She confesses to Northern roots, y'all

November 10, 2003

I can't take the guilt and shame anymore. A confession must be made, and it won't be easy.

So, bear with me, this might be painful.

Hello, my name is Emily Burton, and I have been a Yankee for 23 years now.

Ouch, OK, there's no need for violence.

But yes, I was, or maybe still am, a Yankee, a supporter of the Northern cause. A kid from Ohio who didn't know what a tobacco field looked like and wouldn't know good corn bread if it stood up and danced.

Yeah, I know the Civil War ended 100-some years ago, but take it from a half-Southernized Yankee, the Ohio River still divides more than just its banks. Moving from Dayton to Danville is four hours of driving, but a century's trip back in time.


Six years ago, when I told my family I was going to school in Kentucky, it was like crossing enemy lines. Like I was going to the dog pound for a purebred. Hillbilly jokes and bad accents abounded.

I was headed South in more ways than one.

In Kentucky I walked in to my first college class with a Northern accent and a firm understanding that Walt Disney had invented Davy Crockett for a movie. I was promptly labeled a Yankee and a stinking buckeye. I think Davy's family tried to shoot me once, but that might have been a militant Disney fan.

Despite that, in Lexington I could cope. I formed a gang of Northies and I slowly tried to adapt. I bought a truck, and a dog that matched it. I started listening to country. I drew the line at pigtails and leather fringe.

But Danville is definitely not Lexington. Without my fellow Northies, I stick out like the Yankee I'm trying to hide.

Danville is a bit slower, quiet and quaint with a sense of community pride. It would drive you nuts if you expected Northern bustle.

While living here I've learned "going South" isn't all that easy. You can't just pick up an accent, you have to adopt the whole Southern attitude. And let me say, I'm still working on the accent. Y'all ... dad gum ... git. Ya'll git, naw, dad gummet.

OK, not every Southerner says y'all. But you can't convince northerners of that. I've tried.

Still, I admire Kentuckians' spirits, 80 proof or otherwise. They have an unwritten code of humanity and the necessity of small talk.

And to be honest, sometimes that's a little disconcerting. I'm used to Ohio indifference in public places, hot tea and bad driving.

In Kentucky you step outside and you become a public commodity. People nod at you, feel free to chat for a minute. You drink iced tea, even in December, and the sweeter the better.

Hello, my name is Emily, and I've been addicted to sweet tea for six years now.

The driving, well, the driving didn't really change. People are still getting mowed over in crosswalks in the South. I think turn signals are the answer, but hey, who needs to use turn signals? Aren't Chevy owners psychic? Oh, wait, that might be Ford.

Don't use signals, drink tea and relax. Three rules for Southern living. I can deal with the first two, but relaxing is beyond my grasp. They don't teach that in Ohio.

Last week, a fellow UK alumni and particularly stubborn Southern Republican, got into a debate with me over lunch about the differences between Ohio and Kentucky. He said I needed to learn to relax if I was to live here.

I told him it was hard to relax when surrounded by rebels and John Michael Mongomery music.

Now pass the sweet tea.

Emily Burton is a staff writer for The Advocate.|11/9/03***

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