North Toward Harvard

When we landed-literally and figuratively-my visions of the New South from 1200 miles away had not yet upheld close scrutiny. Remember that understood loyalty to the people and the region? In the same way that a Southern identity emerged in the Harvard environment, a Harvard identity began to surface with successive doses of Birmingham.

First there was the homecoming queen's wedding (tree-to-form she invited the entire high school class of 350) and the suspicious whispers about my "Yankee" (read: Yayenkee) access.

Next came the reunion with parents friends and friends' parents-the Mom-and-Dad-crowd who "knew you when" and naturally assume that "you when" is "you now."

And their questions: OooooH! There's out Cliffie. Honey, I want you to tell me all (read: aaalllllllll) about that crazy Women's Lib business. And your Mama tells me you're in a coed dorm-how Quains! Tell me tell me tell me tell me.

And what about all those "Nigruhs" (sic), who occupied the building this spring. We saw the designations right here item our own living room.


With some remnant of the identity I knew we shared, I tried to answer: Yes, I go to Radcliffe and no it's not because the University of Alabama "wasn't good enough" for me, but please don't gape at me like that. You make me feel as if I don't belong here or something. Give me time to explain.

No, it's not communist hotbed and yes, I have "marched with all those hippies," and yes, I dress the way all of "them" dress and no, coed dorms are not "disgusting." I live in one for God's sake.

Please, I asked you to stop gaping. I promise you: I was born here. I've lived here 18 years. I'm the same person, I'm even "very Southern," Ask anyone up "there." (But them again, you'll never go will you.)

They had "heard" the answers before I had began to speak, before I had even arrived. "The North" was as unfamiliar and untenable to them as "The South" had been at Harvard. They, too, could not really listen to someone as "different" as I had become, Utopia would have to wait a few more years.

Coming to Harvard from the Deep South does teach you how to break away from home and high school superstardom. It also teaches you to accept equalty the drawl and the clipped syllable; the reactionary and the revolutionary; the slow and the rushed pace.

Moreover, you learn to alternate between the two as a concession to the region you happen to be visiting, for you realize that trust between people is unpredictably fragile.

So if it takes more of a drawl than you still have in you by the time you go home again--or if it takes more self-assertion that you would comfortably muster when you return to Harvard from a Southern visit--you lay it on (or dish it out). The cost to personal identity is surprisingly small.

Most importantly, you learn the absurdity of regional rivalries, Yes know from experience that they rest mostly on the power of suggestion-that in-bred notion that Southerners just have to be different or that Northerners do (depending on your geographical location).

Nevertheless, you prepare to speed the rest of your life explaining your decision to leave the South. Your Southern friends will never quite understand it; your Harvard friends will accept it readily. They won't understand why you chose to be born there, but perhaps you will be able to tell them.