“To identify a person as a Southerner suggests not only that her history is inescapable and formative but that it is impossibly present.” (Sally Mann, 2005)
Yes, Sally Mann, you are correct. No matter how much effort you exert to escape it, that history is inescapable. I should know. I changed my accent as a child, moved to Manhattan for graduate school, married a Jew and much later became one, and lived in Palo Alto and Boston before moving to Texas. When our daughter was in preschool, a friend asked her about her family's religion. She answered, "Daddy is Jewish and Mommy is Southern."
“Do not think you can escape them. Rise up early in the morn. The eyes of Texas are upon you ‘til Gabriel blows his horn.” While this is the University of Texas fight song, it speaks to me of Southern eyes as well. My cousin, a Californian raised by a very Southern mother, comments on what her mother would think about the way she does this or that, even as she herself turns 70. While I think this is not my own experience, my instinctive reactions reflect my 50s Southernness, catching me off-guard, often in ways abhorrent to me. For example, race is one of the first categories I see in people and events, and I must immediately force my brain to shift.
When I first walked into Klein, our family home in Harpersville, Alabama, my first thoughts were of my grandmother, with whom I had spent summers there in the 1950s, and then of my great-grandmother, who died before I was born. The former was a strong matriarch bent on preserving the house and her "Southern" values, love of the land, a link to those who came before, hard work and persistence, and education. The latter was a local legend, who dedicated herself to educating all the children--black and white--on the place in the late 1800s. She patiently taught Latin and other subjects to her grandchildren. I sleep under a quilt she, a Scots Baptist minister’s never-idle daughter, made.
What would be my contribution to this legacy? What values would I seek to uphold through the house? I want to take the best of my Southernness and link it to the best of my Jewishness. My goal is to open it again to the community and to the people who by dint of birth were inside/outside the house. So Sally Mann, I’d add that having an inescapable history at some point forces a confrontation and reworking of it… if one is of a mind to do so.