So, I'm attempting to enter into a blogging/essay contest hosted by Real Simple on the subject of "Who Am I Most Surprised to Be Friends With?" This is my original essay, which I then had to pare down to 300 words for the contest. I had 178 extra words. Argh. Editing oneself is always difficult because we hold our own words so dear, which is something my journalism professor used to remind us of in class. Turns out, she was right. Who knew I would have trouble editing out the word "unmistakably" simply because I had written it. Anyhoo, here's my entry:
I grew up with a very imposing portrait of General Robert E. Lee gracing the wall of our family home. The General was something like a great-great-great uncle whom I had never met but knew a whole lot about. Our family's annual vacations almost always included some variation of a Civil War memorial/battlefield/museum. And, now, even as a slightly more cosmopolitan adult, I still vaguely believe that a southerner is able to feel the impact of crossing the Mason-Dixon line much like the family dog crossing the electric fence's boundary at the edge of the yard.
When I was barely nineteen, I watched the tall pine trees of my home state of Georgia disappear as the plane I had boarded slipped into the horizon, headed for Colorado and the camp I would be staffing for the next three months.
Soon after arriving in Manitou Springs, a quirky mountain town with a flair for the unusual, I was unpacking my bags in the "penthouse" of the old, un-air-conditioned hotel that housed students and staff. Before long I had been introduced to my roommate for the summer and, lo and behold, she was from Michigan. A real live Yankee. Her accent and mine could scarcely fit in the same small room together.
It didn't take long for me to realize that ours was to be a somewhat uncomfortable roommate situation. There was an icy tension in our 100 degree room at the top of the hotel. Eventually, I was traded like an unpopular baseball player and found myself a few floors down with another roommate, also from Michigan, but with a bit more love for those of us who said "y'all" and "fixin' to" with frequency.
Within a week or two, the most unlikely thing happened. My former roommate and I found ourselves working the same kitchen shift and couldn't keep ourselves from having a really good time. Before long, we were attached at the hip and the old tension that had pushed us apart seemed to have melted away like so much peach ice cream at a Sunday school picnic.
Our unspoken reconciliation did find us confessing to one another at some point that summer how at first, she had unfairly assumed I was a "redneck" and I had just as unfairly assumed she was a "rude yankee." We laughed at our foolishness and spent the rest of that summer with arms linked. We parted ways in September with tears, she to her cold northern state and I to my warm southern one.
Coming back to the South after having been gone for a while is much like being the returning prodigal son. This time, however, I had glimpsed a life outside the humid, peach-scented world I'd grown up in and it didn't take much to carry me back to Colorado two years later for another summer of camp.