Most of my life has been lived in Arkansas. I’ve become accustomed to strangers smiling at me, to the weather being unpredictable at best, and to driving everywhere I need to go. To be honest, I never did think much about the way I lived my life. I just expected it would always be that way.
In August of 2014, I moved to Long Island, New York. Strangers no longer smile at me as I walk or drive past them; there are four full seasons, winter being the longest of the four, and you can pretty much clock them; people take buses, taxis, trains, ferries, subways, basically everything but drive a car to where they need to go, especially the closer you get to the city. It’s not like Arkansas—it’s practically another world. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
My first year, I was experiencing everything for the first time. The seasons are beautiful here: fall actually lasts long enough to savor it, winter is long and hard, but gorgeous once the fear of ice fades, spring is warm and breezy, and summer isn’t the sweat-trap it is in Arkansas. The summer is quite lovely up north, with its beaches and sea breezes cooling you down.
“One class asked me if I knew any of the Duggars.”
It’s so nice that thousands of tourists flock to the Island each May to open their summer homes and fill the local bars and crab shacks, to the dismay of the locals. This is a sight that cannot be described but must be seen; the sight of thousands of Chanel and J. Crew-clad pouring onto the overcrowded beaches, erecting their umbrellas like a conquering army.
I’ll admit that the initial shock of the culture difference took a while to wear off. People I met asked me dumb questions, like “Have you ever seen the ocean before?” or “Why don’t you have an accent?” Friends had to show me how to order at a deli and how to ride the train. I mistakenly tried to explain the local festival of Toad Suck Daze to a class I taught and am pretty sure they still don’t believe I was telling the truth. One class asked me if I knew any of the Duggars. Another had me point to where Arkansas was on a map. A woman on a plane told me that she would never go to Arkansas because she’d seen Winter’s Bone and she didn’t think that seemed like a nice place to visit.
My first northern winter was even more of a learning experience. The first snowfall, I woke up to three feet covering the driveway, and in January alone the heat went off three times, causing us to huddle under layers and heated blankets praying for the heating man’s arrival as we blew our smoke-breath around the living room.
I shoveled snow for the first time. I shoveled snow for the second time. I stopped counting how many times I shoveled snow. I discovered that town snow plows were a thing and cursed them for making the roads safe enough to go to work. This was in January. There was still snow outside my window come March.
“Give me sweet tea and lemonade any day.”
Hunting isn’t allowed on the Island, meaning that on many mornings herds of deer walked past my kitchen window, and on even more evenings, I almost slammed my car into one on my way home. The north doesn’t have tornadoes, but they do have blizzards and hurricanes, both of which I have now lived through. I traded in my usual diet of Chick-Fil-A and chain restaurant meals for diner food, over-priced bar food, and foreign groceries.
No one up here has giant family reunions or local parades, but they do have every kind of cultural festival imaginable. My friends may not have tried alligator-on-a-stick, but I have now tried baklava, biscotti, and matzah ball soup. However, I refuse to adhere to the northern way of drinking seltzer water and wine at most meals. Give me sweet tea and lemonade any day.
In my opinion, all of the changes and the things I’ve given up or gotten used to are worth it. I’m a two-hour train ride from New York City and a ferry ride from multiple other New England states. I’m never more than 20 minutes from a beach—in fact, I currently live less than a minute’s walk from a private beach, where friends and I go to read or write or swim or whatever we please.
“People don’t care where you’re from. They care where you’re going.”
Though the people seem rude at first to us Arkansans, most of them turn out to be kind and wonderful people, willing to lend a hand. There are countless theaters, museums, and historical sites to visit (a huge plus for me). And although the winter was rough, it was the most spectacular winter I’d ever seen. We did get some snow days, allowing me to sit inside with my cup of hot chocolate and a book, watching a winter wonderland like I’d always dreamed.
I still get asked some stupid questions, but the coolest thing I’ve seen up north is how, more often than not, people don’t care where you’re from. They care where you’re going. And for a girl who’s lived most of her life in the same town, with the same people, being known for your future instead of your past is exhilarating and freeing. People here have either been everywhere or nowhere. People here have either worked hard to get where they are, or to stay where they are. People here are going places. They expect you to, too.
The north is my home right now. But I’m still a southern girl at heart.