I’m proud to be an Okie from … Ohio?
My best friend from high school recently moved to Charleston [South Carolina], following her boyfriend. She said there is a very distinctive anti-Ohio attitude in the city.
It got me thinking about The Grapes of Wrath, with its references to the derogatory “Okies” from Oklahoma that fled Midwestern dust bowl despair for California’s lettuce bowl during the Great Depression.
Are Ohioians the new Okies?
I guess I never thought much about how our economic diaspora might be affecting other communities. Aren’t we the ones responsible for the gangbuster real estate industry in the South?
Two points before we go further:
- Oklahoma is not in the Midwest. Borrow a map.
- I lived in Charleston for most of the 1960s, and while I didn’t have any particular problems with assimilation, at the very top of the social scale I could detect the slightest hint of “What, you can’t trace your ancestors back to 1670?” (It didn’t help that when I finally managed to get a girlfriend, she had a family tree going back all the way to King Richard, and the first King Richard at that. And no, she didn’t wave this in my face; I found it out much later.)
But let’s continue:
According to my friend, Natalie, however, the job market in Charleston is abysmal. In Ohio, she sold print advertising. Now the college graduate is a waitress, and she’s not optimistic about her prospects.
Ohioans are attracted by South Carolina’s beaches and sun. About 40 percent of the state’s residents were born elsewhere. It is a “magnet state,” while Ohio is just the opposite. Natalie said all of her friends, a group of about 10, are from Ohio.
Charleston is a tourist town and it is has a tourist economy too. That means lots of service industry jobs, few corporate headquarters and a cyclical business season that all but shuts down in the off-season.
Then again, forty years ago people, especially young people, were trying to get the hell out of South Carolina, which they considered backward, hidebound, and excessively sweaty.
So this, too, I suspect, is cyclical. I don’t feel out of place in the Carolina Low Country — I’ve been back for short visits twice since I moved away — but I don’t think I’ve ever really thought of it as the sort of place where I could put down roots. Maybe it’s just due to the fact that by the time I reached an age where the idea of “roots” started to matter to me, I’d already wound up as, you should pardon the expression, an Okie.