Intersections – Georgia BornNicki Salcedo
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
I walked past a 4-year-old boy in the hallway of the preschool. He wore a bowtie and a seersucker suit. Normally, I’d say don’t wear a seersucker suit unless you’re playing the part of Big Daddy in your high school’s production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” But this kid walked down the hallway with all the seriousness of a 60-year-old lawyer, and my heart broke into a million pieces. He was precious. It’s time for school pictures. We’re in Georgia. And I’m just a little bit Southern.
When I was a kid, I was told repeatedly that I was not Southern. I wasn’t Southern born. I didn’t have Southern ancestry.
When I got to California, I was told I was very Southern. I said, “Y’all.” I liked Jesus. I had no idea what to do with unsweet tea. I’d only tasted Pepsi twice in my life. I’d do weird things like stand on the escalator. I would smile. I would look people in the eye.
I’ve been trying to figure just how Decatur I am. Just how Atlanta I am. Just how Georgia I am. I know I that am Southern just a little bit, but how much?
I remember when the Chick-Fil-A in Decatur was a Hardees. Parker’s On Ponce was Mick’s and before that it was Buck’s. Buck’s is where I had my big dinner when I graduated from high school. I remember when Decatur was a one restaurant town. Times have changed.
I remember when the MARTA line ended in Avondale. My sister and I would take the bus from Stone Mountain to Decatur to catch the train to go to the High Museum. Back then the High Museum only had the art of dead people. Now there is the artwork from people who are alive and young and from people who illustrate books for kids and produce dresses on 3-D printers. Artwork from people I’ve actually met.
I don’t like seersucker suits or smocked dresses. I don’t like girls with giant bows in their hairs, and yet my youngest has been wearing a hot pink sequined headband with a huge pink bow in her hair for months. To spite me. Her name is a flower, and though not Daisy, she is destined to like white gloves and mint tea with extra ice while wearing combat boots.
If you are new to Atlanta, Bankhead Highway sounds rich. If you’re from out of town, you want to stop and get gas there. When you do, you’ll find out that the gas station is attached to a 24-hour-barber shop. Y’all know I’m not lying. We’ve all gotten gas there and really wished we needed a haircut at 2 a.m.
Then there’s Buckhead. It doesn’t sound rich at all. It’s like your cousin went hunting and knew how to put the skin and meat and fur to good use. All that’s left is the head. He says, “Hey, let’s name a neighborhood after your head, Mr. Buck.” Oh, Atlanta, you can be so classy.
A British guy told me I pronounced my home city wrong. For the record, we say the first “T” in Atlanta and only tourists say the second “T.” I stand by this. I never say the “L” in salmon or any of the letters in colonel. Nobody bothers me about that.
I was recently at a party with 50 people, and I was the only one from Georgia. Guess who’s Southern now?
You can get your Atlanta card stamped with my approval even if you weren’t born and raised here. It only matters if you love this town, this city, this state, this region. We have our idiosyncrasies and failings, but we also have a lot of things that recommend us.
Here’s how you can get your Atlanta card:
Learn some Georgia history. Did you know that Georgia’s history is rich with the history of people who are Jewish and Korean going back hundreds of years? We aren’t solely the product of “Gone With the Wind” and the Civil War.
Stop complaining about traffic. The traffic in Atlanta is only bad for the people destined to leave this great city. Either you’re living in the wrong place or working in the wrong place or have forgotten about the existence of MARTA.
Learn to love MARTA. I do. I’ve seen more kindness on MARTA than I do in any other place in Atlanta. If socioeconomic diversity and grit and real people offend you, maybe you should move back your quiet hometown.
Be nice in traffic. You can do this. You don’t have to let every car in, but try just letting one car in every day and see how much happier you are. This will make you instantly Southern. Slow your roll.
A good Southerner knows and lives by the meaning of backroads. I once drove from Northside Hospital to the backside of Stone Mountain on surface streets because of an overturned tractor trailer. Atlanta traffic, you cannot catch me!
Take walks around the base of Stone Mountain to remind yourself that a Confederate memorial cannot cast a shadow on all the smiling happy faces that you pass in the park.
Put your peaches in a brown paper bag. Never put your tomatoes in the fridge unless they’ve been cut. Eat a mater sandwich. White bread, garden grown tomato (you can buy these on the side of the road, even on Bankhead Highway), mayo, and salt.
I’ve got a million ways you can earn your Southern Card. Do you like living in Decatur? Atlanta? Can you call the South home? I’m not done becoming a modern Southern belle.
“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from Decaturish.com and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.