This weekend, a group of friends and I went to the Georgia vs. Florida football game. Many memories were made, but two instances from our Sunday drive home stood out to me the most. They reminded me specifically why I love the South.
Sure I love the sweet tea, but more than a drink that I am fond of, it is the people that confirm time and time again why I love this region of the United States. Let me tell you two specific stories in order to explain.
The drive back from Vidalia, Georgia is beautiful. It is a simple drive. Stay on this road for 33 miles. Turn left for another 17. Turn right for 24. Each turn, you drive a long stretch of road that seems to be “in the middle of nowhere.”
One of these long stretches of road was through Washington County, specifically through the city of Tennille. We noticed a sign with a large Georgia Bulldog on it, and I immediately asked the girls, “Hey y’all, should we turn around?” “Why not?”, they said. So, that is exactly what we did. We made a U-turn in a dirt drive way, and little did we know, we pulled up to the famous “Barn Sign.”
This sign has been painted with adages to UGA for 16 years, and we “stumbled” upon it. We met a man who is a close family friend of the person who paints the sign. He took our picture and told us all about the sign. It gets painted several times a year and people are always stopping to get a look. They have even created t-shirts for people to purchase. Of course, I bought one.
More than the sign, we got to know the man who was hanging out under the tent for the day selling t-shirts and taking pictures. For at least 20 minutes, we talked to him. We learned that he was a missionary in the Philippines for six years, and he moved back to the states to care for his elderly parents. He and his wife raised their child overseas. He told us that in his heart he is Filipino, although he is physically much taller and much heavier.
I write this to show that not only did this man love to talk, but he was personable. He was intentional, and he was kind. He did not have to tell us a single thing about himself. But he chose to, and because of this, we walked away feeling like our pit stop was completely worth it.
Many miles later, as we were nearing Athens, Sarah asked if we could stop to find a restroom. We stopped at a gas station that was out of water (thankfully). A cute, little market was just down the street, so we figured we would try there. It turned out, they had a restroom, and Sarah was in luck, but little did I know, I had hit the jackpot.
I noticed that they had fresh fruit, and I asked the man working the register, “How are these plums?” “Try one if you want! If you like ‘em, then buy ‘em,” he said. I did, and I grabbed the bucket. From there, it was history. “We have homemade chicken and dumplings and macaroni and cheese made with extra sharp cheddar in the back if you’re looking for dinner.” “What would you like to try?”, he asked.
I tried the chicken and dumplings, corn chowder, chili (which has won several awards at the Chili Cook-off), and the chicken salad. As he poured samples, I ate my little heart out. I bought a quart of this and a pint of that, and after about 20 minutes, I had collected enough food to eat on for the next two weeks.
He offered to put the chili in freezable containers for me, so I could save if for later. I learned that he lives about 30 miles away, and he makes everything homemade. All of the fruits and vegetables come from the farmer’s market, and his wife is a professor at UGA. I could not have scripted a scene any sweeter.
I am blessed. I am blessed to have been raised in a culture where people are genuine. They love to get to know who you are. They ask you questions, share similar stories, and treat you as if you were a part of their family. It really is special to have grown up in the South. I would not trade it for the world. I love a good glass of sweet tea and a home cooked meal, but more than this, I love the person who is doing the cooking.