Southern Hospitality

*DISCLAIMER – and I hate disclaimers, but it is what it is….I am NOT racist.  I am, in fact, a healthy dose of Native American along with the whitebread of England.  My maternal grandfather was a full-blooded Apache/Cherokee, and my maternal grandmother was German/Irish.  On the paternal side, strictly English. What follows is a true story.  I’m just the messenger.*

In the 1960s, my mother met and married a distinguished gentleman from the South.  Soon after, he became my stepfather.

Mom had been born in rural Indiana, but  never really a country girl she and my dad had moved to the big city (St. Louis) when I was five.  

Soon after, they decided to divorce.

She loved the big city life, and once worked at the St. Louis Playboy Club – and before you get all excited, this was a regular nightclub – as the bunny who played bumper pool with guests.   She was good, and once beat Minnesota Fats in a best of three series.  He was so impressed (and I’m sure her beauty had little to do with it…yeah, right) he gave her an ebony and ivory custom made pool cue.

She still has it, and I have dibs.

After she and Dad split, Mom took a job working for a major radio station in St. Louis.  From her desk, as secretary to the station manager, she met celebrities and sports figures, movie stars and recording stars of the day.

Yet, when it came right down to it a li’l ol’ country gent is the one this dark-eyed, black-haired exotic beauty fell for.

He’d come from the South. 

The Deep South…as in southern Alabama.

His family wasn’t into cotton, and all that that implies.  They had a modest farmhouse and acreage on the outskirts of town. 

But most of all, they had status.   In the South, status means something.  Mind you *I* have no idea what it means, lacking status myself, but I have often heard that it means something so I’ll go along with it.

They married in the winter of 1968 and we planned a summer road trip – me, new dad, new sister and mom – to meet our new family.

As the trip got closer Mom grew increasingly anxious.  She worried she wouldn’t fit in, that the southerners wouldn’t take to this Yankee, and so on.

She knew that her big coming out, to the social circle, was going to be an afternoon tea.

They aren't wearing gloves! Tsk..tsk..simply scandolous.

No, really, they still have these things in Alabama.  Complete with hats and white gloves.  It’s a very honored tradition.

The day of the tea arrives, and Mom dresses in her nicest summer dress, fixes her hair and make-up and left off the gloves – everyone simply had to marvel at her custom wedding ring set, so why bother?

I wasn’t present, it was a strictly grown-up affair, and that was fine with me.  I had seen a small pond, full of frogs, and I was intent on capturing a few, so I spent my time failing at that.

After the tea, I went inside to find my Mom crying on Dad’s shoulder.

“They hate me!” she sobbed.

“No, they don’t.” he said, patting her reassuringly.

“Really?”, she sniffed.

“Really”, he said smiling at her.

And that was the end of it.   Although I’m pretty sure it was followed by a generous application of alcohol.

I didn’t find out, then, what the problem was.  I found out a few years later, and what follows is a recounting of the event that caused the meltdown….and I should preface it by saying that my mother, with her Native American blood, tans easily…and darkly.

The tea nearly over, the ladies huddled together as Mom awaited their verdict.

Was she in?  Out?  Granted, they had seemed rather reserved, but Mom just thought that was the way southern ladies were. And, she desperately wanted to be accepted into this society. 

She wrung her hands and paced the garden path, not even noticing the sweet and heavy lilac scent in the air, as she pondered these things.

At last, one of the group came to talk to her.

Gloved-Hand-Fancy-Hat Spokeslady for the group:  Ms. Johnson?  We were just delighted to make your acquaintance.

Mom: Thank you! I was delighted to spend the afternoon with all of you.

GHFHS: There is just one, minor, problem….ummm…detail we needed to clarify.

What could it be?  Did I use the wrong fork, chew with my mouth open, uncross my ankles…WHAT??  

Mom’s mind raced.

Mom:  And that is?

GHFHS:  Well, to put it delicately, Ms. Johnson, we were wondering….

Mom: Yes?

GHFHS:  Are you normally that…..dark?

Mom said she was speechless, although her first inclination was to burst into laughter.   She also didn’t fully understand the implications.

An awkward silence ensued, broken only when another of the group walked up and said it was time to go.

The South, where it was always 1940 in the minds of some.

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Posted on August 8, 2011, in Maybe I'm The Only One Who Thinks This Is Funny, Random Crap, What the flippity-flop? and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Sweetie, here in Tennessee, even in 2011, attitudes are still like that. In some circles. So many stories: My hometown newspaper’s refusal to print a pic of my dad and his commanding officer, in the ’60s, because said officer was black; my own mother refusing to use a fitness center because when she went there it was “a sea of black”; my uncle moving my cousin from one dorm room to another at a local university because he didn’t want his son rooming with a “colored boy”. I refuse to repeat what my grandmother has called our POTUS. There are very few of my family members that I can stand to be in the same room with. I love them, but I can no longer control my anger and temper around them because of their prejudices.

  2. PS: Sorry to be a Negative Nancy. It’s just, you know…ninjas.

    Love your wee blag. 🙂

    • Thanks, you funky sapien you.

      I’ve live in Texas for over thirty years, and can honestly say that racism is not as prevalent here as elsewhere in the South.

      Sometimes I go to Alabama and think I’ve stepped back in time some fifty years.

      Like you, I have soooo many stories to tell. None of them good.

      Sigh….

  3. My mother was only about 1/16th Apache, but it really showed. She would also get quite dark in the summers. While I was a toddler, she babysat for a friend who had a girl, a month younger than I. I was a pale, almost ghostly looking, child with blue eyes and almost white straight hair. Her friend’s child was a beautiful mocha brown with dark brown eyes and an adorable brown Afro. She took both of us to pick up my siblings from school and the crossing guard started telling her how beautiful we were and asked, “which one is yours?”. My mother, being who she was, answered in a serious tone, “both, they’re twins” and walked away before the guard had time to process it.

    My mom was also asked if she had a green card more than once when applying for jobs. All of that was in the Chicago area from the ’70s to the ’90s.

    My eldest was told by a guidance counselor two years ago in Las Vegas, that she should consider changing her first name before entering the workforce because it sounds “too black.”

    • Sigh….some people, right? When I was little I used to stay with my great-grandparents a lot. They lived right down the street from a woman I’d swear was the model for Aunt Jemima syrup, and I loved that woman. I think she had about elebenty hunnert kids, but there was always room for one more at her table, and that woman could cook and sing gospel and she was the warmest person I knew. I don’t think I even made a distinction in skin color, and to their credit, neither did anyone else in my family.

  4. At least you can leave Alabama. I have to wait until Xmas. And yes, it’s bad here.

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