“She cooked their dawwg and fed it to her huahs-band. Ain’t that sick?”
I was going to be sick. This gnarly little old woman kept droning on and on about the week’s most unusual news stories, as if everyone else in the Department of Motor Vehicles was as enthralled with them as she was. The cigarette dangling from her lips, emitting noxious smoke into our tiny room, wasn’t helping either. It seemed as if everyone in South Georgia smoked heavily, which was appalling considering I came from a region where it seemed the Surgeon General himself ensured nobody endangered their health with the supposed little white sticks of death.
This was one of just many differences I was noticing in my new home. Cigarettes, oh, and the buzzards. Before moving to Georgia, I had seen buzzards before. But they lived in the zoo. They were safely behind bars. Here, I opened my front door in the morning to see and hear them noisily circling in the field directly across from my house, a macabre party reveling in a fresh kill. This sight and sound didn’t exactly make my mornings “good.”
The gators were also a problem. While walking my 8 pound Maltese around the neighborhood (that, by the way, lacked sidewalks), I couldn’t help but envision our plan of escape should a gator decide to prey upon us. You’re supposed to run in a zig-zag pattern away from a gator, so I had heard, since they run rapidly but can’t handle zig-zags. This mental image of a burly, hunger-crazed gator stumbling over himself would have been comical if it hadn’t been for the very real danger I knew lurked in the Georgian swamps. My own mother-in-law had once heard a gator running down their street, security personnel had just recently pulled a 5-footer out from under the slide at the base pool, and some unsuspecting woman in the news just found a 6-footer in her front yard gully. Her front yard! How was I supposed to let my dog frolic in our yard when the very jaws of death could suddenly appear?
Then we went to Ray’s Mill Pond, a restaurant proudly situated in the depths of the swamp that gleefully harvested gators out its back door. I came to find out that gator is just another meat out there and in most of Georgia. It didn’t taste that bad either. Like chicken. Chewy, rubbery chicken. The poor gators didn’t seem so frightening when they were made into little, fried balls, which, in a small way, empowered me not to feel so frightened of them.
Sampling gator was one step toward accepting that foreign culture. My next step was stumbling upon a peach orchard, where you could pick a peck of the most voluptuous, juicy peaches for pocket change. Then I realized those Spanish moss trees that populated our town were captivating and eerily romantic, like in Gone with the Wind. Let’s not forget Daylight Donuts, where the very angels themselves craft the most delicious apple fritters you will have ever consumed. Valdosta wasn’t turning out to be that bad of a duty station after all. And there was even a Starbucks in town where I could retreat if I ever needed a Yankee moment to myself.
If there is one thing I’ve learned about being a Milspouse, it is that experiencing different cultures can be overwhelming and at times frightening, but there are always unexpected gems waiting to be unearthed. Before living in the Deep South, I had no idea people still enjoy moonshine, that throwing bags of gas on a fire is fun, or that fried balls of gator are somewhat tasty. Yes, southerners can’t enjoy their public water lands quite the same way one does out West for fear of dangerous reptiles, but the tea there is sweet, and the people sweeter.