The scene: Late summer night in a Blue Ridge Mountains town. People wander up and down the street, stopping to listen to groups of country musicians who gather informally. There’s an outdoor market area where weavers and painters and wooden bowl makers sell their goods. People carry and sip from cans of Mountain Dew or paper cups of coffee. 

Families exit the Floyd Country Store, where they’ve been dancing on the wooden floor much of the night. Little girls in tap shoes and stretchy jeans cannot stop tapping, even as they are ushered into their mini-van. Their little feet are still tapping in the air as Mommy cinches the seat belt. Granddad smiles proudly.

Twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings lean in toward each other, their guitars nearly touching. A tall girl holding a sheaf of lyrics, her voice like a bell, sings tentatively yet with conviction.

We ease ourselves onto a bench to enjoy the music. One of the guitarists, taking a break, sits beside me and smiles hello.

“Where ya’ll from?” he asks.

“New York,” I say. “The state, not the city.”

“You’re a long way from home,” he says.

Behind him I can see the softening shadows of the mountains, going gray-blue as the light fades. There’s an openness and an emptiness – it’s space unencumbered by extra buildings but it’s also the way this bench, this spot on the street is perched on a rise in the road so I can see up and beyond him – that makes me agree with him.

“You’re a Yankee,” he says in a matter of fact way, labeling me, like you would say to someone: you’ve got brown eyes or you’re bald.Image

All the while visiting in this area, I’d felt it was different from home — but not so different that I couldn’t recognize it as part of my world, my country.

There it was: until now, the unspoken difference. Something felt but not understood. Sure, there are the accents, but we have as many of them up here in New York that I don’t relate to.

My Yankeeness is just a fact. It’s a regional fact.

“Yes!” I say, realizing he’s exposed a truism I ought to own up to. “I guess I am.”