So how come you find pockets of deep-dyed Southernness in unlikely places like the hills of eastern Tennessee or in the middle of Missouri? The then-little town of Columbia, Mo., where I went to school for a couple of idyllic years, was in Boone County, which at the time used to be called Little Dixie.
My explanation: Southerners on the periphery of the South have to be the most aware of their Southernness in order to hold on to their identity. The way you might find the most ardent nationalists of any stripe on the outskirts of the nation. See George Orwell's essay, "Notes on Nationalism."
Southernness, it turns out, is a moveable feast, for Southern is more than a geographical designation; it's a cultural one. Folks in Mississippi don't have to talk about being Southern; they just are, while the baneful tribe of professional Southerners seems to crop up most conspicuously in the outer reaches of Dixie.
There's also a Southern diaspora, which knows no bounds; you may run into representatives of it on New York's Upper East Side or in Paris' fashionable Sixteenth Arrondissement. Or in a simple little pension in Florence. Just listen for an accent that sounds like home and there the South will be, for the South extends far beyond the South,
The other Great Question of our time, or any American time, is: Where does the West begin? That's a column for another day. But one sure nominee would be Kansas City, Mo., though I've heard it said that Fort Worth is where the West begins while Dallas is where the East peters out.
As someone who's been lost more than once on a Dallas freeway, I can testify that Dallas certainly isn't the South. Indeed, those who claim the South fought the Civil War to keep Atlanta from happening may never have considered the possibilities of Dallas.
To be truly Southern, there must be something agrarian about a place even if it's a city. It must have at least a long-lost connection with an agricultural society to qualify.
Grits, black-eyed peas, hurry back, and all that.