Warm Southern Hospitality Grates on Chilly East Coast

969452_10151479276738577_964056740_nSo I’m back from a week’s vacation with family in Hilton Head, SC, thrilled that we had a great time and enjoyed doing tons of stuff together, but introspective as I re-enter the reality zone of my life in Maryland.

I just read an article pertinent to a writer’s life (that would be me as I am busily reinventing) that said if a writer blogs the writer should not only blog about the topic of his/her book, but blog about whatever is on their mind.

I have taken this to heart.

I am going to throw out my dogged determination to make every article end with a huge chuckle and a knee-slapping epiphany. I am just going to write what I am thinking about, and it will probably turn out kind of funny anyway, because that is how my mind works. Like life is a bit on the cosmic-jokish side.

So this is what I am thinking about:

During our vacation, my husband and I were struck by how endearing and kind the people were. I mean everybody, from the grocery checker to248095_10151475002063577_969573307_n strangers on the beach to people we nearly mowed over with our bikes. Everybody.

And we wondered about this.

Coming back to Maryland has been a bit of a shock, because, well, sorry to say but east coasters are simply not brimming with southern hospitality. I guess after three years we’d gotten used to it. In Hilton Head, however, we quickly hopped aboard the hospitality train like we’d never skipped a beat. For those unaware, we are originally from Little Rock, AR, and moved to Maryland for a job opportunity. I wasn’t sad to leave, but do miss the warmth of the people.  Though Little Rock might be categorized as parochial and good ole’ boy-ish, southern hospitality seeps from every community,  Razorback game, restaurant and riverboat.

Upon our return, freshly energized and oozing with southern charm, I skipped into a local grocery store chain to pick up a few things. I smiled at everyone. People looked at me like I was demented. Not to be deterred, I continued to checkout, basking in the memory of the friendly, talkative experiences we’d had in Hilton Head. I pulled out all my grocery items, loaded them on the conveyor, and figured I might as well slop some charm on the checkout gal as well.

“Hey, how’s your day goin’ ? My eyes seek hers and my lips curve into a winsome smile. She narrows her eyes at me and grunts.

imagesCAUTI3HFI pull my cart to the handy disgorging slot that is apparently for clerks to swing the loaded bags into the basket after they fill them. Instead of putting the loaded bags into my cart, she plunks each bag in the opposite direction, where I must reach to grab it and place it in the cart myself. I wistfully remember the grocery stores in the south that took all items out of the cart for you and put them on the conveyor, loaded the bags after pricing the items, AND put the bags into the cart with a smile and a ‘ya’ll come back now’.

I shake my head and stretch myself to the bags and load them into the cart. “So how about this day? Isn’t it beautiful today?” Seriously hoping to dredge up a little Maryland charm. I wait expectantly as I pull out my debit card.

“Discount card?” she asks. Her expression is stony.

“Oh, sure, here.” I hand her the card and she hands it back.

“Credit or debit?” she asks.

“Credit,” I say, discouraged. The smile is leaving my face and my downcast gaze feels uncomfortably familiar. I look over my shoulder at a few shoppinglineshoppers in neighboring checkout lanes. Not one of them smiles at me. One does, however, give me a suspicious scowl, and I quickly retrieve my gaze and point it toward the floor.

I plop the last of the bags in my cart and take the receipt from the clerk’s hand. I don’t bother to give her a grin or a ‘have a nice day’. No need. She has moved to the next customer and I am ignored. My newly resurrected southern  bonhomie is wearing thin, which I find unfortunate.

My husband and I have had several discussions about this, and have come to the conclusion that friendliness might be directly proportionate to the number of human beings per square mile. The Baltimore metro area has roughly 1500 people per square mile. By way of comparison, Columbia, SC has 950, and Hilton Head has 875. We have decided it’s a trade-off: living in a populous metro area where there are more professional and recreational choices versus living in a less populous, more laid back area where people are dang friendly but there are fewer options.

983746_10151479274208577_123049078_nIt’ll take a while, but my husband and I will subdue our drippy, sugary-sweet southern hospitality. We’ll compartmentalize it,  tie it up with a bow, and take it out as a gift to ourselves when we head south again.

