In about two weeks the daughter and son-in-law will officially be residents of the state of Alabama. They are moving to Fort Rucker where the son-in-law will begin training to be a helicopter for the National Guard. They will be stationed there for approximately two years. The rumor is that they are going to become "Southerns"--heaven help the South!
Growing up as a child I remember asking my father what a "Southerner" was, and his answer to me was: "It is all a state of mind, Son." My father was born and raised in the backwoods of Alabama. My mother was born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina--both Southerns by birth. They both talked funny and had that little drawl that seems to manifest itself among those who are from the South. After the age of 18 neither one of them ever really lived in the South, except for one year when my father was stationed in Georgia. They never claimed to be Southern, but did admit their Southern heritage.
The wife is from Kentucky and likes to claim that she is Southern, but I remind her that she is a Mason-Dixon Southerner--sort of a confused individual stuck between two cultures and who can't make up his or her mind which one he or she is. During the Civil War the citizens of Kentucky couldn't decide which side they were on and were fairly split between the two sides. We have had a subscription to Southern Living for nearly thirty years, but she likes to buy Yankee Candles--are you seeing the pattern? When she goes back home, she talks funny and with a drawl, beyond her family she talks like a mid-westerner. As much as the wife would love to claim being a Southern, she is always going to be stuck in that limbo land of being a Mason-Dixoner.
Despite my parents upbringing and heritage, there is very little "Southerner" in me. I was born in the "south"--southern Massachusetts in a little town called Wareham. Sounds "Southern" doesn't it? I never picked up the funny way of talking and I mumble better than I drawl. I never grew up in the South but do remember the few times that I visited this exotic land to see my grandparents. I didn't fit in with that side of the family even though I did pick up a few of the Southern expressions my parents used. I also picked up the nasty habit of dropping "g" off the end of words--something becomes somethin'. My preaching professor in seminary liked to nail me on that one. But I am not "Southern" by any stretch of the mind even though I love grits, fried green tomatoes, hush puppies, country ham, and sweet tea.
I agree with my father--it is all a state of mind. I imagine that my daughter will develop a funny way of talking while she lives in Alabama, but they will already think that when she moves there because she is not from there. I am sure she will develop a love of parts of the Southern culture--she might even develop a taste for Mint Juleps, but I hope her mother and I raised her better than that. She will adapt in order to survive--mainly because it will become a state of mind. But that is not who she is and I imagine we can convert her back once she and the husband move back to Montana in about two years. Then she and the son-in-law will once again be one of us--the ones who people always ask, "Where in the world did you come from?"
We come from a place that is within our hearts that defines who we are. It is not determined by the accent we have or the way that we mangle words. It is not defined by where we were born or who we root for in sports. It is not determined by the food we eat or the way we dress. It comes from that place within us that makes us feel safe and comfortable--that place that allows us to love--that place that lets us be who God created us to be. It is all a state of mind--our own minds.
When the daughter and son-in-law return from the South they might sound funny, drink strange drinks, and drop the "g" at the end of words, but the essence of who they are will still be there. So, for those of you in the South, take good care of the children and return them to us safely--we can handle the funny accent and way of talking (we have good speech therapists here in Montana who can fix that). In the meantime be prepared, Montanans are pretty stubborn people and they just might change you. Remember, it is all a state of mind!