“Country roads…take me home…to the place…I beLOOOOONG!” I wailed along with the song on the radio, appropriately playing as I sailed down a gorgeous winding road, lined with trees and the occasional cute house. The bright blue sky unfolded above me as the sweeping farmlands flanked the endless road. Life was good.
That evening, I bobbed my head and belted along with Carrie Underwood at the local rodeo bar, laughing as my friends attempted to ride the mechanical bull and cheering as we took shots of tequila and chased them with our Jack and Cokes. We were all adorned with rhinestone-studded plaid shirts and short denim shorts, cowgirl boots barely weighing down our dancing legs.
Oh, the life of a country girl.
Despite being a Yankee, I was an honorary country girl, a fan of the outdoors, a sun worshipper, a small-town dreamer who loved animals and music. The only way I differed from my friends is that I had no idea how to hunt. But I fished, I loved Cracker Barrel, and I felt like country music spoke to me. At least, the old-school stuff and the occasional angel-voiced pop country star.
Having lived in the South most of my life, I learned from my fellow Southern girls. I learned to offer food and drink to guests, I learned that Southern hospitality, I learned to appreciate the simple pleasures. I adopted a twang when I worked in retail because I learned that customers were nicer when I did. I learned that Southern charm.
And yet I always felt conflicted because I was neither conservative nor Christian. Often, my friends were subtle in their views, politically apathetic with the occasional share of a pro-Murica meme. I loved America for its diversity and freedoms, but I learned that a lot of country girls didn’t think of freedom the same way I did. It wasn’t necessarily about gun rights or how our tax money was used; it was that to them, freedom was equated to the pursuit of simple pleasures. It was synonymous with Christianity. It was the shots we took, not the complicated cocktail. To seek something beyond what we knew was “city liberal” nonsense.
That meant that my friends were bewildered when I talked about my interest in science, or when I admitted that I wasn’t a Christian. My best friend, a Southern girl, begrudgingly accompanied me to a play, then stated that she felt “cultured” afterwards. Throughout my life, I heard that dichotomy: we, the Southern girls, were pure-of-heart devotees of the natural and simple, while those “city folk” paid too much money to sit in a dark room listening to pretentious dialogue. Being “cultured” was an occasional experience, not part of daily life. I started to realize then that the persona I’d adopted — partly as a defense mechanism to being bullied when I first arrived as a Yankee in the South — didn’t always mesh with how I acted in Southern-dominant venues.
One time, I went to a Southern bar and felt like having something special, so I ordered a Grasshopper. The bartender actually scoffed at me, saying he didn’t know what that was. I instantly felt embarrassed, asking for this cocktail that my self-described sophisticated Yankee friend had introduced me to.
Since moving to the South, I’ve lived in bigger and bigger cities as I began to seek the buzz I craved — one of bustling activity, a sea of creative opportunity, an extreme diversity of cultures. I left many of my Southern girls behind as I got more involved in theatre and other “cultural” things, as I began to frequent small, TV-less pubs rather than rodeo bars, as I started to eat things besides Southern comfort food. I left my Southern boyfriend and his guns behind, never having learned to shoot.
The first time I walked to work in downtown Orlando was transformative. Surrounded by tall buildings, with people of all walks of life sharing the sidewalks with me, I felt small, not big. And it was delightfully humbling. I felt like there was so much to discover. I took great pleasure in finding the hidden nooks among Orlando’s intricate buildings, the cocktail bar hidden in one, the fusion restaurant hidden in another. Each place had a different identity, a new opportunity.
I adapted fairly quickly to becoming a city girl. I gave away my paisley and plaid clothes and began wearing my houndstooth and lace — clothes that previously had always gotten me the “why are you so dressed up?” comments. I traded in my heels and fringed boots for practical flats, my glitter eyeshadow for neutral shades and bold lipstick. I learned to love the private time I got in heavy traffic, listening to all sorts of music as well as podcasts.
My country persona had faded, and I realized it had been born of necessity, allowing me to deal with that initial culture shock. While I’d likely ceased to be a Yankee, I also wasn’t a true country girl (I should have learned this while dating). It came down to what we all thought about the scope of our lives. I’d always felt painfully small as a country girl despite living large. As a city girl, I felt delightfully small because I lived small — a small apartment, small bars, a small space between me and the next car.
Despite all this, I think I’m not simply a city-sophisticated, cocktail-sipping, playgoing liberal. I still love the outdoors and Dolly Parton, and at the end of the day, I would rather drive down a country road than I-4. Perhaps I’m now something in-between: the city girl with a heart of gold, the country girl with a hunger for the bustle.
Rachel Wayne is a writer and artist based in Orlando, FL. She earned her master’s in visual anthropology from the University of Florida and runs the production company DreamQuilt. She is an avid aerial dancer and performance artist, and also dabbles in mixed-media. She writes nonfiction stories about herself and other awesome people, as well as essays on feminism, societal violence, mental health, politics, entrepreneurship, and whatever cultural topic strikes her fancy.
Like this piece? Buy me a coffee.