Recently a new friend heard me describe myself as a Southern Lady and not being familiar with the term asked me, “What is a Southern Lady”. I told him I would have to think about it and so I have been pondering it and think I may be able to shed some light on this subject.
There are as many different types of Southern Ladies as there are women in the south and there are all ages, sizes and personalities. Trying to decide what all these women had in common was not easy but these are a few traits I see in most of these ladies.
I am basing these common traits on those wonderful Southern Ladies who raised me – mama, grandmother, and all the ladies of Camden Alabama who helped raise all the children of our small, Southern town. They all had a hand in molding me into the person I am today.
The first trait that is see is graciousness. It made no difference to mama who, how many and when company might appear at the door for they were all welcomed and asked if they would like a glass of tea and something to eat. Graciousness in the South usually includes food and drink whether simple or fancy and many of us are excellent cooks and enjoy sharing our dishes with others. It is always served with a smile and you are made to feel welcome even if you dropped by uninvited.
Being gracious and kind is most important to a Southern Lady even if she is not especially fond of you. Mama always said that being unkind is not acceptable even if you are gritting your teeth as you give them a hug and a, “Come on in out of the heat, and how is your mama and them?” We always ask about the family beginning with mama and going down the list of children, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws and outlaws. We really do care about them for family in the South is one of the foundations of our society. We may not like all the kinfolks but we love them and care for them.
Another important rule of being a Southern Lady is when you answer that door you will look your best. I can remember my mama taking off her apron, combing her hair, and putting on a dab of lipstick before she opened the door. We try to look our best most of the time which means not appearing in public in hair curlers, without some makeup, tastefully dressed and a smile on our faces. I told my friend there are 3 necessities for me to be seen by others – earrings, mascara and a little bit of lipstick. My hair is cut short so a few swipes with a comb and I am presentable. We realize that how each of us look represents all Southern Ladies and we want to look gorgeous or as close to it as our genes permit.
Food is a huge part of being Southern for we feed you well. If you are not a good cook you always know a someone who is and you buy it and put it on your best china. Our home economics teacher, Miss Leacy, taught us all the basic food groups for a Southern lady – biscuits, pie crust, potato salad and pound cake. There are many other dishes we pride ourselves in serving but these are your necessities and if yours are not the best you have a cook who can cooks these or you know where to buy them. It would be a sin not to have a pound cake on hand at all times to carry to new neighbors, a death, illness, or church dinners. Feeding our family and friends is a huge part of our life and we do it well whether we prepare it or someone else does.
Thank goodness in today's south it is acceptable to use pretty paper plates and napkins and we don't have to get out the good china, silver and crystal most of the time. Of course on special occasions we have to bite the bullet and get all this ready. It may not be the most expensive but you get out your best for special events for we are gracious and hospitable and our guests deserve the best.
This observation could go on for pages and pages but these are just a few ideas of what makes us special. Three flowers come to mind when I think of Southern Ladies. First is the magnolia for like us, it is beautiful and smells wonderful. The scent is sweet with a little bit of citrus or tartness to remind you that though we are beautiful and sweet we have a strong side and can be a little bit tart. It is also a hardy flower which is why we sometimes refer to ourselves as “Steel Magnolias” - hardy, strong and a backbone of steel.
The second flower I think of is the gardenia. This flower smells wonderful and you can smell it all over the garden. It is a white and pure but is fragile like most of us. We give our all, especially to that Southern Gentleman, which leaves us open to bruising and pain. Like the gardenia we bruise easily sometimes.
The third is the wild honeysuckle vine. Smell good, wild and will wrap you up in our soft southern drawl and love you to death. If you don't watch out, like the honeysuckle vine, we will have you wrapped around our little finger and you will be loving every minute of it.
As I said, these are just a few of the traits of a Southern Lady for I could write a book and maybe I will someday. Gracious, caring, strong, sweet, and kind and most of all good to look at and enjoy. This what we are and we are born that way and aren't you glad?
The Georgia Peach