Until then, if you smile at me and I do not smile back, I’m just practicing. Don’t take it personally.

Spring Planting and the Scowlie Face

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Each spring, depending on where I live and for how long, I rush out and buy boatloads and buckets of flowering shrubs, impatiens, forsythia, dahlias – you name it, I buy it. Even though about one-half do not make it, every year I do it anyway. I have come to believe putting down Spring roots is as deeply entrenched an urge as nurturing children or seeking warmth. A primal and necessary urge.

I cannot pass a Lowe’s or a Home Depot without buying something. Anything! Even though the ballerina-grandma.jpglines are so long they wind around the back of the gardening department; even though there is not a cart in sight; even though impatiens have not even arrived yet,  at March’s end I experience Spring-planting-lust. I must buy something to put in the ground.

Something about putting down roots. Of course some people plant actual gardens every year, which I envy but will never, ever do.  I barely have a green thumb at all, and what I have is a very pale green just on the tippy-tip.

One thing I have noticed, though, is that the men do not seem overjoyed about all the fuss. The throngs of women that storm gardening departments are usually accompanied by their husbands, sons or significant others. None of these men wear a happy face. In fact most of them wear a scowlie face. Many of them stand resolutely beside their carts, guarding them with vigilance, arms crossed, waiting for the women to pick out whatever decorative, leafy thing they want. Others have reluctantly agreed to trot dutifully behind their women, and are nearly always at odds with them. For instance, this happened last Saturday:

pic of young girl jumpingMan: Mouth clamped shut. He lugs a cart loaded with plants, bushes plus two young children.

Woman in front of man: (Sarcastically) Thanks, Bob. Thanks a lot.

Man (Bob): What? What did I do now?

Woman: You could keep up with me. I need help loading this stuff, y’know!

Bob: Deep sigh. Silence

Woman: Thanks. Thanks a lot. Stalks away in a huff.

Bob: (Silently to himself) Why do I agree to this Every. Single. Year. He bends to pull an errant 2-year old back on the cart, and trudges after her.

Perhaps this is why the men usually park themselves and their carts placidly along the sidelines, waiting for the woman to summon them when needed. Probably a good idea that may prevent a domestic meltdown right in the middle of the begonias.

And this:

Man: Panting as he wheels cart to checkout, only to discover that the line is one-half mile long.

Woman: Smiling cheerily. “It’ll only take a few minutes. The line will go fast. You’ll see.” She turns to the gardening gloves, rose food, fertilizer pellets that line the way to checkout to spend another quick fifty bucks.

Man: “Um, haven’t we got enough?”

Woman: Spinning toward man, eyes squinting. “You never buy me ANYthing! And you are gonna deny me a little rose food? And do you want my Yelling woman IIhands to suffer? Do you? I must have gloves so I don’t kill my hands! She sniffs indignantly and continues inspecting various brands of rose food. Bayer, she told me, Bayer works best.

Man: Deep Sigh. He moves up two inches, his shoulders hunched in defeat. The people in line ignore the little spat because they are involved in one of their own. When Bob’s turn finally comes, after the tallying is done by the chirpy gardening department associate, she says, “That’ll be $1,341. 15.” He clutches his chest.

Woman: Nowhere in sight. She told him she’d wait for him in the car. Smart woman.

I’ve decided I will not drag my husband along on my Spring planting jaunts. If he wants to come, fine, but usually he does not. He is more comfortable putting the stuff in the ground. Doing man-stuff like digging the holes, toting stuff in a wheelbarrow, toting stuff out of my trunk and onto the assigned planting spot.

Works for me. So I think my Spring insight is this: the man is better at preparing and putting stuff in the ground; putting down the roots, so to speak.

makeover 5The woman, though, is more gifted at running up the tab. Men don’t necessarily need to witness  the annual Spring tab rolling along on a cart. I think it puts them in a bad mood. In extreme cases, it could case a sudden stroke.

I don’t have the heart to tell my husband that half the stuff I buy usually dies. I think that should be our little secret, don’t you, ladies?