As I sit here this morning during Easter weekend I am reminded of many southern traditions from my childhood and how they change over time. As I ponder many of these southern traditions I am reminded that a few needed to pass politely into history. There is still a few examples of bigotry and racial oppression, but for the most part most southerners today have shed these beliefs and traditions. For many they were never part of their belief systems or traditions in the first place. In my house the “N” word was of those words that was equal to or worse than the “F” word and if ya wanted an ass beating – say either. As this tradition quietly (or not so quietly) passes into history we all take a huge sigh of relief.
There are many of our traditions though that are slipping into history that I, for one, will go down kicking and screaming to defend before they go down quietly. I decided to make a list of these traditions and why I think they are worth fighting to keep.
BAD MANNERS ARE WORSE THAN NO MONEY
When my parasites (children for those nicer than me) were small and before they could understand adult concepts, I made them memorize and say little sayings to try to cement some things in their brains before those brains were too full of useless knowledge and commercial jingles to hear anything else. One of these was “bad manners are worse than no money” Manners in their simplistic form are designed to make people feel more comfortable. They are a set of rules that we all live by to show respect and caring for other people. Manners also show other people many important things about you. They show your upbringing, they show your level of respect for other people, they show your level of respect for societal rules and they show your respect for yourself. You can live in a shack, but if you know basic manners you can go anywhere with anyone and survive and thrive. I still hear my dad say to the kids every meal he eats with them “What’s important?” to which they reply “Manners Da”
GOOD OLE BOYS AND SOUTHERN LADIES KNOW AND UNDERSTAND THAT BEING HUMBLE IS A STRENGTH
Southern society has always prided itself on raising gentlemen and ladies. Our society today has seemed to embrace the term “redneck” as a catch all for southern gentlemen, but when I grew up there was a definite difference in being a “redneck” and being a “Southern Gentlemen”. They are called by many names, but the one I miss seems to be “Good Ole Boy”. A “Good ole boy” embraced all of the best traits of being a southern gentlemen. How to spot a good ole boy is easy. He says “yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir and no sir”. He hold doors for others and shows respect for his elders. He has a polite greetings for anyone he passes on the street and waves at people he doesn’t know. He always remains humble. This trait takes many a people in business off guard. He can be the smartest man on the planet and CEO of the largest company in the south, but if you ask him what he does for a living his answer will always be “I run a little company down in Atlanta” If the name happened to be Coke you would have to pull it out of him with pliers.
Now our ladies have rules too. Southern ladies fix food for anyone who has a surgery, a baby, or a death in the family. If you have a death in the family it can be an excuse to buy a new freezer to put the food. Southern ladies take pride in being humble and serving their community. Southern ladies take care of each other and know there is strength in each other. Please don’t think being humble means we don’t take care of ourselves or do not take pride in ourselves because that’s just a straight up myth. I never saw my grandmother have a grey hair, not do her make-up or not have her nails done in public until she was pushing 90. I still won’t go to the grocery store without mascara cause she would “roll over in her grave” I tell my husband all the time “I come from a looooong line of prideful southern women so it’s no my fault- just hush cause I’ll be ready soon” Steal Magnolia’s was the quintessential Southern woman movie. I miss the days of going to the beauty shop with my mama every week at a certain time. All the same women were there every week and listening to their conversations. I really wish I had known and had written some of the sayings down I would be rich. If they weren’t at the beauty shop they were at church. These women knew everything about each other. They made each other stronger just by being together. Southern ladies are made of stone so put them together and they become a wall who you can’t knock down with any weapon.
YOU WEAR YOUR BEST TO CHURCH ON SUNDAY MORNING
This is one I am convinced that big ole boulders are going to come whizzing at my head, but I’m going here just the same so throw away. Like it or hate it this is a southern tradition that seems to be going by the wayside and it makes me sad. Easter coming around every year seems to remind me lovingly of this tradition.
When I was little I would get up every Easter morning and run to see what the Easter Bunny had placed in my basket. There was always candy and a toy. We would play for a little while and then the best part of Easter morning came. It was time to get ready for church. It was the best part because I finally got to wear my “Easter dress” This dress which I had looked at lovingly and had wanted to wear for weeks I could finally put on. There had many a fight with mama for weeks as I had begged to wear it and was told no. It was laid out on my bed with everything else that was new. It only happened once a year, but there it was laid out for me. I had new underwear, new socks, new shoes and that pretty new dress and sometimes even an Easter bonnet. That means hat for those of you confused. After I was dressed I would put it on and look in the mirror and twirl a few times. FYI- all southern girls like to twirl- it’s pre-programmed in our DNA. We twirl in a pretty new dress and it doesn’t matter if we’re 2 or 80. Easter was the day you wore your very best. When you got to church everyone looked so beautiful and handsome in their new spiffy cloths. Jesus had risen on that day and we were showing him the respect that gift deserved by wearing our very best. Maybe that lesson is why I have such a hard time with the dressing for church tradition going by the wayside.
Now I am as guilty as the next person of not holding up this tradition as it was handed down to me. When I was young if you were a girl you wore a dress to a church service. It didn’t matter if it was a 11 am on Sunday morning or 6 pm Sunday night. It didn’t even matter if it was a Wednesday night during revival. If there was preacher in the pulpit a dress was expected. (Southern revivals are a whole different blog) There was a whole section in my closet that could of just been labeled church dresses. There was the play cloths, the school cloths and the church cloths and if mama caught you confusing the three there was hell to pay.
In general all methods of dressing has come down a few notches. Most men do not wear three piece suits to work and ties in most industries are no longer required. The pant suit has become the standard woman work place uniform including mine. I wear pants to church now some Sundays and there are still mornings while I put them on I am afraid my granny is gonna come haunt me. I still can’t bring myself to wear casual cloths to any church service. I still can’t even really allow the parasites to dress casual. All I hear is my grandmother in my head saying “If you have enough respect for the world to dress for them shouldn’t you have enough respect for God to do the same” That voice is loud and forceful and seems to come out of my mouth now to my own parasites as they get ready for church. There are not as many suits in their closets, but my mama and I still makes sure there are sports jackets, khaki’s, dress shoe’s for the boys and dresses that twirl for the girl.
This tradition was never about wearing khaki’s and a jacket or even a dress. This tradition was just always about wearing the best you had in respect for God. If the best you have in your closet is jeans and a sweatshirt then that is what you need to wear, but if you spend more time getting ready for the world during the week than you do for God on Sunday morning then think about where your actual priorities and respect are pointed.
So as I sit here today missing a lot of the traditions of my youth and thinking about how they have changed I am realizing that most true southern traditions won’t really ever go away. They will just change with the times. How we teach the future generations to be good ole boys and southern ladies will be up to us. The actual traditions may change it’s the message that’s important. The message of manners, humility, service, strength and respect can resonate and be taught in many ways. That is one of the great things of being a parent you get to teach your own parasites the lessons you find important in the ways you believe work. These were usually handed down to you in traditions and you will pass them down to your own even if they change a little with the times. My parasites may not have a new outfit laid out for them in the morning, but the best in their closet will be laid out and pressed and as we make our way to church I am sure somewhere my grandmothers voice will come sneaking out of my mouth again explaining why.