It seems so many people I talk to lately are either preparing to take a child off to college or to tour universities in search of the perfect one for their son or daughter. I have just one more week at home with our daughter before we take her back to college and it all reminds me of a trip I took a few years back that still brings a smile to my face.
Seeing the South Through Its Universities
I knew the trip was going to be a memorable one as soon as my friend Kelly and her daughter Robyn picked us up in their loaded-down, big as Texas, SUV. What I didn’t know was just how memorable it would turn out to be.
It was the four of us: Kelly, Robyn, my daughter Kristen, and myself. Texans headed into the Deep South to visit potential universities for high school juniors Robyn and Kristen. It would be the Spring Break of all Spring Breaks. We had it all mapped out: drive through six southern states in one week and return with college choices in mind. Kelly was armed with mountains of AAA maps and we both had files of confirmation numbers for campus tours, staff appointments, and hotel reservations. Leaving Austin early in the morning, we headed east as we made our way south. First stop: Vicksburg, Mississippi. Or so we thought.
As we drove mile after mile through just Texas, we realized that, without any male riders aboard, we could stop wherever and whenever we wanted – flea markets, small-town boutiques, restrooms- all had our names on them!
Finally crossing the Texas state line into Louisiana, we couldn’t help but realize just how long we’d been driving….but only in Texas! Getting restless, we blew through the Bayou State and finally arrived in Vicksburg. Even though we wanted the trip to be entertaining, we also wanted it somewhat educational so Vicksburg was our first scheduled “must see.” We arrived in the historical Civil War town in the middle of the night, found a hotel, and rested. We woke up early, and with Vicksburg native Myra as our guide, we drove into the Nationa lMilitary Park. We drove out very impressed. Even the girls knew they had just seen something special.
No rest for the weary though. We had five universities to tour in five days. Although we debated for months which ones to include on our itinerary, we settled on MississippiState, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, and Arkansas. (Tennessee, Clemson and Georgia didn’t make the cut.) We loved something about each one but will most fondly remember the friendly and endearing admissions counselor at MSU who constantly said “I’m just pickin” instead of the more familiar “I’m just kidding.” We will also never forget a wonderful one-on-one meeting the four of us had with an Ole Miss Chancellor. Her nameplate said “Dean” but her visit with us about being a mom of a college-aged girl as well revealed much more than an educational pedigree: she was a true southern lady and was smart enough to never forget it.
In between our college visits, we managed to visit Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Graceland in Memphis, and dear friends who live in Alexander City, Alabama. We drove thousands of miles and got very little sleep, but what we will remember most from our “Southern Swing” are the laughs we shared and the kindness we were shown. In the end, the girls chose two schools not even on our itinerary (Oklahoma for Kristen, Oklahoma State for Robyn), but I know I speak for all of us in saying we’d do it all again, just for the fun of it.
Sweet Tea and Sweet People
So what is it about the south? My daughter loves all things southern, from the boys she dates to the music she listens to. She only looked at universities in the south and is enormously proud to be a born (but Sooner bred!) Texan. Being the daughter of a Yankee from New York and a Hispanic from New Mexico, I guess you could say all those years of Texas history classes proved their worth!
In our trip to southern universities, we experienced first-hand what southern hospitality is all about. Everything seems calmer in the south, slower, from the drawls to the doings. Say what you will about the south (i.e.: “rednecks”), but no one ever retires “up north.” Southerners are celebrated for their charm and their gentleness. In Margaret Mitchell’s famous “Gone With the Wind,” Scarlett O’Hara was not written as typically attractive, but the novel does state that people around her were taken by her charm.
Southerners are also known for their sweet tea and sweet dispositions. They are also fiercely patriotic and put faith and family first. Manner are paramount to southerners, and as the mom of a young woman, I want nothing more than for her to dress and act like a lady and to be treated as such from a fine young gentleman. Don’t get me wrong, I still want her to have the guts and grit of Leigh Anne Tuohy from “The Blind Side,” but at the same time ask herself “WWAD?” “What would Audrey – as in Hepburn – do?” As she says, “Don’t mess with Texas, and don’t mess with Texas women!”
So, do you use real mayonnaise in your chicken salad? Do you say “yes sir” and “no ma’am?” Do you think pearls never go out of style? Do you believe good manners can take you places neither money nor education can? Do you love college football? Do you consider thank you notes a necessity? Then, ya’ll just might be southerners! Yeehaw!