Growing up in the deep south was interesting, to say the least. I grew up in the deep south-iest place of them all, Louisiana, and in a lot of ways, I was a stereotypical southerner. Helping my Paw Paw feed pigs and chickens on his farm? Did it on the daily. Eating food that didn’t have a crispy, brown, deep fried crust? Sorry, wasn’t interested. Going mud riding (or mud ridin’, as it was pronounced with the accent) on a four-wheeler with your friends after it rained? Duh.
The south and I don’t always see eye to eye on things — i.e. controversial matters, i.e. politics and religion — but I still wouldn’t trade the upbringing I had there. Let me tell you why:
1. The food
I could probably write an entire article on the food alone. Just thinking about all the fried goodness makes my ever clogging arteries leap in anticipation. Gumbo, jambalaya, and etouffee are probably a few of the more well-known southern dishes that come from Louisiana, all delicious rice dishes with different spices and meats, sometimes even deer meat, sometimes even squirrel meat. One of my local favorites is boudin (yes, you are pronouncing it wrong). It’s basically a cajun rice & pork mix wrapped in a sausage-like casing. Shut up, it’s really good and you need to try it immediately or just sometime before you die. Also, the seafood. Also, fried chicken. And don’t think I forgot about you, biscuits and gravy.
2. Riding back roads
Spoiler alert: When you live in a small town, your choice of weekend activities is limited. One of our most popular activities was “goin’ ridin’”, which means exactly what it sounds like. We’d pile up in someone’s vehicle and literally just drive around the town and it’s outskirts for hours. And it was fun! Sort of. No, it was. Some of my favorite memories involve my friends and I being idiots on the tailgate of a truck. We’d fill up an ice chest, turn up the radio, and drive and talk until curfew. Because don’t ever miss curfew when you have a southern Mama.
3. Sweet tea
Ahh, the sugary nectar of the gods! I’ve yet to find a type of sweet tea that compares to the kind I grew up drinking back home, which is a tragedy. But also, maybe it’s a good thing because diabetes.
4. Southern hospitality
Okay, I know the south gets a bad rap sometimes. I know there are racists. I know there are homophobes. I know there are Honey Boo Boos and dynasties of ducks. But there are also the sweetest, kindest, most generous people you will ever meet and they are my favorite thing about the south. I’ve been taken in, fed, clothed, and loved by countless individuals who had an “instant family” mentality when it came to meeting new people. That makes me sound like I was a homeless orphan (I wasn’t), but it was just the result of good-hearted people who wanted me to feel welcome and happy in their homes. They wanted me to feel like I belonged. I feel like this way of thinking is just as prevalent as some of the more controversial ways of thinking down south, you just don’t hear about it as much. I’ve been taken under many a nurturing wing over the years and these are the people I like to think of when I think about the south.
5. The culture
To be honest, I can only speak to the culture of Louisiana, but Louisiana has culture out the wazoo (do people still say wazoo?). Taking a trip to New Orleans is almost like visiting a different country or even a different time period. There is so much history in the Creole-style architecture, the jazz and zydeco music, the food, and even the language. I’m still upset with my Maw Maw for not teaching me Cajun French, which is commonly spoken in southern Louisiana.
6. High school football
Have you ever watched Varsity Blues or Friday Night Lights? Congratulations, you know what high school football in the south is like. People get into it. Like, ridiculously into it. I’m not the biggest football fan, but I always enjoyed going to games growing up. On a Friday night in small town Louisiana, football games were the place to be. Games felt like magical events that brought me together with my friends, the community, and most importantly, the concession stand (Frito pie, anyone?) Plus, my Grandma worked the ticket booth, which basically made me feel like a tiny, small town Kardashian and I’d roll in every week like I owned the place.
P.S. I liked the games so much I eventually attempted cheerleading:
7. Crawfish boils
If I could have a crawfish boil every day, I would. They’re the best kind of party. In case you don’t know, crawfish are like tiny lobsters. They’re like if a lobster had babies with a shrimp. You boil them live (I’m sorry) and then crack them open to get to the delicious goodness inside. Having a crawfish boil is our version of “Eat, drink, and be merry” and thinking about sitting around on a summer night, eating crawfish and drinking beer with my friends and family gives me all the homesickness.
8. Trips to the river
One of the more gross — but still incredibly fun — traditions of my childhood was taking trips to the river. With no coastal shores in close proximity, river banks were our beaches. These weren’t those clear, see-straight-to-the-bottom types of rivers. These were muddy, murky, oh-my-god-what-did-I-just-step-in types of rivers. 27-year-old Krista cringes at the thought, but 8-year-old Krista couldn’t wait for river days. It made me feel a little like Pocahontas and I didn’t mind that there were snakes and fish and weird bugs. Whether it was fishing on the Calcasieu River in my dad’s tiny green canoe or tubing down the Ouiska Chitto River with my friends on weekends, I was always up for the adventure.
9. My Paw Paw’s farm
The house I grew up in was located in the middle of nowhere. We had a couple of stop signs and a few neighbors, two of those being my grandparents who lived next door and had a tiny farm. By “lived next door,” I mean our houses were separated by a giant field where my Paw Paw’s cows used to wander aimlessly, sometimes ending up in my back yard messing up my swing set. I loved riding in the bucket of his tractor and the fact that he would let me drive his old pickup truck around the open fields when I was 10. I loved helping to feed the baby chicks and exploring the mini creek behind my house with my brother. I loved the old trailer that my brother and I used to imagine was a ship and the field we imagined was the ocean. One of our favorite games to play on that trailer was pretending that we were sailing to Canada to meet Shania Twain, so obviously our priorities were on point even as children.
10. Pickles sold at sporting events and movies
This is so important to me. In the south, we’ve always had pickles at the concession stands of our sporting events and movie theaters. Imagine my surprise when I went to my first movie theater in California and there were no pickles. I went to my first Dodgers game and there were no pickles. You are dropping the ball, the rest of America. #YesAllPickles
In conclusion, writing this has made me homesick and I’m moving back. Just kidding, I’ll probably never be able to go back and live down those shameful cheerleading days, but there will always be a special place in my heart, and stomach, for the south.