Thursday, November 8, 2007

Ring My Belle

Pop culture has always had a love affair with the Southern Woman. From Scarlett O’ Hara to the Sugarbaker sisters, Thelma & Louise to those Steel Magnolias, we drink them up time and time again. Like an absinthe, these characters are elusive, intoxicating, bittersweet, steeped in ritual…and sometimes just a tad hard to swallow. In fact, the word ‘absinthe’ actually derives from absinthium, which in Greek means “undrinkable.” Admittedly, these characters are inflated for entertainment value and sometimes pander to archaic southern stereotypes. But if you strip away the outdated trappings, if you look past the hoop skirts and the sweet tea, these silver screen belles reveal some delicious personality traits that continue to course through the veins of modern southern women.

I’m not really sure I fit the prefect southern girl profile. Early on I sensed brains and brass would take me on a slightly different track. I was probably even a bit smug in the fact that I operated outside the stereotype. Or did I? I wasn't a very good Junior Leaguer but I was Rush Chair for my sorority. I was never a husband-hunter, but I did marry quite young. I’ve never played down my smarts around a man, but I am an awfully good flirt. Any way you slice it, the dixie in me has been coming out more and more. Blame it on age, divorce, motherhood, who knows? I will be plodding along, handling the business of my day, and DING! …something rings a Belle buried deep in my southern psyche.

A few years ago I bought a fabulous new pair of smoking-hot designer jeans. I raced to the alterations shop first thing Friday morning to have them hemmed in time for my birthday party that night. I threw myself at the mercy of the alterations Maven. I cooed and apologized and begged and sweet-talked. I explained how I was recently divorced and this was my first birthday celebration as a single girl again and I just had to look fabulous at the party. Finally she agreed to have them ready for me later that afternoon.

Five o’clock arrived before I knew it and I jumped in the car to retrieve my jeans without a thought about what I looked like, which was pretty gamey. Black leggings with dried paint on them. A ratty oversized t-shirt that I grabbed from the pile of unwanted clothes my ex-husband left behind. I figured I would shower after I ran errands.

The alterations shop was utter chaos. A team of bridesmaids was wreaking havoc. Businessmen were impatiently flicking their claim tickets. One particularly handsome guy was being fitted for a tuxedo. The alterations Maven was nowhere in sight and her Worker Bee was not on top of things. I waited and waited and waited. Suddenly from across the room, Worker Bee barked directly at me, asking what I needed. I answered over everyone’s heads that I was picking up jeans that were a same-day rush. She pointed at me and replied loudly, “Oh yeah! The maternity jeans?”

What? Maternity jeans! Horror of all horrors. I know I look grungy but do I look fat? Time stopped. Chatter ceased. The air sucked out of the room. Everyone was staring at me to see how I might react, sizing me up to see if I was pregnant or if Worker Bee had just offended me. Truthfully I think she just made an honest mistake but Lord knows in my giant t-shirt I wasn’t looking too svelte. The awkward boom was lingering over all of us. I could see how uncomfortable it was going to be when I said I wasn’t there for the maternity jeans. Even Hot Tuxedo Guy was staring at me with a tinge of pity.


I smiled as sweetly as I could and said, “Yes!! I’m here for the maternity jeans! Are they ready?”

And just like that Worker Bee bagged up some absentee woman’s maternity jeans. I wrote a check and carried them out the door as fast as I could -- without endangering my fake baby of course.

What can I say? It was a southern girl moment that really rang my Hostess Belle. You see, we are great at playing hostess. Experts at flexing and bending and absorbing all negative energy to ensure our guests feel warm and shiny and wholly at ease. I guess sometimes it’s a skill that’s hard to turn off. It just seemed easier not to embarrass Worker Bee and make all those people uncomfortable.

So like a lunatic I drove the maternity pants around the neighborhood for about twenty minutes until there was a turnover in clientele. I went back to the alterations shop and promptly returned them for my own.

More and more daily experiences seem to strike a chord with a Belle inside me. If I see a woman walking and smoking, DING! There goes my Snobby Belle. Who knew? I myself will cuss like a sailor but I think it is beyond tacky for a woman to walk and smoke. Ladies please, for me, sit down if you’re going to have a cigarette. And when did it become ok for children to look so sloppy on an airplane? Remember the days when we got all dressed-up to travel?

When my daughter was invited to participate in Cotillion….DING! Nostalgia Belle. I had no idea I would be so excited. I’ve already bought her 3 pairs of white gloves with a little pearl closure at the wrist. I’m trying to find other places for her to wear them – which believe me is hard to do in Austin Texas in 2007.

One of the strangest side effects after my divorce?...DING! The Funeral Belle. Southerners love a funeral. And with no husband to plot my service I have become obsessed with documenting my funeral plans. The trumpets, the choir, gobs of white flowers. And afterwards a raucous gathering with my ‘Funeral’ playlist I keep on itunes.

Not long ago I was having a blusey Sunday. My daughter was with her dad. I had so much to do, yet somehow I was bored at the same time. I tricked myself into feeling under-the-weather, took to my bed for the day and found myself watching ‘Gone With the Wind’. Seeing Scarlett roll up her sleeves and save Tara really rang my Survivor Belle. I realize other women and men deal with much more than I do on a regular basis, but sometimes I get so worn down having to manage everything in this house on my own. The bills, the yard, the dog, the trash, the air-conditioning filter, the opossum in my attic. It’s draining. It’s depressing. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. But I really do give a damn, and frankly Scarlett’s grit was pretty damn inspiring.

So what does it for you? North, south, east, west. Set geography aside. Do you have a steel magnolia in you? Maggie from ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’? What about Leslie Benedict from ‘Giant’? If you were a Designing Woman would you be Suzanne or Julia? Maybe a little of both?

C’mon sugar, just tell us. What rings your belle?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Entertaining, clever, and right on. Comforting to those embarking or surviving. Keep the stories coming.