The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Alien In The South

By Marie P. Perry © 1985

Issue: April, 1985

A year ago I became an "Alien in the South" by way of Oregon and New England. Now that might sound a little complicated and off route but a brief explanation can clarify everything. Because of health problems encountered by below zero weather, we were forced to move from a beautiful state to a different area. Our son thought he had fully sold us on the West, but having been there for a period of nine months was enough to discourage us on the idea of making it our permanent home. When the town we were in got over 200 inches of rain in a period of six months time, we felt it was high time to "duck" out of there. I was sick of "web feet" and "moss" growing between my toes. Others might have been able to have handled the state better. However, it was Eastward Ho for our family. Our son said it would be the biggest mistake of our life and that we would end up in swamp land and marshes and snakes. True, we have seen a few snakes in Marion, North Carolina but at least they're the ones that crawl on the ground. Well, we have never regretted the move and to make a long paragraph short, we are now officially "Aliens in the South". We may have come uninvited but we have never seen anything but the WELCOME MAT!

I met a very nice lady that was formerly of this area before I left the West. I asked her what her opinion of the South was. She replied, "when I want to know what real hospitality is like, I buy a ticket back to McDowell County." I have since found out that you can't beat the "graciousness and hospitality of the South." I've traveled the countryside this past year and have made many new acquaintances. I have sat down to meals of biscuits and gravy, sorghum molasses and biscuits, a meal of poke salet and liver mush and what have you, only to find the most generous hands. As long as I couldn't live in New England, I made up my mind to be a part of the South. It was never my intention to try and change the South but I was hoping the area would change me so I would eventually no longer be considered an "Alien in the South."

When I first arrived here I had a hard time understanding what people were always saying. The South definitely had a dialect of its own as do most other states. Some folks were beginning to call me "Huh" and "What did You say?" When someone asked me if I was on that "dope" too, I just looked at them in shock. The exchange of facial expressions was the same when I replied, "Are you absurd!" How was I to know they were talking about "soda pop!" I would occasionally find myself in confusion at the local hot dog stand. When the girl asked me if I wanted the "hot dog all the way", I would just answer yes in pure ignorance. Little did I realize that it included: slaw, relish, onions, etc. In the north when you buy a hot dog, it's just mustard and the roll.

The first time I had ever heard a restaurant referred to as a Camp was the evening we were invited to Nebo Fish Camp for supper. I didn't really know what was in store for me that night. What a Fish Camp that was and we sure got our "limit" with the meals they served us. I have never walked away from any Fish Camp in Marion for want of food; the proportions they serve are unbelievable and the prices are just great.

We have five acres out here on Stacy Hill and my husband is making good use of it. We have a small orchard started; one cherry tree, peach tree, apple trees, grape arbors and pear trees (did I say "small"). I've never seen soil produce so well as this "red stuff" does. Only one major problem is trying to get the color out of your socks, no wonder so many people in the South have a tendency to go barefooted.

You don't change the South but it definitely changes you and your well established habits. For years I was brought up and taught to greet people with "hello and how are you." New England's formality is slowly diminishing and now I find myself saying "Hey" and "You all right?" For the longest time I thought people had thought I had been ill or something when they kept asking "You all right" (they have a tendency to raise their voices at the end of a statement as though they were asking a question). Having been in good health, I soon caught on to the thought they were conveying.

I enjoy tasting and trying different dishes when I find myself in any new area. New to my taste buds was Poke Salet. I had to inquire around first to see what it exactly was before venturing to find it. Thanks to the graciousness of a gentleman by the name of Mr. Ken Waters, I was supplied with a half bushel of it. I did just as I was instructed... boiled them until they were extremely tender, squeezed out the juice and then fried them in a pan of bacon grease. They were DELICIOUS! Two different stories were related to me of their medicinal value and I am sure there must be several other good tales if I had inquired any further. I was satisfied with the two philosophies. If you eat one mess of poke greens in the Spring you won't have to worry about getting pneumonia (with the good weather we have here, who could get pneumonia); the other reason stated was eating the greens purifies your blood. I'll bank on the second theory!

The mention of Boneset was another eye arouser. I've been told that the best time to pick it is in the Fall of the year, dry it and then later steep it for tea. They say it too will cure pneumonia; it sweats it out of you. When you wake up in the morning the sheets will be fully soaked for convincing evidence. Last but not least was the fact that if you drink sassafras tea for a FULL MONTH you won't have to worry about ever being sick and if you are, then the doctor will make a free house call. Now that's some guarantee if you don't drown first. I figure about then it's high time to swap some New England tales so we can all stay afloat.

I am always searching out a new lay of the land. My travels have taken me from McDowell County to Burke County and I've barely touched the surface. I took a hike with some friends of mine to Upper Creek Falls one Sunday afternoon. It was really beautiful as we walked down thru the woods. The Lady Slippers stood so stately, adorned in their elegant pink waiting as if to make their debut before their oncoming audience. So as to not scorch their delicate leafy stems they were found in a shady moist nook of the woods; they were like "ladies in waiting". Mother nature is its ways to preserve its elegance.

The Mountain Laurels looked so refreshed from their winter vacation. I always used to wonder how these lovely plants retained their bright leaves throughout the winter months. Much to my amazement I found that the plants store up food all during the summer months which enables them to keep their lustrous green thru the cold months. Plants have a way of carrying their own life insurance.

I am so impressed that the Cardinal is the state bird. I have frequently photographed the feathered friend and felt such a brilliant colored creature should have some distinction of nobility. The Cardinal is the only reddish bird with a crest. It's color was clearly denoted that day I walked thru the thicket.

I know my adventures in the South have just begun, but sharing these few excerpts have made me feel as though I have told someone just how impressive the South really is.