A Virginian Girlhood

Mabry Mill (Right Outside of My Hometown)

Southern Virginia is enough to make anyone confused about whether they are from the North or the South. Black or white didn’t seem as important as southern or northern, even though the actual area was a mix of northerners who didn’t like the cold and southerners who preferred to work in semi-unionized factories. I was taught that Robert E. Lee sided more with the Union in the Civil War but because Virginia, his home state, seceded he preferred to lead the Confederate Army. I remember this comment being a weird point of pride for the elementary school teacher who taught it every year religiously—the idea that Virginia was so great, it could make men do things they didn’t believe in. This odd sense of grand pride really bothered me. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around a place having so much say in a person’s conception of what they would or would not do.

My mother said, when we moved to South Carolina, that we got along with everyone so well because we were from the south. Of course maybe it is my generation, but I never really cared to nail down what I felt about any land. I made a point to never fool around with odd pride and commitment to such seemingly random places because I was afraid that it could change my otherwise sensible ideas about life.

Later, when I met my boyfriend (from Detroit) as a teenager the comment was made that I wasn’t as slow or dull, because I wasn’t really from the south. It was really disheartening to be in a group of people that attached my personality to my birth local. And, because of mom, I had always considered myself (while rolling eyes at the ridiculousness of it all) southern. But the Michigan-ers insisted, “Virginia isn’t the south.” As a kid it had seemed so clear. North, south—at the heart of the issue is a fascinating imaginary line that divides people.

Now as an adult, I see that same kind of territorial exclusivity regarding even national borders. Maybe it’s because of that weird teacher’s love for Virginia which freaked me out so many years ago, but it still seems illogical that we base so much off of an arbitrary thing like birthplace—who has the opportunity to work, eat, learn, and even live has everything to do with what imaginary border they were born near. The only real hope I can find in this obsession from childhood, is that perhaps, deep inside all of us is a pissed off Robert E. Lee who is now in fact ready to do what he believes is right.

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