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MOORE COLUMN: A Southern work in progress

I have to smile when I think of my first impressions of Alabamians.

My parents dragged me kicking and screaming from southern California to Mobile my senior year of high school.

My grandfather was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and still trying to drive him and my non-driving grandmother around a town of notoriously bad drivers. He’d gotten into a few minor fender-benders that shocked his 10 (of 14) living children into the reality that someone would have to move to Alabama to look after him. While the rest of the extended family were holding powwows and deliberating who could or should make the move, my dad (the oldest of his family) put our house up for sale and moved the six of us back to his home state. I understood why the move was necessary, but not why I had to move, too.

As a pouting teenager, southern hospitality was lost on me. I wouldn’t say Californians are rude, but they were nothing like Alabamians.

When my mom blew a tire, a young man stopped and changed it, refusing any compensation. In California, ever-cautious and skeptical drivers might have called 911 to help, but never would have stopped. After all, it could be a trap, a kidnapper’s ploy to get you in his or her van.

My parents seemed to make friends in every public line and every shopping trip. People would look at the groceries my parents unloaded at the checkout and it would become a 15-minute conversation about homemade biscuits.

My assessment of southern hospitality was that it was some sort of act. No one could honestly be this kind or this friendly to every stranger.

Since starting at The Journal, I’m experiencing a bit of deja vu. I’ve lived in Alabama long enough to know the friendliness is no act, but I still find myself blown away by it. In this, my fifth newspaper gig in a southern state, I have received the warmest welcome. People have stopped by the office to welcome me and made it a point to speak to me when I’m on assignment. I’ve had people offer to give me a call and give me the back-story after meetings and others offer to write or take photos for me.

When someone asks me where I’m originally from, I want to tell him or her I’m an Alabama girl. It really is my sweet home. Yes, I’m a California transplant, but Alabama is where I have taken root.

I think I will always have to say I am from California. It is sort of a warning for all of you because I have not mastered that southern charm yet. I don’t say, “sir” or “ma’am” or “y’all” and still feel strange about nodding or waving to people I drive past.

I rarely wake up before sunrise and think a “California stop” is a perfectly legal driving maneuver. I still prefer hot tea to sweet and worse yet, I prefer Arnold Palmers to the plain stuff.

I love southern gospel music, but I don’t know the words to any of it. And I wish I could remember and use all of the fun sayings I’ve heard since moving to Alabama, but none of it rolls off my tongue.

Some of you live in “a house divided,” but I’m a person divided. As a teenager, I chose to support Alabama because I liked their colors more than Auburn’s blue and orange. Since then, I’ve had tons of friends come out of Auburn, none from Alabama. And I’ll take my alma mater, the University of South Alabama (go Jags!) or good old Troy University over either of them.

So, if you see me on the street and notice my crazy driving and my opposing team magnets or speak to me and see that those Southern manners just aren’t there, please cut me some slack. I’m a southern work in progress.