When I was in high school I was given an essential gift for any Southern girl- A Southern Belle Primer or Why Princess Margaret will never be a Kappa Kappa Gamma. My great-aunt Betty gave this to me with her sly sense of humor. I was working on becoming a Southern grandmother’s nightmare. I dyed my hair pink and wore ripped up, second-hand clothes all of which I had either embroidered on or decorated with song lyrics. I didn’t attend church nor hold to their political views. In preparation for our visits to my grandparents’ house I was encouraged to tone down the way I dressed and avoid debates.
I don’t mean to give you the wrong impression. This was a humorous, kind household but it was also all ways Southern. So when Aunt Betty sent me this book out of the blue I was both pleased to have been recognized in my family as having a sense of humor but also as having my own choices. The inscription read:
A future Southern Belle- if she wants to be one-
Much love, Aunt Betty
I had completely forgotten about this incredible gem of a book until my friend Anita came to visit this past weekend. Being Canadian she gets an extra kick out of reading it and looks for it when she comes to visit. Until we studied abroad together she had not been so fortunate as to have been exposed to some of our lesser known traditions.
For example Anita did not know that a bridesmaid’s shoes should match the punch nor was she aware of the shame associated in using Miracle Whip. People who use Miracle Whip are clearly from the Midwest (my mother is from Oklahoma so I grew up with this unsavory ingredient).
I read “A Southern Belle’s Ten Golden Rules” and laugh at rules about dating sorority sister’s exes or “Never serve pink lemonade at your Junior League committee meetings. It has Communist overtones.” but in reality there are a couple I would never stray from. I feel very uncomfortable wearing white before Easter or after Labor Day. It’s as though I can tell the Southern fashion police is watching me from afar and taking notes. I also never miss an opportunity for a thank you note. While I have recently been slower with my reply times (enter excuse based on pregnancy here) I never forget to send one. I’m a modern girl and have been known to chew gum in public and once upon a time I also smoked on the street… but I always knew it was extra rebellious to do so.
The best thing about the primer is that some parts are serious. There are actual instructions on how to use a finger bowl and the ten ways to spot a belle outside of the South are spot on. While these all pertained to women like my grandmother and her sisters, only a few are still around with young women today:
- She calls her father “Daddy” no matter her age (guilty)
- Iced tea is an appropriate drink no matter the weather
- Her parties all have themes (I wish!)
Now you can find many books that both adore and lovingly mock Southern culture and in particular Southern women. Most everyone has seen The Sweet Potato Queen books or We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier. Back then this was the first time I had seen such a thing and I can’t help but still love it. I find it endearing and ridiculous all at the same time. When it comes down to it I, too, went to cotillion and wore white gloves. I won’t ever stop referring to my parents as Mama and Daddy and I do believe chicken salad is one of the best comfort foods.
If you’re unfamiliar with all the best parts of this insanity I suggest you buy yourself a copy and watch a Designing Women marathon. You should be set after that.
Bless your heart.