All of us native Southerners knew it was coming. And now, it is here. The Sunday paper carried a large article about Northern migration to the capital city of the South.
In the metro Atlanta area, the article said, native Georgians still have the edge, but it's not an overpowering one and the margin is dwindling. Said the article, "The migration patterns that brought Northeasterners to Atlanta's elite northern suburbs also sent people from other regions to spots around the metro area. These settling patterns...have brought a new sense of place to dozens of Atlanta neighborhoods, influencing everything from local politics to the inventory at the corner grocery store."
The article also quoted a Yankee population expert, William Frey of the University of Michigan, as saying, "The nice Southern flavor of Atlanta may be diluted a bit with all the Northerners moving in."
The nice Southern flavor of Atlanta may be diluted a bit...
I certainly understand why somebody from the land of freeze and squeeze would want to seek asylum here. A friend, also a native Southerner, who shares my fear of losing our Southern flavor, put it this way: "Nobody is going into an Atlanta bar tonight celebrating because they've just been transferred to New Jersey."
So what should I expect as my beloved Southland becomes more populated with migrating honkers? (Honker: Northerner with a grating accent who always talks at the top of his or her voice.) Will Southerners start dropping the last part of everybody's first name like the honkers do? Will I forever be Lew? Will Mary become Mare? Will Nancy become Nance? Will Bubba become Bub?
Will the automobile horn drown out the lilt of "Georgia on My Mind?" Will they dig a tunnel through Stone Mountain so native New Yorkers can remember the dark, choking atmosphere of the Lincoln and the Holland Tunnels? Will Harold's barbecue, 45 years in the business, lose its clientele to delicatessens where you have to scream at the top of your voice to get somebody to take your order for pastrami on pumpernickel?
Will the downtown Atlanta statue of the Phoenix, symbolic of the city's rising from the ashes, be replaced by a statue of Sherman holding a can of lighter fluid? Will grits become extinct? Will corn bread give way to the bagel? Will everybody, including native Southerners, start calling Atlanta's pro football team the "Fall-cuns" like Yankee sportscasters, instead of the way it's supposed to be pronounced, "Fowl-cuns?"
Will "freeway" replace "expressway"? Will "soda" or "pop" replace "Co-coler"? Will Southern men start wearing black socks and sandals with Bermuda shorts? Will "Y'all come back" become "Git outta here"?
I was having lunch at an Atlanta golf club recently. A man sitting at another table heard me speaking and asked, "Where are you all from?" He was mocking me. He was mocking my Southern accent. He was sitting in Atlanta, Georgia, making fun of the way I speak.
He was from Toledo. He had been transferred to Atlanta. If I hadn't have been 46 years old, skinny and a basic coward with a bad heart, I'd have punched him. I did, however, give him a severe verbal dressing down.
I was in my doctor's office in Atlanta. One of the women who works there, a transplanted Northerner, asked how I pronounced the word "siren." I said I pronounced it "siren." I was half kidding, but that was the way I heard the word pronounced when I was a child.
The woman laughed and said, "You Southerners really crack me up. You have a language all your own."
Yeah, we do. If you don't like it, go back home and stick your head in a snow bank. We really don't care how you said it or how you did it back in Buffalo.
I read a piece on the op-ed page of the Constitution written by somebody who is in the jargon of my past "ain't from around here." He wrote white Southerners are always looking back and that we should look forward. He said that about me. He was reacting to a bumper sticker that shows the old Confederate soldier say, "FERGIT HELL!"
I don't go around sulking about the fact that the South lost the Civil War. But I am aware that once upon a long time ago, a group of Americans saw fit to rebel against what they thought was an overbearing federal government. There is no record anywhere that indicates anybody in my family living in 1861 owned slaves. As a matter of fact, I come from a long line of sharecroppers, horse thieves and used car dealers. But a few of them fought anyway - not to keep their slaves because they didn't have any. I guess they simply thought it was the right thing to do at the time.
Whatever their reasons, there was a citizenry that once saw fit to fight and die and I come from all that, and I look at those people as brave and gallant, and a frightful force until their hearts and their lands were burnt away.
I will never turn my back on the heritage. I am proud to be a Southerner. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: I'm an American by birth, but I'm a Southerner by the grace of God.
Lewis Grizzard was a syndicated columnist, who took pride in his Southern roots and often wrote about them. This column is part of a collection of his work.