Southern Women, from Garden and Gun Magazine.

A beautiful, very long post about our sisters in the South.

During most of the time I was growing up, there was a very nice Air Force couple from Virginia living next door to us. This post explains exactly how the mom behaved. I liked her and her family a lot.

The problem was, there was a very basic culture clash between my mom and her (although again, I know they liked each other). You couldn’t go to the neighbor lady’s yard without being offered cold drinks, anymore than you could visit inside our house without being offered drinks and snacks. But my mom had been raised that kids never went inside other people’s houses to play (unless it was a pre-arranged visit or dinner invitation or slumber party or the like) and never accepted food or drink while playing. Man… there’s a social dilemma. Offend or sadden the nice neighbor lady (even though she’ll act like she’s not offended or saddened), or listen to your mom lecture you later on presuming on people’s hospitality? (Because of course your mom sees everything you do in the neighbor’s yard.)

Eeeeeeih, still makes my head hurt. Eventually a modus vivendi was achieved between the moms, but I don’t think they ever quite reconciled to each other’s concept of proper kid behavior.

I suspect my mom’s rule is because her generation’s Irish and German moms were a bit insecure of how their houses looked, unless they had time to prepare and make the place spotless. Also, because Mom grew up in neighborhoods where people’s financial status may not have been something they wanted to advertise, or should have strained by kids descending upon them. It may also have been to prevent setting off the Irish impulse to make people drink tea to the flood point, and the German impulse to make guests fill up their tummies and spoil their dinners, and all the other cultural preoccupations of ethnic folks in the neighborhood from all sorts of places.

It may also be an artifact of her growing up under rationing during WWII. Her family was lucky enough to have an extra ration card because her grandfather lived with them; other families weren’t so lucky. Meanwhile, my mom was feeding us a lot of grilled cheese and pinching pennies to make ends meet, when we were kids; so it may have set off memories; or fears that the neighbor kids would need hospitality she couldn’t afford. It’s a safety precaution too, of course, but only with people you don’t know; and really, the primary feeling was that you might be taking the bread out of people’s mouths. (This didn’t apply logically to our neighbors, because the dad was a fairly high up officer and made more money than my dad. But customs aren’t about logic.)

But yeah, since a lot of people’s hospitality customs make them feed a guest with the last crumb rather than themselves, or stuff you and then starve the rest of the week, there really is a place for insisting that you’re not hungry, that you can’t stop, and that maybe you’ll be able to do it some other time (but not letting yourself be pinned down). There’s also a place for remembering that, if you accept hospitality, you’re going to have to reciprocate. Can you reciprocate? Do you have room to reciprocate? Can you hold a picnic or something? Always the calculations in one part of your brain, while the other part is always trying to stop the calculations from spoiling other people’s fun.

But of course Southern people also come from a history of starvation and poverty. So what’s the difference? Tenements versus shacks? The certain knowledge that it always gets cold enough in the winter to kill you? Shrug.

Most kids in my class had slightly younger parents, and their attitudes toward hospitality were a lot looser. Most kids ran in and out of other people’s houses, and that kept increasing until the pedophile scare created playdates. Still, I know for a fact that my aunt (about ten years younger than my mom — she married my mom’s youngest brother) had other people’s kids at her table at least half the time, without previous warning by her sons that they were bringing anyone home. (But she hailed from Long Island, so that may be still another culture; and she came from the German school that you cooked for an army and made people waddle away from the table. And yes, she and my mom have culture clashes too.)

Anyway, a lot of people in the northern US have been raised this way, and it’s hard to get over. Hopefully other people will bear with us, as we struggle between enjoying their hospitality and accepting the risk of making them or us starve to death later.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Southern Women, from Garden and Gun Magazine.

  1. I cannot imagine inviting someone home without telling the rest of the household– let alone without telling whoever was cooking! Doesn’t matter if they were there for dinner or not, they’ll be asked if they’d like to stay.

    Come to think of it… basically, you cross the threshold, there’s not a lot that my gut response says I can do about removing you unless something really horrific happens.

    I’ve got to giggle at the Southern Belle article, though– they’re just describing a shared culture. Find it in small towns all the time. Kinda cool to realize we live in a time and place where that’s odd! A little sad, but kinda cool, too. (“Like Russian or Irish mythology,” says my brain. Yay, emotional reactions to small selections of various area’s myths.)

    • Well, my aunt had about five zillion older brothers who are all very popular, and my grandfather on my mom’s side was the kind of guy who is very popular, and so my cousins are both geeks and the kind of guys who collect friends like corners collect dust bunnies. And they would haul them all home at dinnertime, and then his friends found out that my uncle could cook and my aunt could cook for armies. So it would have been hard to keep them away; and my aunt wasn’t trying, because she likes a big full table, and she grew up with her older brothers always doing the same thing.

      And I think my cousins would call home if they were bringing more than three friends, but they knew there was always going to be enough food on the table for three extra teenage boys anyway. (My aunt has a separate refrigerator just for leftovers. Not joking.) Now, the kids paid for their supper by being questioned minutely about their doings… but honestly, most kids these days are starved for attention from adults, so I don’t think they minded terribly.

      Re: getting fed if you’re there — it’s pretty hilarious how hard it is to convince my mom not to feed us or any of our friends when we stop by. Because once you’re indoors, You Must Be Fed, even if you just ate. And if you don’t need to eat, you need to be sent home with food, or given snacks for the road. Or coupons, even. So yeah, it’s not that she’s ungenerous; it’s just that There Are Rules.

      And of course you get asked to supper if you’re there at dinnertime. (And my mom always has forty contingency plans for cooking extra food anyway, because she’s from an engineering family. It’s scary.) But it was a pretty solid rule in our neighborhood that your parents would call you home an hour before suppertime, so it was an extremely rare contingency. In my aunt’s neighborhood, it is not so.

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