Do you know someone who seems to be the very epitome of what a southern lady should be? Bear in mind that not all southern ladies abide in the south. They are everywhere and in their diaspora from the south, they took with them their heritage, their values, their ‘southernness’.
We all have in our minds what is meant by the term ‘southern lady’. And it probably isn’t exactly the same for us all. Some may get flashes of a Scarlett O’Hara character, tough as rawhide, and unscrupulous when necessary. Others may see a Melanie kind of character, soft and sweet and compliant. Or it may be some stereotypical character in between. I come from a long line of southern women and I can tell you, they are as different from each other as any other group of women. Yet, there is something about them…
Perhaps it is the food. There is nothing on earth like sitting down to a full spread of Southern cuisine. Whether it is laid out as a five-course meal with silver and crystal or on a plank table set up under the oak tree in the backyard, the food of the south has a quality that is like no other. Even the poorest food can seem like a banquet when offered up by a southern cook. Why do you suppose that is?
Maybe it’s the manners. Every child brought up by good southern parents knows to say “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir” and “please and thank you”. Manners were and still are important, bringing a sort of civility to any situation, reminding us that everyone deserves respect. And I have seen those who forget that rule quietly and efficiently put in their place by a gentle but clever matron, done without even ruffling a feather. Southern ladies can do that. They have a way of putting you in your place with a look,
with the cut of an eye, with one word or a twitch of an eyebrow.
I believe it is a skill one cannot learn. It’s in the blood.
There is a turn of phrase that seems only to happen in the South. We all know what “bless your heart” means, even if we are not southern. “I’m fixin’ to” and “directly” were phrases I grew up with, along with “knee-high to a grasshopper” and “pretty as a speckled pup”. They add color to our speech and a good southerner can creatively cuss you from here to eternity without uttering a single bad word. It’s mostly in the delivery.
When in college, my husband and I both had a professor who was the very personification of southern grace. In fact, her name was Grace and, much to our utter delight and slight unease at calling a professor by her first name, we were enthralled! Not Dr. So and So. Not even Miss Grace. Just Grace. She broke the rules of propriety she had been raised on by allowing this because she had been born rich and grew up surrounded by servants in a huge mansion in the deep south. Perhaps she was trying to escape that formality and just be herself. We adored her and my husband, in my opinion, was deeply in love with her even though she was old enough to be our parent.
Hospitality is a bedrock quality to southern ladies’ existence. Have you ever left a southern matriarch’s home, even after only a brief visit, without having been offered something to drink? Or have something prepared for you to eat? Or, at the very least, been sent on your way with a ‘care package’ for later? They can’t help it! It’s second nature and, in their minds, their mothers would be turning over in their graves if they didn’t follow the rules!
Hospitality, gentleness, softness, mired in tradition, weighted down with heirlooms. That’s how they appear. Never be fooled. They are made of steel. They can stand strong under the most horrendous conditions and come out of it with their heads held high and dignity intact and not one piece of crystal broken.
There are things that are sacred to a southern lady and at the top of that list is family. Attack her family and her reputation and the fiercest mamma bear you can imagine will suddenly appear, rip you to figurative shreds and walk from the fray unruffled. She can be vicious. And, know this, she will not play fair.
True Southern ladies are a special breed. They breathe rarified air at heights we can only hope to achieve. They are not all the same but they are royalty and have class that has nothing whatsoever to do with money. Some of the most precious and regal ladies I have ever known had nothing to offer other than themselves and their wonderful presence and charm.
They are gracious and kind and value tradition for the pure reason that it gives continuity to our lives. It gives us an anchor to hold onto during the storms of life. They offer us safe harbor and a rock to stand upon and hold onto when we have not yet found our own inner strength. They see our strength. They know we have potential. They loan us their strength, their values, their traditions until we can find our own. They nurture us and train us, then turn us loose and let us fly. If we have learned well, we may someday be one of them. We should value any acquaintance we have with one of these divine creatures. I know I value mine.
Do you know a southern lady? What do you believe is her greatest asset?