Trying to break into the community of localized Southern culture is like breaking into a bank vault with a plastic spoon. In other words, good luck.
This story seems old hat to me, but it must be revisited. Having grown up in L.A. and spent my teen years in Chicago, my experience was actually limited to bigger city/suburban life. I’d never been to the South. It also didn’t help that a loud Texan tried to buy my mom for his son when she was 14.
(Actually, I use the term “buy” somewhat loosely. The offer of currency exchange was in the form of a plane ticket from Ireland to Texas. But still. Weird and gross, no?)
In fact, I was so unconsciously prejudiced that for the first week of school I had trouble taking one of my professors seriously because she spoke with a Southern accent.
So why did I choose to go to college in the South? That is a good question, and it’s answered mainly by saying that Pepperdine was too far away.
I almost left Nashville after one long, difficult school year. I made few friends. I couldn’t find—or didn’t look very hard for—people that I mixed well with. It didn’t exactly help that the university I chose to attend was a small liberal arts one—less than 3,000 undergraduates, an incredible percentage of whom had known each other since coming up through private school from kindergarten, or who at least lived within a hundred-mile radius of Nashville and made a habit of going home on the weekends.
But I took the advice of a friendly acquaintance that suggested I give it one more semester. Just one. And since we had just survived a trip by ourselves to an undergraduate literature conference in a dusty Utah town, including a stay in a The Shining-esque hotel in the former red light district, I trusted her. I came back. I tried harder. I experienced the awesomeness of our small, tightly knit English department. I met Noah.
Nashville is where I fell in love. It’s where I learned how to put myself out there and try, even when I felt like a drop of oil in a gallon of water. And that professor with the accent? She encouraged me to pursue my poetic streak, which led to a fantastic trip with friends and professors to Oxford, Mississippi, and the permanent moniker of “Erin Etheridge, The Award-winning Poet.”
Lately I’ve been feeling the tug of Nashville, and it’s sucking the air out of me. I miss those professors, that small campus in the middle of Green Hills, the friends I finally made. I miss the church Noah and I attended, the one that features a changing exhibition of breathtaking abstract art on either side of the stage.
I started listening to one of the church’s podcasts, and I had to stop. Hearing the voice of a professor of ours guest speaking transported me back to the best times of that place, my iconic Nashville of rolling hills, lighted tennis courts, a grassy knoll overlooking a baseball field, a beautiful park with walking trails, and not a hint of boot-stomping honky tonk.
And in that image I remember nothing of the loneliness of being so far from our families, or the first hints of future struggles with depression, or the traces of racism that flitted around the unswept edges of society, or the horrible case of sun poisoning that left me crying in pain on our apartment floor.
Not in my Nashville.
In my Nashville there is only art, and love, and friends to enjoy, and warm summer evenings, and inspiring people of faith, and glorious landscapes, and freedom from responsibility.
In my Nashville; in my dreams.