A Sense of Place
For a decade, Salvation South editor Chuck Reece has focused his work on the region in which he lives — the American South. After spending years pondering the question of why Southerners feel such pride for their region, he’s learned some things about where that pride comes from as he explains in this week's commentary.
Chuck Reece - Salvation South Editor: Homesickness set me on a path that I've been on for my entire adult life.
I grew up in the north Georgia mountains, but right after college, my desire to be a journalist took me to New York City. And before long, I got homesick. Food, specifically the lack of decent fried chicken, was where it started. So I called some aunts back home to get some recipes. And then I started missing my people even more. Folks made fun of me because of my accent, and I responded by becoming stubbornly proud of and even a bit of a braggart about the way I talked. And before long, I became obsessed with the question: Why do I feel so proud to be a Southerner?
Over time, trying to answer this question became my job. For the last decade of my life, that question has been the center of my work — writing about and editing other writers’ stories about this region we love, despite its many unsightly warts.
I spent countless hours reading and editing the words of Southern writers who, like me, wrestle with the question of regional pride. And one thing I see consistently in their work is that their pride is personal. Ultimately, it stems from the people and places of their youth. The pride arises from the precise and specific circumstances of their raising.
And not long ago, Salvation South, the online magazine I edit, published a story from a writer named Deb Bowen, who grew up on a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. Her story was called "Mending Nets," and it was a heartfelt tribute to the fisherman father who raised her. Deb wrote, "My memories and hopes are woven into a fisherman's net of promises and dreams. ... the lines and ropes and the weights and floats of that net anchor my life to the shore that sustains me and the sea that nurtures me."
Her raising in the Coastal South defined her entire life as much as my raising in the foothills of Appalachia defined me. My memories and hopes have their roots in the ethic of families who fed themselves with the livestock they raised and the crops they grew. I remember sitting up all night to help my sow give birth to her first litter of piglets. I remember being sent into the garden with a knife and bucket and coming home with a bunch of okra that would be fried and in our bellies that night. My youth and Deb's youth were completely different. But both were deeply rooted in the specific traditions of specific places and people in the South.
I have a suggestion for you. Even if you're not a writer, take a quiet hour one day soon and write down your memories of the people who raised you and the place they raised you in. I'm quite sure you'll learn some important things about your own Southern self. And who knows? I might even want to publish it for you. Come visit us at SalvationSouth.com.
Salvation South editor Chuck Reece comments on Southern culture and values in a weekly segment that airs Fridays at 7:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and 4:44 p.m. during All Things Considered on GPB Radio. You can also find them here at GPB.org/Salvation-South and now on your favorite podcast platforms as well.