Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Things Aren't All That Different Down Here
by James Glaser
May 7, 2010
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I'm in the process of building my workshop down here in the South, just outside of Madison, Florida. It sure is different than building in Northern Minnesota. The last thing I built up there was a workshop, too.

That was in the 90's, and all I had to do was sketch on a piece of paper where the shop was going to be on my land, and then pay the county a $30 dollar building permit fee. That is not the way it is in Florida. Here I had to get a designer and engineer, pay them $1,100 dollars, and then pay the county $300 more for the permit. That building project is what got me thinking about all the things that are different down here in the South, from where I came from in the North Woods of Minnesota.

The other day somebody was telling me what I should plant come fall. I have been a gardener for the last thirty some years, and I never once thought about a fall garden. In the fall up North you clean up your garden, and maybe till it for the next summer. Gardening is strictly one season up there. Some people down here grow things year round. That is wonderful!

People eat way different down here, too. They have candy apple red cakes they call "Red Velvet." It's good, but they pour a whole bottle of red food dye into the batter to make it red. I don't think that is good for you. Up North, we put turnips in our vegetable soup, while here in the South, they eat the leaves. They eat turnip leaves and almost any other dark green leaf that they can boil with a hamhock.

I'll tell you something else about Southern cooking. When I first moved down here, Wanda took me to her family reunion in Pensacola. All the family cooks prepare their signature dish, and boy did they taste good. The next year, Wanda said we might not be able to go, because she had to do something scheduled at that time for her work. Right away I said, "I can."

Here is something else I see that is different. Up North, a two-door hardtops is the car that we think looks the best. Down here they fix up regular old four-door sedans. They put twenty two inch tires under them, and some sets of wheels cost over ten grand—way more than the rest of the car is worth. Also, they go nuts over huge speakers and loud, I mean really loud sound systems. They have contests to see who can blow their windows out. That's true.

I think the biggest difference is in language. I constantly hear Wanda saying things that I have never heard before. "Let's leave out of here." She sounds just like an English pirate when she says the number, "eight". But I must admit that she gets her message across to me.

African Americans are a another story though. Most of the time I just shake my head a smile, cause I have not a clue to what they are saying. Sometimes I can't even understand one word out of a full sentence. I'm not saying it is that way with every African American, but for sure the majority. The faster they talk, the less chance there is I'll understand anything, but then that's true for white people down here if they are from the rural South.

Wanda is from LA—that would be Lower Alabama, as in, Pensacola, Florida. She has become my interrupter. She wants to sign to me so people think I am deaf rather that just slow.

Oh, I almost forgot—the churches. The South is filled with churches: Baptist, Church of God, Missionary Baptist, Church of Christ, Church of the Nazarene, High Antioch Methodist Church, Church of God in Christ, Restored Glory Christian Center, Pentecostal Holiness Church, 7th Day Adventist, AME, Assembly of God, Landmark Baptist, Southern Baptist, Methodist, Primitive Baptist, Catholic, Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Community Church, Episcopal, Episcopal-Traditional, Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, Christian International, Presbyterian, United Methodist, and Tabernacle, just to name a few. This list is just the Churches in the Madison area, and there are multiple numbers of churches for many of these denominations. Madison is small, about 5,000 people. So you can imagine how many denominations and churches they have in big cities down here.

By contrast, up North we had a choice—Catholic or Lutheran. You notice, the Lutheran Church didn't make it to Madison.

Yes, there are a lot of things different between North and South, but some things stay the same. Where I lived in Northome, Minnesota, if anyone had a disaster like a house fire or a serious illness, the community got together to have a benefit to help out. The same is true here in Madison. Up North, 4-H is big as is Scouting, and the same is true down here. Guys standing around telling funny stories? The same. I think that is why I have made so many friends. In Minnesota, if you can't think of any thing else to talk about, there is always the weather, and that is true down here. There is a difference in that though. Up North we talked about the cold. Down here, it is about the heat.

Another similarity, politics and guns. People in both places think little of Washington or the State, and in both places gun ownership is pretty universal. Guys like old trucks, fishing, hunting and sports in both places, but down in the South NASCAR is almost a religion, while the only thing close to that back home is the Minnesota Vikings football team.

So, at its core, the South is like the North. Did I just say that? Yes! There's just a bunch of things on the periphery that are different. I guess that is what makes a move down here so easy.

Post Script:

One thing that is hard no matter which direction you move. Summer in the South is hard on a person from up North, and I can only imagine what winter in the North is like for somebody from the South.

In this regard, people from the North have it easier. All they have to do is leave their heavy winter clothes up North, while people from the South have to make a pretty sizeable financial investment buying all the paraphernalia that is required to make it through winter up North.

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