At least twice I day I get polled by a passerby with the question, “Where are you from?” The question isn’t based out of politeness, but instead a direct reaction to my thick, Southern accent. I never encountered this before I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina- a cultural melting pot filled with Asians, African, Indians and, yes, the snow veterans that are Northerners.
I don’t get mad about the assumptions that in light of my obvious twang, I must be slightly remedial and, more likely than not, am without indoor plumbing; I get it. I speak slower, I have a closet full of bizarre home-remedies and I can quote the movie Steel Magnolias by heart – unprompted. To the outside world, Southerners appear to be odd, American aboriginals that live only in accordance to the Bible, Jack Daniels, and the lyrics to Boot-Scoot-Boogie. So when we flee to the grocery stores for toilet paper and bread at the very mention of the “s” word, it’s only acceptable that our brothers and sisters to the North snicker and chalk this occurrence up to “those silly, cute Southerners are at it again.”
To those that truly share that opinion, I would like to say this:
The aboriginal tribe of Carvers Creek is located 17 miles (in any direction) to the nearest town, and those nearest towns are still over 60 miles away from the nearest snowplow. The inhabitants of this archaic land rely on wells housed in prehistoric “pump houses” to retrieve water from the earth. If freezing temperatures unrelentingly persist, the pipes can freeze, causing the pump or the water filter to shatter and running upwards of thousands of dollars, or acorns, or clay sacrificial pots (whatever we can barter in exchange for goods) to fix or replace. Additionally, Carvers Creek consists of several miles of intertwined roads, none of which are salted, or covered in brine, or (once the snow comes) plowed; though the tribe elders can use smoke signals to communicate across fields and lowlands, actual travel for these hunters and gathers becomes very limited, leaving the Creek dwellers to attempt to piece together elementary puzzles, or paint pictures of buffalo on the walls of their caves.
To the sophisticate Northerner, the answer to this chilly predicament is simple, “be prepared.” It’s a solid motto and has undoubtedly served the Boy Scouts of America well, but asking the Southerner to prepare for snow is the same misguiding question as asking Methodist to prepare to “get dunked” in the Baptismal pool; it’s difficult to prepare for an event that one truly believes will never happen. In a climate where it’s not unusual for me to work on a tan over Christmas break, nor is it unrealistic or frowned upon to wear sandals on Tuesday and lined boots on Wednesday, why would our city and state officials a lot funds for a fleet of snowplows or an army of DOT workers? The old cliché “respect the unexpected” should apply, but in a state that is already past it’s financial breaking point, there simply is no budget for “the unexpected;” with a demand for higher teacher salaries and cry for stronger state mental health services looming at the forefront of Gov. Pat McCory’s door, the state’s focus remains on the tangible, “here and now” calls for alarm. When asked why the state or county officials do little or nothing to handle an “icy crisis” I can simply say that North Carolina has, to quote Southern vernacular, “bigger fish to fry.”
This isn’t to say that nothing has been done; Wilmington, North Carolina officials called in several personnel from Duke Energy in anticipation of ice-induced power outages, and Gov. McCory declared a state of emergency Tuesday, prior to the first flake falling, in hopes of gaining quicker access to federal funds. Still, unlike areas that are accustomed to yearly white precipitation, in North Carolina you will not see the convoy of snowplows dispatching sand and brine in an attempt to battle a winter beast before it strikes.
Mind you, our Northern neighbors, less than a week ago the piedmont region of North Carolina saw temperatures reaching almost 65 degrees; the idea of snow is seldom on our radar, and when we do see a blustery bought of Old Man Winter coming our way, we lack the state finances and internal infrastructure to adequately prepare for an event that, though occasionally happens, is still rather foreign. So, while it’s easy to mock and snicker from behind the wheels of a four wheel drive vehicle, parked snuggly in your garage beside two snow shovels and bags of rock salt, remember that what you Notherner’s may see as standard purchases, Southerner’s view as a waste of money. When threatened with icy conditions we hunker down; yes, we buy milk and bread; yes, we make sure our cars are filled with gasoline; yes, we break out the oil lamps and the kerosene heater and yes, we shut down entire towns and cities. Why? Because we don’t have enough experience with these conditions to know what to do, and instead of risking our safety, and yours, we’d much rather look like fools in line at the grocery story and geriatric, near-sighted grandparents on the road than be phoning our insurance companies later.
The good news is, it’s the South, and tomorrow it could be 70 degrees, in which case this white wonder will quickly melt away, and y’all are more than welcome to come over, sit a spell, and drink a mint julip while reading Faulkner. Why the invitation? Because I’m Southern, and by that same extension, I am polite. When you turn your nose up at sweet tea, or complain about the muggy and damp summer nights, I will not begrudge you; instead, I will offer you a glass of lemonade and offer you the seat closest to the fan- because that’s what neighbors do around here, and maybe you should remember where you are before you pass judgment.