Bless Her Heart

I had lunch with a girlfriend today. She is truly a Southern woman. I enjoy talking with Southern women. I admire them. Although I've spent 28 years in the south, I was born in New Jersey to immigrant parents. It's quite apparent to me after all these years that southern charm is something you are born, not something to be acquired, try as I may.

Southern women, for instance, can say almost anything to a man and have it come off sounding like a compliment. With that perfect pitch and sweet little lilt, a Southern woman might say, "You are so fat. You are the fattest thing." In return, her male suitor will thank her for addressing him at all. Yet, and in a similar breath, a Northern woman might say to the same man, "Yo! Buddy, you're fat." And her male companion would quickly reply, "Right back at you, sister." The content is the same, but the delivery is oh- so- different. In this way, a Southern woman will triumph over her Northern sister every time.

Actually, I do not possess either a southern or northern accent. When I attended 3rd grade for the first time in rural Glade Hill, Virginia, my classmates greeted me with daily beatings because of my northern accent-- because I "tawlked like dis." At the same time, my British-born, mother would not allow me adopt the Southern drawl, threatening to lock me in a closet at my first "ain't."

What was a girl to do? You learn very quickly under just the right conditions to lose whatever accent you have. It benefited my career when I worked on-air, but from a strictly auditory standpoint, culturally speaking, I am Miss Generic-speak. The sound of my voice will not cause men to swoon as it might have were I a Southern woman.

However, it is not just the sound of a sweet southern drawl that enhances the charm and grace of Southern women. Southern women also possess a distinct ability to say exactly what they don't mean.

During lunch with my Southern girlfriend, we struck up a conversation about a woman with whom we both have great difficulty at work. About this woman, my friend said, "Sarah, bless her heart, just doesn't seem to understand. She was having a time of it in the meeting yesterday. Bless her heart."

I had my friend repeat the sentences back because it struck me as rather odd. I know my friend does not like Sarah. Why would she want her blessed? A wooden cross or stake through the heart, maybe, but my friend would never bless Sarah. This I know.

Then, it hit me. This was southern-speak. "Bless her heart" was a southern synonym for "F&*$& that bitch" or some other euphemism of choice. But a Southern woman-- a truly fine, proper, Southern woman-- does not have to resort to the common tongue to express displeasure. "Bless her heart" works perfectly well in a classic, condescending sort of way. I love it! But, being able to say exactly what you didn't mean while still being understood for what you really meant is a skill I have yet to master. Southern people understand other southerners. The rest of us are just out of luck.

It is also a known fact that at a very young age, proper Southern women learn to get what they want without ever having to use a question mark at the end of a sentence. Another fine, Southern woman shared a story about her daughter that illustrates the point. It went something like this.

"My five-year old daughter Camille looked on, as her older brother Drew shucked pecans one steamy August afternoon. I looked through the window and watched as Camille's desire to eat pecans grew with great intensity. Camille looked as if she was about to snatch the pecans right out of Drew's hand. At that moment, I wondered if I should intervene, but decided to wait to see what Camille would do.

Suddenly, a change came over Camille's expression. She then said to her brother, 'You look mighty strong there cracking those pecans.'

Drew's chest puffed up with pride and a smile came to his face. 'Would you like me to crack you some pecans?' he offered his sister.

'Why...yes!' she said with a huge grin on her face.

I knew at that moment that my 5-year old girl was going to be alright in this world."

The story fascinated me because it captured the Camille I know today as a 30-something woman in a large corporation. Camille instinctively has the ability to get what she wants wthout having to ask. And, just as her mother predicted, Camille has done just fine for herself in this big bad world. She and the other Southern women I know, always cause me to look at my own, less than gentile, behavior.

But try as I may, I don't have it in the genes for those charming southern ways. My roots are not southern. Charm school would be of no benefit. Thanks to Turner Classics, I am only left to watch Gone with the Wind, mesmerized by the quintessential Southern woman, Scarlet O'Hara as she works her magic on Rhett Butler. "Bless her heart," I think to myself. Bless her heart.


Mister Hand said...

My mother is a classic Southern Belle. For various reasons, I am accent-less, like yourself. My mother and I can hardly communicate with one another. The downside to a Southern Belle is that sometimes, in order to avoid saying something that's not genteel, they will say nothing at all. Or worse, they will say VOLUMES and allow you to stew through their rambling monologue until you finally scratch your head and say to yourself, "Hold on, I think she's trying to tell me to stop parking my car in the driveway."

That's a true story, by the way. I once had to sit through a HISTORY of my parents driveway. After at least three minutes (that felt like forty), from the pouring of the concrete to the straightwind-storm damage, I finally said, "Mom, are you saying you don't want me to park my car in the driveway when I come here?"

My mother looked sheepish as she replied, "It blocks your father in the garage."

Give me good-old fashioned Northern honesty over Southern "hospitality" any day. I like a woman (or a man, for that matter) who isn't afraid to say, "Hey, buddy, maybe a new kinda deodorant, eh? It ain't doin' the job, what yer usin' now. Maybe swap that out!"

My mother and other Southern Belles? They would just let me go on with B.O. stank. They would only mention it once I'd left the room. That's not my idea of courtesy.

Not that I have any B.O. problems--that was just an example.

Jamy said...

I spent 13 years in the South (I don't count the years in DC), 6 of them "formative" and came away with no accent. My parents, like yours, refused to have a Southern accent in the house. No "sir" or "ma'am" was allowed either--they were just that progressive. I also had to translate for my mom (native New Yorker) who took a couple of years to get used the Appalachian drawl of Eastern TN.

HarleyWriter said...

I know what you mean about that buttery southern belle accent. It's powerful. Last time I was through Atlanta, a local woman warmly asked me what time it was and I gave her my atm card.

KOM said...

I've got to agree with Mister Hand.

It's almost frightening to think of how tense a region must have been for an entire language to develop, the sole purpose of which is to avoid confrontation.

Just say it, already!

And I may be in the minority here, but southern accents don't do it for me. There's a woman on the Food Network that makes me want to scratch my ears off. I mean SCRAY-atch.

Xavierism said...

Let's do lunch! Hope you're enjoying your new space!


queenofsass said...

Yes, the good ole days when you & I were the only northern girls in the whole elementary school system. I think we had enough beatings (woopass)between the two of us to last the rest of our school days...and mom's re-education program over dinner on the proper way to speak. No wonder I have multiple accent syndrome...in the south, Im southern & in the north, Im northern.

Diane Mandy said...

I remember that in 4th grade it didn't improve. Everyone in class was seated in alphabetic order except me. I was behind the new boy from Alabama so that he could teach me "good english". Then, I was sent to a speech impediment class until my mum complained... those were the days!!

evercurious said...

I am from Texas. I have been assumed to be from NY on more than one occasion. I lack the drawl and the charm. I am way too blunt and way to crass to be considered a southern belle. I love it and all, but it can be annoying. That accent takes a long time to get that point across more often than not. Some are highly proud of it though. I have perfected the art of avoiding it. And I love the British culture. I hope my mom doesn't read this. I would get a lashing. J/K. (err,kind of.)

TamWill said...

Such a sweet dear you are, I think you gave a splendid example of southern women.

Thanks sweetie for the affectionate read!

Flourish & Blotts said...

Well I declare that you've hit the nail on the head! As a tranplant to Georgia I had to discover "bless her heart" the hard way. It sure is fun having southern belles as friends though! -Flourish

David said...

Born and raised in Louisiana, I can relate.

Xavierism said...

Hope you're enjoying Sunday evening!