(Reprinted from The Times and The News Star, April 18)
The maturing Southern woman is a lot like most any other woman, only always with better recipes, usually with better looks, and most times with better seats to your bigger college football games.
Usually better cookware and pom poms, too.
While not perfect, this is a breed that, more than any other, lives really close to that ballpark.
Maybe it’s because I have been around them all my life, but I am particularly hurt when a Southern woman passes away. It’s like a great book going out of print. Maybe worse than that. Maybe it’s more like a favorite picture being lost, and the negative’s gone, and all you’re left with is the picture in your mind.
Part of life in a fallen world is the painful fact that even the fairest of flowers fade.
Dixie Carter, a “Designing Women” star who played a Southern woman both on television and in real life, passed away this week, a young 70. Hurt me. And I didn’t even watch her shows. But her name was Dixie. And she spoke with a tone smoky and assured. She was from a town called McLemoresville in Tennessee, and her parents ran a store that was part grocery, part dry goods.
Can’t be all bad.
Only two weeks ago, another of my favorite Southern ladies died at 70. She was my friend and she’d been sick for a year. But just in that little window of time I got to know her, she made me feel better about myself.
The real pros do that for you.
They give the world a lot of flavor, Southern women do. And not just in the kitchen.
I am no rookie in the Southern Women League. One of my grandmothers was an Inez. The other was a Ruth. My mom is a Vera, but don’t tell her you know that; she prefers her middle name, Lou. When she’s in Rocky Branch, she’s called the more formal “Vera Lou.” Some things, you just can’t run far enough to get away from. Not even mommas.
(Come to think of it, the Southern woman catches a break in that she can be named Fannie and no one laughs.)
Inez could fry chicken and make strawberry shortcake homemade, and when she retired from nursing she sat on a footstool really close to the television set to watch soap operas and on-their-way-to-prison preachers. She was for sure Southern but, since she had to raise five kids alone, she was too busy to put in all the work necessary to earn any sort of advanced Southern woman degree, which requires some leisure.
Here’s where Ruth excelled. She had hats. She had heels. She had vanilla extract.
She had looks and a man who’d dance with her from time to time. She had a temper, a cast iron skillet, a sense of humor, a perfume cabinet and a big handbag. When she was in the area, you knew it. If you didn’t hear the gum smacking, you smelled the Kool filtereds. Or the dark chocolate pie. She made you laugh just about all the time, most of the time without meaning to.
How could you not miss a woman like that? She was straight out of a short story by Flannery O’Connor, speaking of solid Southern women. O’Connor knew her kind came in 3D only.
From Scarlett O’Hara to Moms Mabley to Minnie Pearl to Rosa Parks to Aunt Theeta, Southern women leave a mark. Sometimes it’s baseball stitches, but most times it’s lipstick on your cheek.