I came across this old column a few days ago and it really took me back to my early days as an east coast transplant in Oklahoma. The culture shock was pretty severe, adjusting to having no water or hills around (yes there are! look at that gypsum rock formation 10 miles away!) and having everyone refer to everything in cardinal north-south-east-west directions.
I’ve adjusted (to everything but the infernal wind) over the last 12 years, but still see a lot of truth in this somewhat humorous look back at my early days as an Okie. Just as I was having a hard time adjusting to Oklahoma, the natives of my new home also had a tremendously hard time understanding the state from which I hailed. Delaware, (as it is to most people, unless they’re in the Air Force, or they’ve driven through it on the way to somewhere else) was an unknown to my new friends. And, since they couldn’t quite fathom that there was a state completely enveloped by Maryland (and barely larger than one county in Oklahoma), they just came to understand my native state as being “up there, in New England.”
I undertook this column as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek explanation of the fact there’s a whole region somewhere between the Kennedy compound and Ole Dixie. It’s a bit dated, especially in references to the late Ted Kennedy and to the Red Sox as a playoff team. The Patriots, somehow, are still good. But, at any rate, I hope you enjoy it.
Oklahoma, 2007 — Geography was never my best subject in school. In fact, in a rather large oversight, the Dover Public School system somehow omitted any form of geography from my public school education.
That lack of formal geography training may explain why I still have trouble telling north from south, which becomes a real hindrance given the local habit of describing everything in cardinal directions. “Where’s the salt shaker? Why, it’s east of the ketchup and south of the butter, of course.”
And, I can quite easily get lost driving home from work. In a particularly annoying land-navigation foul-up I once found myself on the completely wrong side of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas (I’m going to save explanation of that one for another day).
Please, don’t be alarmed by the fact that I used to drive an 800 ton warship and guide cruise missiles into foreign countries. Somehow, I was good at navigation on the water, but still can’t seem to find myself on land.
But, even with my geography handicap, I still know one thing for sure: Delaware is not in New England. I have had to go back and research this to be sure, because so many people seem positive that my first home state is somewhere north of Massachusetts.
I have tried over time to correct this misconception, but it somehow refuses to die. I am still introduced at social functions as the guy from New England, and whenever John Kerry or Ted Kennedy say something particularly amusing, I’m sure to be asked “you’re from around there aren’t you?”
No, I am not. Delaware falls into a seldom-observed quasi-region known as the “mid-Atlantic states.” Mid-Atlantic essentially means that you do not fit neatly into the “North vs. South” dichotomy, a quandary made so much murkier by the fact that the Mason-Dixon Line ran through my boyhood home. Literally, it ran through our backyard.
It never seems to please people when try to explain that I am neither northerner nor southerner. The only two options, apparently, are to align myself with the “South’s gonna rise again” crowd, or swing north into a culture where “manners” means lacing every sentence with wild hand gestures and expletives.
Since so many of my neighbors have placed me in the latter group, I thought it would be fitting to briefly list some qualifications that make me very much not from New England.
-I know how to pronounce the letter ‘R.’
-I view Ben & Jerry’s as a tasty ice cream, not a way of life.
-The Red Sox are in the playoffs, the Patriots are undefeated, and I do not care. I also feel no need to randomly punch people wearing over-priced Yankees apparel.
-When I give the “finger wave” while driving, I use my index finger, and it is a means of saying ‘hello.’
-I have never owned a pair of Birkenstock sandals.
-I have never partied at one of the Kennedy compounds, and I don’t intend to. I would also throw myself in front of a train to keep my daughters from doing so.
-I speak a form of the English language that is recognizable by the rest of the country.
I should point out that New England has some beautiful and redeeming qualities, just as all regions have their pros and cons. The foliage in the fall, the syrup, hockey and clam chowder: all good things. But, I am simply not from there. And, if I want to experience all of those positives, I’ll go back to Nova Scotia; it’s kind of like New England — with polite people.