Adriana Zoder: This Tennessee humidity feels like home

Aug. 23, 2014 @ 11:16 PM

Summertime in the South unleashes a full-throttle sensory experience. The sounds of crickets and cicadas. The smells of magnolia trees and hundreds (thousands?) of other plants. The green of vegetation at its apex. The taste of blueberry pie. The water of one's own body seeping to the surface of one's skin. This humidity...

This humidity reminds me of my first day in the U.S., 21 years ago in August.

I arrived in Virginia by car – though I came to the New World by plane, first to New York City and then D.C. My first full day in the U.S. was also my first full day in the South. Growing up in Romania, where summers are dry like in California, I had only read about humidity. The heat that envelops the body like a soft, wet blanket was only a theoretical concept out of Mark Twain novels and "Gone with the Wind."

The lunch line wound outside the college cafeteria building. Sweating while doing nothing – just being outside, just standing in line – was a new experience for me. So was air conditioning.

After college in Virginia, I worked in Sweden for several years, and suffered from the lack of sunshine. When I returned to the U.S., I embraced Southern sun and heat as a new lease on life.

Air conditioning serves a purpose, I get it, but it's set way too low for me in most public places. After shopping or doing business in a bank building, I come out with frozen fingers and toes, ready to thaw in the Southern summer heat.

And I don't get why Southerners turn the air conditioning so low in these buildings. It makes the contrast to the humid heat outside even greater. At my first job in Tennessee, my office colleagues used to turn the thermostat so low, I wore a sweater all summer long sitting at my desk. These were the same people who wanted the heat turned up to 85 F in the winter. It did not make any sense to me.

These were the same people who made comments about my being from Romania, if I dared complain about the cold weather in winter. “Well, you're from Romania. You should be used to snow and cold winters. Isn't it like Russia?”

No, Romania is not “like Russia” in the same way that the US is not “like Canada.” Russia is way higher on the map than Romania. And I only remember really deep snow during a couple of winters in my childhood. Most of my winters in Romania were spent pining for a bit of snow so we could go sledding.

On my first full day in Tennessee, back in 2002, I walked around in the parking lot in front of the office building where I was to work – a private school campus in rural McMinn County. The gravel shone in the sunlight and crunched under my feet. The humidity and the smell of the Southern summer overwhelmed my senses. I glanced at the license plates: “Tennessee sounds good to me.” I had come home.

Adriana Zoder, a Gatlinburg resident, is a writer and homeschooling mom. She and her husband have two children. She maintains the award-winning blog Her book, "101 Tips for Preschool at Home," is available on Amazon.