Thursday, July 12, 2012

On becoming a Belle in the Carolinas....

I didn’t grow up thinking myself Southern.  No, I just grew up.  I was reared in the mountains of North Georgia by a family who had also grown up there. Now I did have those relatives that lived in South Carolina but they didn’t seem all that different from us…well, their accent was different, but I forgave them that.  My parents were good, decent people but found their parenting influence more by the homogenized world of television than the culture in which they were formed.  They even worked when I was young, to rid us of the twang that is native to our South as a matter of preparing for the future.  Not until I, myself, moved to the deeply Southern state of South Carolina as a young newlywed did I realize how Southern I might not be.  See, apparently, many in North Georgia fell under the influence of all those “you’re not from around heres” that had flooded into Metro Atlanta over the last few decades and we were no exception.

I was fortunate though, long before my introduction to the culture of the Carolina’s, to have the influence of a deeply Southern lady in that of my first employer or I would have been completely lost in the the ways of a Belle.  She was what you could completely and thoroughly label a Steel Magnolia.  I was a waitress in a little cafe that she owned in my hometown throughout high school and into my first year of college.  She took me under her magnolia scented wings and began teaching me what I had missed out from my homogenized, modern upbringing.  She taught me about the differences in cut crystal and what real silver is, how to pick my china pattern, how to make a proper tea sandwich (and how to keep it fresh), she even helped me develop and directed my wedding. I also learned through observation how to be strong and direct in the ways that only a Southern Belle can be.   She was a beautiful creature, inside and out.  She was strong and competent in the areas of life that men generally ruled before the feminist movement happened, but she kept everything rolling in a decidedly feminine way.  She was Julia Sugarbaker long before Julia came to life on the TV screen.  Southern velvet on a steel frame; oh, she was my idle.  She watered that little Belle seed I had inside just waiting to bloom. 
When I moved to South Carolina, the first time 20 plus years ago, I realized that I still had a lot of Southern learning to do and I had better do it fast!  Honestly, I think I probably should have brought my parents up on child neglect charges in the things that they managed to not teach me that I had to know…yes, HAD to know. I am only kidding.....just a little bit.

I have come to realize that my upbringing missed much of what was considered standard for bringing up children in the true South.  I never took Cotillion classes, I never wore smocking, my Mama didn’t pass down any china, silver or linens to me, nor did she teach me to make cheese straws.  It was shameful.  I was an almost an adult before I attended my first funeral and tasted my first (and last) tomato aspic.  But, deep down, lurking below the surface was a Belle who was determined (as all true Belles should be…determined, that is) to come raring to the surface. 

9 comments:

Gabi said...

I think I have a belle inside, even though I have always lived in New England :) How wonderful you had such a great woman to teach you. If I ever make it down there, maybe you can pass along some wisdom ;)

Sundresses and Smiles said...

I absolutely LOVED this post, Bella!! I would have never known you didn't come by the whole Southern belle thing naturally--you are the epitome of everything a good Southern lady should be! xoxo

Lori said...

We moved to Louisiana when I was in the 7th grade and boy did I get a crash course in Southern. I have tried to make sure my girls have the belle genes in them. They can make their Grandmother's banana pudding and are great at their thank-you notes! Yes M'am.

Southern Living: Preppy Style said...

I think being Southern is something inside of you, your personality and demeanor, not necessarily geographical location. I would consider my persona southern however, I grew up in Kentucky (a great controversy exists as to whether Ky is considered southern or not) and now in south Florida (which is far from being considered the south even though it is in fact...the south!) I loved this post, fabulous!

Sues said...

I was crushed when we moved from Georgia to nasty Michigan when I was 8 months pg with Annelise - my baby girl was going to be born up north!!! THE HORROR!!! (I'm not really kidding... :-D) I worked hard instilling Southernness into them while we were up there; thank goodness we got back South in time for them really grow up. WHEW!

Kathie Truitt said...

I think your hometown was probably like mine - there were no cotillion classes because it was such a small town. I grew up in a small town in the Missouri Ozarks and in the big city they had those kinds of thing: debutante balls, etiquette classes, etc. My mother did however, teach me in the ways of domesticity, china patterns, silver and the proper way to set a table. When I graduated from high school I had no desire to go to college so she insisted I at least go to a finishing school which I did.

Rebecca said...

I really like this post, Michelle. It does give one something to think about.... my mom and grandmother were typical southern ladies with typical southern ways...but both of them were also very artistic, creative (a writer and a painter), forward thinking women. Looking back, I think probably they were fairly liberated in their thinking. I think it was their examples of behavior, manners, service to others, cooking, decorum, that taught me the lessons. I was never formally taught "a southern way", or anything label as "southern" but learned more by example and seeing how they did things, whats ladylike and appropriate behavior. And, those things I learned later were very typically southern.

Princess Freckles said...

What a lovely post. I know so little about being a Belle, but I certainly admire you!

Rosemary Grimm said...

Love this post. There are many sweet details in being Southern. Also, your post is a beautiful tribute to the employer who took you under her wing. Very special.

Rosemary