Southern Girl Academy: Grades


Your lessons here at Southern Girl Academy have come to an end for the semester. It is with great pride the board bestows on you the honor of the title Southern Lady.

Mind your manners,
Savannah Butler and Kerri Jackson Case


Southern Girl Academy: Foreigners

As the Yankee-in-Residence here at the Southern Girl Academy, my goal is to help bridge the gap between the graceful belles fortunate to have been born below the Mason-Dixon Line and those ChapStick wearers up North.

Now, before you choke on your sweet tea, I feel compelled to tell you that I am actually only three-quarters Yankee. My maternal grandmother, and one of my greatest influences in life, was born and raised in Arkansas. Though she relocated and married a Northerner, her home was never lacking in fried potatoes and visiting friends with unmistakable drawls. And, when I expressed interest in attending a university in the South, she drove me to the campus and co-signed the loans.

Still, despite her best efforts or the fact that I had made countless trips to the South to visit aunts, cousins, and the like, I was woefully unprepared for the ensuing culture shock. I’ve compiled a few key items I wished I had known as I clumsily attempted to transition into Southern society. If you are new to the ranks of the South, this lesson is aimed at aiding you in your journey. If you’re a veteran belle, maybe this will help you help the poor girl who just confused the waitress by ordering “pop”.

  • Yankees: For the first several months of my new Southern life, people kept calling me “Yankee”. Puzzled, I replied “No. I’m a Cubs fan.” For reasons that eluded me, the conversations often ended there. Finally, a kind soul explained to me that a Yankee was someone of Northern birth. And that this generally wasn’t said as a compliment. A brief synopsis of the War of Northern Aggression followed. I listened carefully, all the while thinking, “Boy, that war sounds a lot like the Civil War.” Eventually, I came to understand that my Yankee education on the matter (“Slavery, bad. North, good.”) lacked a few salient details. The cuts ran deeper here, even a century and a half later.

Eventually, my Yankeeness became more of a novelty than an insult. One day I asked a friend of the family how long I would be a full-fledged Yankee. He replied “7 to 10 years… or until you lose the accent.” When I married a Southern boy, the friend decided to waive the rest of my sentence. His father, however, disagreed and noted that “just ’cause a cat has kittens in the oven, that don’t make ’em biscuits.”

  • Dry counties: Also in my first few months as a stranger in this strange land, I was quite confused by the weather patterns. And by how interested other students on campus seemed to be by them. Was there an underground meteorological cult I didn’t know about? Why else would college boys care so much about dry counties? Most alarming to me was that the county I lived in was apparently experiencing quite a drought. Yet, the next county over was declared “wet”. So it rained all the time just 20 miles away, but not here? That’s odd! A kind soul, probably the same one who informed me I was a Yankee, let me know that a “dry county” did not sell alcohol. Should you desire libations, you had to travel to the nearest “wet county” to make your purchases. I grew up in a place where the Beer Garden was the primary fundraising tool for my high school. My parochialhigh school. Even as a non-drinker myself, it took some time for me to get used to the fact that Wal-Mart here had two whole rows of extra sheets and towels where the beer and wine was supposed to be.

    In Illinois, being attacked by a masked assailant doesn't even alarm the neighbors. My sister (in the mask) and me, circa 1985

