You know how you can joke about your family, internally, but no one is allowed to make the SAME joke if they’re NOT part of the circle? Let me invite you into the circle for a moment.
Those of us in the south know what we’re seen as. There are parts of our history that are incredibly dirty – rotten to the core, no doubt – and we know that. We know that parts of that history still bubble up to the surface from time to time. We know that we’re a deeply religious region, one aptly named The Bible Belt. We know that you are surprised to hear that we have running water, indoor plumbing, and dental services.
We know that you laugh at how we “overreact” to snow and inclement winter weather.
It’s okay. We laugh a lot too, internally. Inside our circle, it’s not uncommon to hear “The schools are closing” announced across a room full of people and hear groans and moans, normally two or three days prior to any snow ever touches the ground. We smile and laugh at how predictions of ice prompt the grocery stores to empty their shelves of bread and milk. (Why bread and milk?)
Your guess is as good as mine. In fact, one time I made Bryan go to the store before an inclement storm hit (I think this was tornado season, not cold weather), and he literally ONLY bought bread and milk. So we sat there and stared at each other, wondering how we would feed ourselves and our children should the unspeakable happen.
But here’s what you need to know about the south: we have had some terrible, terrible weather things happen. I’ve lived in the true south since I was nine years old, and I can’t tell you how many tornado warnings I’ve huddled through, how many blizzards we’ve suffered, and how many floods we’ve endured. We have gorgeous weather too, no doubt, but we have some terrible weather.
We are largely unprepared for cold weather. It’s true. You can laugh at how each town may have one salt truck, because we laugh at that too. We cancel schools in advance of potential ice storms or abnormally cold temperatures. We do that because the south is largely underprivileged. A large – startlingly large – percent of our population lies below the poverty line. Even children that are not considered poverty or below may not have proper cold weather gear. Our power lines run above ground. Our power grids are not meant to sustain our population at temperatures below freezing for any length of time.
Here’s the backstory you don’t know about that: our weather forecast for the last two days predicted cold temperatures and a light dusting of snow. That was it. There was no mention of ice, and even our most trustworthy and seasoned meteorologists admitted that no accumulation of snow was expected. The chance of precipitation was 0%.
As a result, we sent all of our salt trucks/utility trucks/help south of us, where the majority of the storm was supposed to it. The coast line was bracing for the brunt of the wintry mix, so we sent all of our resources down there.
To help them. That’s what we do in the south.
When a surprise blizzard hit, it wasn’t that we were ignorant in preparing. The storm was sudden and without warning. No one realized it was coming. When the severity of the storm became apparent, folks did what we normally do in weather situations – they headed out to pick up their kids. The storm’s intensity was so strong and so fast-moving that people were literally iced in their cars as they drove. The pictures you see out of Birmingham, AL or Atlanta, GA are not reasons to mock. They are your neighbors, stuck in their cars without food, water, or life-saving medications. They are your parents, landlocked in their vehicle with not enough gas to keep them warm. They are your children, terrified on school buses that had no chance of getting them home.
It is not a joke. It is my community.
Many – HUNDREDS – of drivers in the south slept in their cars last night, unable to make it to any meaningful shelter. Children slept on school buses while parents prayed that their child was safe, warm, and accounted for. Fervent pleas for help flew across my many social media circles – the circles I joined after we were left helpless from the tornadoes of 2011 – for supplies of insulin, bottled water, and blankets.
So before you consider cracking a joke about rednecks not being able to handle the winter weather, remember that the south sent a good amount of aid and supplies and resources north when Hurricane Sandy hit. See, we aren’t prepared for winter weather because we don’t get it all that often down here. But we know that not everyone is as tornado-ready as we are, so we’re happy to lend a hand. Our local Red Cross and utilities companies dispatch en masse whenever there’s a disaster that we’re too familiar with. We know how terrifying it is to find yourself helpless against the elements, so we are always quick to offer a warm blanket and a hug along with whatever else we have to share.
There are times that I’m not proud of how some of my Southern family may hold themselves, but they are still my family. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find your way into the circle too – you look like you could use some sweet tea, bless your heart.