- Cullman, Alabama


January 12, 2014

SOUTHERN STYLE: Be yourself or at least act like you're interested

When I think of the phrase “To thyne own self be true” or in more modern language, simply “be yourself,” I often think of Southern mothers and their advice to their daughters.

This advice is meant to instill morals, teach integrity, foster impeccable manners, breed upstanding community activists and good posture. It comes with the territory of being a mother. It is passed down from generation to generation — and don’t think you are one of those moms who doesn’t care about the social graces of your grandmother! Just you wait until your lil’ darlin’ goes on her first date!

And there’s absolutely no sense in thinking you can cram all of these lessons in at the last minute…oh, no! You must start working on them from the minute that chubby cheeked princess can toddle up to the dining table.

For when she goes out to dinner with a boy, she will be representing several generations of your family on both sides. People will notice if her elbows are propped up on the table, or if she slurps through her straw, and word will get around about how her Momma didn’t teach her proper table manners.

So, with that warning in mind, prepare to forge ahead with your “princess in waiting,” bringing her up to speed on things like these crucial decisions.

The following are actual questions and answers from my own daughters, who are 13 months apart. And these are my actual answers, entirely serious, no joking at all.

Q: Momma, what should I order?

A: Chicken fingers are always safe, as long as you don’t dip them in something that will drip on your blouse. (They still order chicken fingers when they go out to eat, and they are in their 30s now!)

Q: Momma, I don’t know what to talk about…(even though she’d been talking to this boy on the phone for hours on end, face-to-face conversation is altogether different!)

A: Talk about him, hon. Boys never tire of talking about themselves, their cars, last night’s football game, or their guitars. And act like you are interested in what he is saying — at least nod your head occasionally. Just act like you are interested, even if you don't know what an overhead cam or a forward pass is.

Q: Momma, what should I say if I have to go to the restroom during the movie?

A: Just say “I’ll be right back.” That also works if he can’t keep his hands to himself — you just go to the lobby and call me. Your daddy will be right over there to pick you up!

Q. Momma, I know you said to let him open the car door for me, but what if he doesn’t?

A: Then stand there until he does. And if he reaches over the seat to open it, just turn right around and come back in the house. There are more fish in the sea, and with better manners!

Q: Daddy, why are you sitting there with these guns all over the table?

A: I’m cleaning them. Be sure you invite that boy in and introduce him, you hear me?

Q: Momma, did you kiss Daddy on your first date?

A: I think I just heard the oven timer go off…I’ll be right back.

Q: Momma, why do I have to know the difference between a salad fork and a dinner fork? I don’t even eat salad.

A: Because someday you might, and then you will know which to use. Besides, the silverware your grandmother left you includes both and you just need to know, now pay attention!

Q: Really, Mom, Granny walked around with a book on her head? In this picture she looks like there was a pole stuck down the back of her blouse…

A: It was a yard stick, not a pole, and yes, be careful, that book is sliding…

Q: Mother, I’m nervous about meeting his parents. What if they don’t like me?

A: Honey, just be yourself! Be careful not to spill anything on your dress, say “yes ma’am” and “no, sir” and watch which fork you use! Be sure to take the straw out of your drink so you won’t accidentally slurp, and take small sips so the ice won’t smack you in the face and get tea all over your dress. Oh, and for goodness’ sake…stand up straight! Just relax and be yourself — you’ll do just fine!

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