  • Snow days: I nearly passed out the first time I heard of a Southern school closing because snow was forecast. Forecast. Not a single flake had fallen.  In the North, snow days are just, well, days. Unless there is a true multi-day blizzard, very little changes. People wear ski masks for reasons other than robbing banks. The snowplows barrel down the street at 4AM and wake you up. Then, just as you fall back to sleep, a neighbor fires up the snow blower to clear the walkway. (Maybe this is why Northerners are often perceived as both loud and grouchy. Or maybe it’s because their car is covered in salty grime for months on end.) Up North, life is essentially the same when it snows, just colder. Here, not so much. Everything closes. Not until the snowplow comes by. Until the snow melts. Upon further consideration, yes, it makes perfect sense. Why would the South invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in snow removal equipment when the temperature 2 days later will be 75 degrees? Just go home and enjoy some peace and quiet. Nevertheless, should you encounter a Yankee experiencing her first Southern snow day, kindly suggest a few books she might read or other ways to pass the time. And when she insists she’s been driving in “this mess” all her life and sees no point in sitting at the house, arguing will be pointless. Staying off the roads and out of her way is a better option.
  • Friends: In addition to the ones I’ve shared here, I’ve learned many more lessons about Southern life. For example, I’ve learned that Maker’s Mark is a much-revered kind of bourbon and should not be confused with Member’s Mark, which is the store-brand at Sam’s Club. I’ve learned that Southern gals sympathize with one another should a Southern beau insist upon hanging something taxidermied on the wall. I’ve learned that kindness is the best way to deal with one’s enemies. I’ve learned that sweating is optional but hard work is not. You’re probably assuming that I’ve learned all these things from my Southern friends. But you’re wrong. Because the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that Southern girls don’t have friends. Before you give yourself over to the vapors, let me explain. Southern girls don’t have friends. They have family. Even if you were born in the blustery North. Even if you have never seen Steel Magnolias. Even if you live here for years and still talk funny. No matter what. Once you leave the realm of “acquaintance” and Southern girl takes you under her wing, she takes you into her heart. You’re there for life. You are her sister. It’s non-negotiable. Because, after all, arguing with a Southern girl is futile.

Audreya Cole Parks was born and raised in Illinois but got here as soon as she could. She lives in rural Arkansas with her husband, two lovable but neurotic fur babies, and a 9 point deer carcass. She watches an inordinate amount of TV, constantly bumps into door jambs, and has a geeky day job you don’t want to hear about. She also loves cheese. A lot.

Southern Girl Academy: Showers (No Rainboots Required)

While the tradition of showers held for new moms/brides is as old as 90’s (1800’s- not 1900’s), today’s versions are meticulously planned EVENTS  guaranteed to make even Martha Stewart swoon.  Well, not swoon so much as she has not one, not two, but an entire division of her perfect homemaker-wannabe empire built around these events. And furthermore, these aren’t just events, they’re considered industries.

The original purpose of hosting such events was to ‘shower’ the recipient with gifts suitable for starting a new home or bringing home baby. Today’s events are grandly planned and meticulously executed. This is a primer and not the “be-all, end-all authority” (I’m looking at you, Martha). My narrow focus is to bring the essential elements and planning worksheets to the forefront of southern traditions. If you’re not using a multi-tabbed excel spreadsheet, then you’re OBVIOUSLY doing it wrong.

Google baby/wedding shower checklist and start downloading now. Also, let me be perfectly honest for a moment- start planning as early 12 weeks out. My basic rule of thumb for timeline is 12 weeks ahead of the date. Anything less will stress you, baby mama or bridezilla- especially if you live in a big city or have an insane budget to spend- caterers cost money but more importantly, they cost time.

Take a peek at a few resources I gathered up in a 2-minute scan of the internet:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Seem like a lot? Yes, it is. I’ll only scratch a surface in one post that can’t begin to describe, in minute, painstaking, headache-inducing detail, the enormity of the event. For our honorees, it’s a time-honored tradition that she’s been waiting for her ENTIRE life. Trust me on this- she’s waited for her moment to shine and be shined upon.  You are her cruise director for this event- it’s your responsibility to make sure everything goes smoothly. In terminology we southern gals understand- the actual wedding or birth are her super bowl, these are her playoffs- so don’t screw it up.

There are 5 essential steps to shower planning: Theme, Budget, Theme, Food and Theme (or as I like to call it, T3BF). Because if you don’t have an imaginative, kick-ass theme, (one that is absolutely reflective of the baby mama/bride-to-be AND showcases your incredible planning skills) then, quite simply, you’re screwed.

