Friday, July 02, 2010

A Southerner's Ten Commandments

Non-Southerners (the PC way of saying Yankees) just don't understand the Southern approach to life. We talk too slow. We worry about the wrong things. We never say what we mean.

But it can all traced back to the 10 Commandments of Being Southern. It's bred in us, especially Southern women, from the time our little bottoms are slapped and we open our eyes to the world.

1) Thou Shalt Always Display Good Manners. Now, this is not saying that Non-Southerners don't put stock in manners. They do. They just don't use them to the effect that Southerners do. It's much harder for someone to be rude to you when you're being nice to them. Don't holler and yell the next time you get bad service. Kill that cashier with kindness. Trust me, the poor blighted soul won't know what hit her.

2) Thou Shalt Never Rush. Non-Southerners -- well, the urban variety -- talk fast and they move fast and they eat fast. We Southerners know that such high velocity is only inviting trouble, for yes, the early bird may have gotten the worm, but what does that say about the luck of the early WORM?

3) Thou Shalt Always Remember That You Are A Direct Reflection of Your Mama's Raisin'. This, more than any other Southern Commandment is critical. It guides your behavior in ways that last long past the preacher's last prayer over your mama's casket. My mama's worst fear wasn't spiders or snakes or even a lizard loose in her house -- it was that she would be "hew-miiiiil-ee-ated." Yes, that's exactly how Mama said it. I laughed at her until I had a daughter of my own.

4) Thou Shalt Be Kind To Animals and Other Dumb Creatures, For They Know Not What They Do. Again, I'm not saying that Non-Southerners aren't kind to those who are vulnerable. They are, for the most part. But we Southerners tend to understand Commandment #4 applies to more critters than those covered with fur -- it applies to men, for instance, heinous husbands who say horrid things. And it applies to the less-genteelly brought up Southern girl who doesn't mind her manners and says something cutting and, my word, unforgivably direct.

5) Thou Shalt Always Be Hospitable. Yes, Non-Southerners can be hospitable, but we Southerners are truly brought up to believe that when we say, "C'mon in and stay a spell," we're opening our house up to you for anywhere from five minutes to five months. We're not going to turn you away hungry, even if it means stretching the spaghetti sauce with ketchup (a true story told by one of my friends, whose Dumb Critter Husband brought in a mess of good ol' boys for supper.)

6) Thou Shalt Uphold Tradition. Northerners don't understand why we put so much stock in tradition. They see us as resistant to change and progress. We, on the other hand, understand that things are always changing, and that if you wait long enough, it will work its way right back to where it was. Take, for instance, long straight hair and flare-leg jeans. Didn't we tell you not to throw those clothes out?

7) Thou Shalt Keep Weddings And Funerals Sacred. Closely associated with Commandment #6 is the one about Weddings and Funerals. Yes, you will attend every single solitary bridal shower -- the hardware shower, the lingerie shower, the Tupperware shower, the bridal-bridal shower -- that your starry-eyed engaged friend's mama is throwing. And you'll do it with a smile, because weddings are sacred. As for funerals, you'd best have a pan of home-baked lasagna in the freezer at the ready to take to the bereaved, because trust me, people will remember those kindnesses. And don't you dare think that bucket of greasy fast-food chicken will do -- if hard-pressed for time, throw together a care package of napkins, paper plates and cups, tissue and paper towels, or bring a big old ice chest full of ice.

8) Thou Shalt Honor Your Home. Southerners -- true Southerners -- know their home is where they were raised. True, they might get a wild hair and move up to New York City, but they're never FROM there. I know Southerners who've taken this commandment to the extreme ... there are spots in my county where you can drive for miles until you get to a house that doesn't belong to folks kin to their neighbors. And no, I'm not talking about marrying cousins. We don't do that. Er, not anymore.

9) Thou Shalt Honor Your Kith & Kin. This goes with Commandments #1, #3 and #4. Even if dumb old Uncle Butterball's drunk as a skunk and the old coot keeps mistaking you for a Hooter's waitress, you just smile and swat his hand. Then you go tell his wife, the long-suffering Aunt Mary Ellen, "I do declare, I think the poor old soul's forgotten his pills." That's all Aunt Mary Ellen needs to hear before she'll drag the dumb old thing out to the car by his ear.

10) Thou Shalt Never Apologize For Being Southern. Non-Southerners will assume Southerners, because of our studied indirectness, our slow, ponderous way with language, because of the way we get snookered into not one, not two, but three bridal showers for the same girl, that we are dumb. But we are not dumb. We're just treating people like we want to be treated, and as long as we don't venture above the Mason-Dixon line (or some city over-run by people who don't understand the importance of Commandment #3), we pretty much are treated that way.


Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

I was not raised a Southerner, but I live here now and can totally agree with these! Fun post!

Patty Blount said...

Oh, my ribs hurt! I'm moppin' my eyes. You are hilarious.

Hew-meel-iated... love that.

I love it!

Kelly Breakey said...

One of my favorite characters on TV is Brenda Lee Johnson on The Closer. I love her southern accent and how she always....ALWAYS kills them with kindness. I was raised right on the mason dixon line, but my Gram was southern. She never quite lost the accent and she would proudly school anyone who didn't understand how manners were "the only true thing that set us apart from the apes." I alwasy imagine her fanning herself as she says this. Thanks for the memory.

Linda G. said...

Oh, my goodness! You have those rules down, lady. My NC born-and-raised MIL would be proud of you. :)

Summer said...

Killing them with kindness...that's a for sure one. I actually said this exact phrase to my husband two days ago (we live in northeast GA). Great list!

Stephanie McGee said...

Gonna bookmark this one as my MC is from Atlanta. Good things to think about. Thanks!

Elliot Grace said...

Thou Shalt Never Rush

Northerners simply can't grasp this concept...thus the eternal scowl

Tawna Fenske said...

The wedding one cracks me up especially!

I remember when you were doing research for one of your books with a wedding that takes place in Oregon, and you were dumbfounded by my descriptions of how informal our weddings can be out here. I was reminded of this again a couple weeks ago when I attended the wedding of friend's daughter, and it dawned on me that roughly 75% of the weddings I've attended in my life included a bride who was either barefoot or in festive flip-flops.


ella144 said...

It's funny because it's TRUE. Heaven help me if I should ever embarrass my mother, or worse my grandma.

(Also, yay, another Southern writer! *waves* *clicks follow*)

Anonymous said...

:D Love this post. So hilarious!

I wasn't raised a Southerner, and the Southern city I live in is much too big for an actual Southern experience, but some of these are still prevalent here!

LR said...

Now I'm dying to watch Steel Magnolias again. :)

Cynthia Reese said...

Elizabeth, I swear, they're tattooed on our souls!

Patty, my mama said it just like that. And with The Kiddo, I've had to bite my tongue not to say it myself -- mostly when she wanted to wear something completely and totally inappropriate, like plaids with stripes.

Kelly, I love, love, love Brenda Lee! She has it exactly right -- and the writer has to be southern in order to be so close to the truth. And yeah, my mama said nearly the same thing as your Gram.

Linda, I probably committed sacrilege and forgot a few, or got 'em in the wrong order. Probably number #3 should have been #1.

Summer, if you're from NE Georgia, then you know what I'm talking about ... there's something so powerful about the word "thank you" delivered between gritted teeth -- kind of like, "I'm too well-mannered to give you the hit upside the head that you deserve, but I might lose my manners and soon!"

Stephanie, any time you need help divining the Southern Frame of Mind, just holler. I swear, we're a different bunch down here.

Elliot, too funny!

Tawna, I knew something was up when you didn't understand my so-called Oregon girl's reference to tulle. How can you possibly have a wedding without tulle, and yards of it? And barefoot? My mama would come out of her grave if I let The Kiddo get married barefoot. (And she won't get married until she's 30 at least.)

Ella144, I totally forgot about shaming grandmothers! Eeek! That's a sin all of itself. Your granny can do what she pleases, but we most certainly have to avoid any faint possibility of shaming her. My grandmother passed away at the age of 94 (we think -- she stayed 40 so long we lost count, and nobody dared ask her), and I miss her sorely.

Sandy Shin, glad to know even a big city can't completely stomp out the Southerner's 10 Commandments!

LR, that's another movie that sort of got it right -- Sally Field did SUCH a good job! Love that movie!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Love your Southern Commandments. I'm from the west (as in Utah) so I guest I'm a westerner? I don't know, but I'm sure some of the south's commandments could be applied. I'll have to think of some Western commandments. :)

Anonymous said...

Cindy, your brother-in-law (my dear brother James Hilton) lives by #2. We learned a long time ago to add at least 30 minutes to whatever time he said he'd be somewhere. He NEVER gets in a hurry! I know I'm slow, but he's got me beat!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Can I ship my boys off for some lessons in #3? :)

Anonymous said...

This is fabulous! Although, sadly, I'm a bit behind on some of these. Where I am slow in everything I do, I talk really fast. Especially when I'm high on energy.

Most interesting, I wasn't raised with tradition. I did't have a good raisin' and EVEN STILL I am striving for tradition in my home. I want my kids to have it. Tradition must be in the southern blood.