While visiting my parents for Thanksgiving, my dad made the joke "Now you live in San Francisco! Whatever happened to my little southern belle?" I looked at him like he was crazy and simply said, "I've never been a southern belle."
I was born in Nashville. I spent the first 18 years of my life in a town called Murfreesboro, located about 30 minutes south of Nashville. When I was growing up, it was home to Middle Tennessee State University and little else. Over the last decade, Murfreesboro has transformed into a sprawling suburb full of strip malls, chain restaurants and housing developments. Whenever I return for a visit I find myself constantly getting lost because I barely recognize it anymore.
There are very few things about me that I consider southern. I make damn good casseroles. I refer to all sodas as "Coke." Certain Ryan Adams songs make me cry. I love Cracker Barrel. Those facts aside, I could have easily grown up in any other part of America. I spent most of my adolescence dreaming of a world outside of the south. My dream city was and still is London, but only time will tell if it will ever be a reality.
People are always shocked that I don't have a southern accent. My parents hail from San Diego and Milwaukee. I certainly wasn't going to pick up an accent from them! Perhaps if native southerners had raised me, I would have developed an affinity for the southeastern United States. Most of my school friends had ancestors that fought in the Civil War. My great-grandparents didn't emigrate from Europe until shortly after the turn of the century. I simply don't have southern roots.
When I graduated from high school, I moved up to Boston to attend Emerson College. With my dad's cousins in the Boston suburbs, it was both an exciting and somewhat safe move. Boston is the city where I cut my teeth and found myself. I learned as much inside Emerson classrooms as I did in places like Cambridge and Allston. And yes, I learned to say "wicked" along the way.
Being a southerner in "Yankee" country was interesting. At times, my classmates (mostly New Englanders) treated me like a novelty. Conversely, when I returned to Tennessee for a brief visit one summer, the ticket guy at the movie theater actually called me a Yankee and refused to believe that I am a Tennessee native. I just can't win.
From Boston I intended to move to Glasgow, Scotland. My move was unsuccessful, but the events that it set in motion paved the way for my move to San Francisco. This is the city where I became a "real" adult - financially independent for the first time in my life in one of the most expensive places in America (What can I say? I like to be challenged). People in Boston always seemed to have preconceived notions about Tennesseans but perhaps, thanks to the lingering free love culture of the 1960s, I rarely run into this problem in SF.
I consider myself very lucky to have lived in the south, New England and now on the West Coast. They are three vastly different areas of the country and each place has taught me a lot. But home is a weird concept. Boston certainly isn't home because most of my friends left it after college. Murfreesboro will always be my hometown, but it's not home, either. Right now, San Francisco is home because it's where I live, work and socialize. I think I'm the type of person that can make anywhere home as long as I have a strong support network.
I'd like to think that I've taken the best things the south has to offer with me -- politeness (I will forever address people as "sir" and "ma'am") and excellent casserole recipes chief among them. The south left little else of a mark on this current San Franciscan and former Masshole. I discovered early on that conservative family values and other things associated (though not always fairly) with the south are not for me.
Back in high school when I received an invitation to be presented at the local debutante ball, I laughed at the antiquated tradition. I wanted to play guitar in a punk rock band. Hate to break it to you dad (himself a former southern California surfer guy), but I was never a southern belle.