Well after 23 days in Mt. Airy, North Carolina we are not experts in much except we can get to the our Friends’ (who shall not be named specifically because apparently that’s dangerous) house without GPS and that’s really quite something, even in the dark. But there are a few things we’ve noticed in our time here. One, Mt. Airy is called Mayberry because it is the real life hometown of Andy Griffith and the Andy Griffith Show is based on parts of the town. Two, the culture here is a bit different than Florida. When I moved to Tampa, Florida from Massachusetts 11 years ago it was a big cultural adjustment for me. It probably took 2 or 3 years before I felt less surprised by the cultural differences. I imagine that the same could be said for any move from one region to another.
I can’t say I can put my finger on all the cultural differences but here are a few we’ve seen so far.
- Church is popular. When I put “churches” into the yellow pages, it said there were 116 with a proper Mt. Airy address. For a general population of 10,000 that’s a lot of churches, friends! Just as a point of reference, our favorite French church planters are praying for God to build ONE church for every 10,000 people. With so many churches, you can imagine that church is widely discussed and talked about and Jesus’ name is freely used. I went into the Walmart and I found a line of Blessed Life clothing, or something like that. I mean there were shirts that said Jesus in big letters right there on sale at Walmart. #NotInFlorida.
- The accent. The strong southern accent is very alluring, like the siren call. Well mostly. You want to just keep listening to them talk, partly because you have no idea what they are saying and if you keep listening you might just figure it out and partly because they sound like they are having more fun talking than you do with your non-accent. I went to make a donation at Goodwill and my big dually truck couldn’t fit into the allotted space for donation drive-ups, so I poked my head into the door to hand them my donation and I was met by a woman whose face revealed that I just opened a door I wasn’t allowed to open and smiling, she said something like “Ya scared me, you’ve got to stomb on the bale”. I apologized and left and then I realized that ‘bale’ was the word for ‘bell’. Got it: my car was supposed to stomp on the bell, to alert her to come out and pick up my donation. It takes me a bit but I usually figure it out. 🙂
- The friendliness. Well see here’s the thing, this video and article by Gone with the Wynns really psyched me up for the amount of friendliness I would find when I got here. So I think my expectations were a little high. But I think there’s genuinely more friendliness here than in Florida, at least I was surprised by the amount of it I found in Walmart, really! I think being southern (like real southern, not Floridian) makes you a bit more predisposed to friendliness. I think it’s culturally normal to talk to strangers in stores, to make deep inquiries in the the grocery line, to be big on smiles and peppy in your hellos. It’s good practice for me to channel my inner southern bell (or bale, as it were).
- Everyone’s related. In a small town where people often live their whole lives, you are bound to know just about everyone, be very involved in family life and possibly be related to a good deal of your neighbors. This both is and is not the case in Florida. I noticed this who’s who phenomenon, as I aged out into the Tampa adult population, I found it was hard to make friends with people who already had a complete set of friends. Now, I’m not sure how similar this concept is across the country but I’m willing to bet it just depends on how small a town you are settling in. In Boston, this isn’t the case among the average folks, I think it’s more apparent when you get into the upper levels of society. So you might have to dig deep into #3 and put on your southern friendliness to make new friends and keep the old, if you know what I mean.
- Less is more, or all you have. When you relocate to a small town you need to readjust your expectations. I was always confused when my Mom would come to visit in Florida and say, “look at all these strip malls, there’s one on every block!” That’s because in Norton, Massachusetts you learn to be content with the grocery store being 15 plus minutes away, having one or two choices of gas and maybe one or two choices of clothing stores, unless you wanted to drive ALL the way to the mall. It’s kind of like that here, Winston Salem is a bit of a drive depending on where you are and where you are headed, it could be 45 minutes to get to the ‘specialty store’ you want to go to (or an hour if you want to go to Costco). For me, that’s beyond what I call the ‘cry zone’, usually Levi starts to lose it somewhere after 20-25 minutes riding in the car. So I really have to decide if that 45 minute drive is worth it. I went to “The Mayberry Mall” and was surprised to find there were 23 stores, that’s including Kmart and the Army recruitment office. And while they didn’t have a kids play space they did have 4 of those little cars you can pay $1 to ride and Levi thought that was good enough for him. So I’m fine with shopping at Food Lion instead of trekking 35 minutes to Aldi and we even found some chicken everyone can eat (if they wanted to cheat on their vegan diet)! #cornfree
Well that’s just scratching the surface of the differences I’m sure. It can be helpful to know the standards of the culture, because most likely it will be pretty different from Jesus’ standards. If I’m not paying attention I can allow myself to be discipled by the culture around me, instead of by Jesus. This, by the way, was pointed out by David Brady as I listened to his sermon at Christ Community Church a couple of weeks ago. He reminded me that in order to be a disciple of Jesus I have to stop being a disciple of myself (or of the culture), I have to stop doing what I want to do. That’s a hard lesson for me, one I’m still practicing. Sometimes I just get grumpy and want to wallow in my grump. Or I get upset that the culture around me is not meeting my every need because of some cultural difference or perceived flaw and I choose to be angry instead of seeking God, searching His word for answers and modeling my Lord as he lived amongst a culture different than that in heaven with harsh critics and few who truly understood him.
Ultimately, no matter where I live, my hope should always be in God, not on available amenities, how easy the transition of moving and adjusting is, or any of the rest. But sometimes I forget this and these things feel especially important, so I’m telling myself right now, and you can listen in, when Jesus is all I have, I have all I need. I’m sure it’s easier to say than to live through, but it’s the real end goal of all of our lives, to know Him better, deeper, truer.
So how about you? Are you deeply rooted in your hometown, a newcomer, or maybe a nomad? How does the culture around you, affect your day to day life? And where, if you dare to peel back the onion layers, is your hope?
Well that’s all from Mayberry!
-Big Rig Rose