put mothballs around the house to discourage snakes, South Carolina barbecue is tomato-based, and the plural of y’all is all y’all. So, all y’all, I love your city and your state, and I intend to stay here for the rest of my life. This is now home. Sorry, Pennsylvania. Oh, and the best part is that now when my career coaching clients tell me they’re too old to change, or change is too scary, I can say to them:  “You can do this. I know, I’ve been there. It’s OK to be scared. I was scared too, but when you make that needed change, it is so worth it.”


S. Kim Henson said...

Mary, your writing is real and humorous and very entertaining. Loving me some fried pickles for supper last night. :) Over-the-top happy to have you down South!

Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter said...

Hi Mary,
I love the title, "Myrtle Manners!" ... and, your entire post had me nodding, as I related to the 'enormity of the move.'

This line is great, too, "'Go native' or get smacked with a cultural 2 by 4."

Virtually witnessing your life transition from Pennsylvania to South Carolina has been a real treat - you have handled it with grace, humor and authenticity. I enjoyed your paring down stories as you prepared to make the leap, and then your stories of settling into your new, warmer-climate, southern retreat, later. I can imagine life near the ocean often provides solace as you integrate into this new culture.

I felt similarly culture shocked after moving to this tiny little town of Gordonville on the shores of a huge Texas lake in a state with an enormous personality. I LOVE Texas, but initially, the feel of the landscape felt so foreign to me. I grew up in the country, but had spent a majority of my adult life in the city. While I adore being immersed in the country again, it took me awhile not to 'miss' the conveniences of the city. Driving 30+ miles one way to shop for clothes or other necessities, though anticipated, has been an adjustment.

You mention grits and fried pickles! I'm laughing, because those were new to me, too - as well, sweet tea! In Texas, sweet tea is the norm, and you must request unsweetened. That felt oddly unique to me, as have so many other nuances encountered since the 'transplant to Texas.'

When you mention laid-back, that resonates, to some degree, too. Since establishing formal roots (buying instead of renting a home here) just this past April, I've been conversing with our high-speed Internet provider about how to improve on unreliable service. In Kansas City, I would have been fuming; here, I realize it is part and parcel to living on the lake; while it still stresses me a bit (and I've been compelled to supplement service with a hotspot), I also understand it is a tradeoff for living in my little slice of heaven.

I also relate to the snakes, lizards and feral cats aspect of your message - yes! (As a result, Rob and now have adopted 3 pets since moving to Lake Texoma - 2 cats/dog, all who were abandoned).

Anyway, your apropos description of a foreign culture, and your aptitude in learning the language and habits of the people makes me smile.

Mostly, though, I love how you closed your story. Sharing that, at 65, you made the leap, YOUR story can now fuel others who may feel 'too old' or that it's 'too late' for change to go ahead, and just do it!

Thank you, once again, for your genuine communications, and for taking time to write this meaty post!


Mary Wilson said...

Kim, thanks for commenting. I'm over-the-top happy to be down South! We'll share some fried pickles soon.

Mary Wilson said...

Jacqui, I'm grateful you took the time to leave such a meaty reply. I have enjoyed your Texas stories over the past few years. Where you live seems similar to my sister-in-law's location on a lake with shopping and restaurants a 45-minute drive away.

My husband is originally from South Carolina, so he has been somewhat of a guide to all things Southern.

I have found that this move has strengthened my coaching practice because of my personal experience with major change.

Thanks again for your continued support. It means a lot, especially coming from a talented writer such as you.