"You can't help being ugly but, bless her heart, you could stay home." - unknownI was thinking about Texas the other day. I think it’s odd in the most wonderful of ways that I had to move geographically north (to Tennessee) to be more culturally south. Sure Texas has a many Southern traditions to which they adhere. But, it is Texas after all. What’s the saying – Texas is like a whole other country. They march to the beat of their own cultural drum and have their own social rules and mores.
I was also thinking about the friends I have there – a fantastic and diverse group of people. Tonya is my Texas friend who also hails from the deep South. Now, I’m not one to name drop, but Tonya is from one of the most heralded Southern families EVER. You’ll have to wonder which one. Trust me, you’ve heard of them. When together, Tonya and I both, without even knowing it, start speaking in our best Southern drawl and bat our eyelashes at our husbands or other dinner party goers to get them to bring us more white wine.
My friend Sharla, a native of west Texas, is married to Kes, a transplant from the United Kingdom. Kes, who has lived in this country for nearly 15 years probably, is still the quintessential Brit. He’s into gardening, good food and wine and imported beer. He, of course, has impeccable British manners. Picture someone from the South having a party with someone from the UK. It’s manners overload! The debates over cucumber sandwiches alone were legendary… When he, Tonya and I get together, it could often be an anthropologic experiment, of sorts, about who had the best manners – deep South or Great Britain. Sharla likes to laugh at us all. She’s a good West Texan with too much common sense to praddle on about such things.
While at a dinner party one night, Tonya and I were talking. I don’t remember the topic. It could have been a famous person or other local person of note. I know this because both she and I would rather walk on our own tongue, put sugar in our cornbread, eat Miracle Whip or wear white after Labor Day than gossip about a mutual friend.
The conversation went something like this: Me: “You know she is the most dishonest, lying woman I’ve met lately. She really is horrible.” Tonya: “You know she doesn’t even speak to her mama anymore.” Me: “I hadn’t heard that. Well bless her heart.” Tonya: “I know, bless her heart.”
Now Kes has come over to where we’re talking and is staring, open mouthed at us. As our wine glasses were full, we know that something else must be piquing his interest. Finally he says, “How do you do that?” “Whatever are you talking about?,” we answer. He responds, “You were absolutely bad mouthing that woman and then with the tone of you voice and three words you negated the whole thing!” Then he said mockingly, “Bless her heart.”
Then the lesson on Southern manners began. In the South we really don’t want to talk bad about anyone. But when “forced” we will. The phrase is most commonly used when referring to someone beauty – or lack thereof. For example: “Did you go to the wedding? I know you saw that bridesmaid. That shade of green really isn’t her color - bless her heart!”
I think we Southern ladies should pride ourselves on our ability to cleverly disguise an insult. Too many regional differences are being buried like Confederate money in the back yard. I hope this one stays. So ladies, the next time the occasion arises, bless someone’s heart that really needs it!