A week or so before we were scheduled to close on our house, I found myself wandering the aisles of Lowe’s aimlessly, mentally adding up what I was going to need as we moved into our new home. The manager saw me staring along the shelves and asked if there was anything he could help me find.
“No,” I said. “I’m just getting ready to buy a house and I am tallying up what I am going to need.”
His face lit up, and he thrust his hand out for a hearty shake.
“Well, let me be the first to congratulate you and welcome you to Fort Mill!” He said, with a warm Southern accent.
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He put his arm around me and proceeded to tell me what a great town Fort Mill is, and if there’s ever anything I needed to let him know and that he could special order whatever I need. He handed me his card and told me to call him anytime.
My inner Yankee was screaming! “What does this guy want? Where’s the catch? Is this a trap?” And most importantly, “GET YOUR ARM OFF OF ME!!!!”
I left the store angry and feeling like I had been violated.
But violated by what? Violated by kindness? Violated by helpfulness? Violated by…Southern Hospitality.
I find it a little cliché when people talk about Southern hospitality. In the North, most people have this notion of it as sitting on your neighbor’s front porch, being served sweet tea or lemonade as a fresh pie comes out of the oven and you are feed until you can’t stand it any longer.
But here’s what it really is: People genuinely asking you how you are doing and how your day is; Cashiers telling you to have a “blessed day” and meaning it; The neighbors who get angry if you don’t ask them to lend a hand with a project; The conversations, laughs and quick friendships that develop over a cold beer at the local watering hole; the outpouring of support, love and, of course, food when a friend or neighbor loses a loved one.
And, as it turns out, the store manager who stops in his tracks to welcome you to town.
It sounds amazing, and it is. But, it takes getting used to if you aren’t from here. It’s also hard to go backward.
We had a family trip to Connecticut this past summer and we stayed at my in-laws for the bulk of our stay. My wife Jenn is from a small town in Connecticut, not too different from Fort Mill. Her father is one of 11 children born and raised in the town, so needless to say, their family is well known locally. Most of her family still lives in town. Her uncle is the mayor, another one of her uncles is the fire chief, and yet another uncle is the town attorney. As the pastor at our wedding said: “In this town, if you’re not a Dunn, you’re probably married to one.”
It’s a bit like being in the mafia.
Please don’t let my wife know I compared her family to the mafia.
However, during our visit home, I forgot that not everyone up North wants to chat in the grocery line and not everyone lets you go at an intersection and not everyone waves when they pass by your house, at least not with all five fingers.
Throughout the week, I found myself getting more homesick. I missed our neighborhood and our new friends, and of course, sleeping in your own bed trumps anybody’s guest room. But I truly missed the South. Even after a career of traveling to every corner of our great country, I had never felt such a cultural divide as I did that week.
My advice to my fellow transplants is simple: Relax. Smile. Go with the flow. Enjoy the people around you and this great town that you have made your home. Say “Hi” to people on the street. Most importantly, use your car horn to say “hello” instead of “GO!”
Remember, most of us moved to Fort Mill for a reason, and for many of us it was because it is a great place to live and raise a family. But this is not a theme park ride; the responsibility for maintaining that image and that way of life lies with all of us.
Jim Donohue can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.