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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.