Kiss Mah Grits

At 10 years old, I fully understood North and South.

I knew diners and waitresses and I knew we didn’t have anyone like Flo where I grew in urban Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The TV show Alice was in full swing. Florence Jean Castleberry (the original “Flo”, sorry Progressive) ended every conversation she didn’t like simply stating, “Oh, kiss my grits” and walking away. She was endearing, not rude. Others responded with laughter, head shakes, and often, giving in to her way. By the end of the show in 1985, she lobbed “Kiss my grits” to Mel, Alice, Vera, and nearly every truck driver that shot her a line.

In my 10 year old mind, Flo was magic. She told people what she thought. She was nice, but she wasn’t nice. She didn’t care whether people thought she was nice or not. Flo was from Texas.

I needed to be with Flo’s people.

I practiced my accent and exagerrated, “kiss mah grits”, using it properly on my sister, and behind teacher’s backs.

I was committed to learning the language of Flo’s people. It was where I wanted to be- the South.

As I grew, my internal compass always pointed anywhere but North. My first boyfriend was from the South. I watched North and South, one of the first mini-series,  on TV. I watched Dukes of Hazard and Dallas, and sprouted an intermittent southern drawl.  I was determined to be where I “belonged”.

At 17, I asked God where I should go to college. (Yep. A praying person even before moving to the Bible belt.) Different people would bring up North Carolina like a trail of uncooked grits poured before me. I was accepted to a university. However, in my mind, this was a temporary reroute from getting to Florida where I would train dolphins. Freshman biology and motion sickness proved that God knew best. I never trained dolphins. I never went to Florida. I stayed put. Right where I belong.

From the coast to the Triad, North Carolina continues to host me and I’ll never leave. This makes me not only a Yankee, but a damn Yankee. Been told that more than once. I’ve also been welcomed, invited in, and shared sweet tea with the finest the South has to offer.

I have yet to even visit Texas. Flo just needed to get my compass pointed in the right direction.