Theme and Budget (and location)

Theme outweighs all other considerations. All others can be charged to your Visa, Mastercard, or American Express. Any southern lady knows that your guests and showeree will be captivated by your superior planning skills and follow suit. Except Aunt Mabel, who (bless her heart) marches to a different drummer. I’ll have some simple themes at the end of this post for your consideration.

Budget- this one is easy peasy. Budget follows theme. Don’t go broke and don’t serve canned squirt cheese and saltines.

On location, I do have a couple of comments. You don’t have to have the biggest, fanciest home, but it does need to be warm, inviting, and clean. Even if you have to hire someone to clean it because Fluffy the cat runs the roost. Kitchen and bathroom count the most – we gals (especially baby mamas) like to “tinkle” at these events. No one wants to compare your powder room to a public bathroom (except your OCD friend Tifanie with an ‘ie’, who carries her own toilet seat covers with her), so a nice cleaning ‘day of event’ is in order for both of these rooms. Remember, the kitchen is your staging area for food and there are snooping eyes watching.

At showers, the primary party itinerary is as follows: arrival, introductions, gaming and light food, then the big finale: gifts.

Inviting and Decorating

This is one of the most important things- the invitation. So important, it warrants its own line.

The invitation is one of the most important components of a successful shower.

It should be a real, honest-to-goodness paper product mailed with a real, honest-to-goodness stamp for delivery through the United States Postal Service. You may also SUPPLEMENT with Facebook reminders or E-vite, but please, PLEASE send a real invitation. It’s the ‘calling card’ of your event- not only should it convey the basics (time, date, registry info), it should, MOST IMPORTANTLY, convey your theme! And with the invention of laser printers, color copiers, and digital printing, a true invitation conveys your hospitality, your creativeness, your sincerity and your love. If you are including a recipe or photo sharing activity, please include on the back of your invitation with simple instructions (do not under estimate the value of those instructions).

  • when ordering, you may also pick up some matching thank you cards, to give to your honoree (pre-stamped). All of the showers I’ve been to asked the guests to pre-address the thank you cards, which make it a snap for the honoree to complete, stuff, and mail. You can also correct a lot of address mistakes that way.

Decorating can be a simple affair- mostly of color palette and FRESH FLOWERS. If you can’t afford fresh flowers from the “IT florist”, Kroger/Wal-Mart has some great options and arrange your own- you can even get the vases at **gasp** Dollar Tree **gasp**. As your theme sets the decorations and tone, it gets quite easy to over-do in your heightened state of excitement. Save the crepe paper and balloons for kids parties. Keep the favors simple and tasteful. Again, my life philosophy that you will see over and over is KISS. (KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID)

Gaming (not gambling)

I’ve played some pretty silly games at these events. I do strongly encourage something to break the ice but not so stupid that everyone feels 8 years old. Try something simple as relating 1 piece of advice to the new bride/baby mama- which corresponds with the first letter of your name. This not only imparts wisdom, but also helps to relate name/face.  Please save the toilet paper wedding dress/baby doll diapering contests for less dignified events. Another perennial southern favorite is the clothespin game, where everyone has a clothespin and a forbidden word (like ‘baby’ or ‘groom name’) or no one crosses their legs (totally inappropriate for a southern lady) and then the guests go about stealing everyone’s clothespin when the forbidden word is uttered or someone crosses their legs (the Yankees usually fare well in the later version). Make sure your “game” gifts are appropriate- candles, body lotion, etc. A Wal-Mart gift card doesn’t cut it here.  Also, as a courtesy to everyone, please do NOT ask your guests eat pureed baby food and try to guess the flavors or suck on baby bottles filled with spirits or milk. These activities are uncouth, undignified, and socially unacceptable.

Food Spotting

Food is another great ice breaker/activity to center around. For a new mom, consider asking everyone to share their simplest recipes that can be made on a budget, under severe time restraints, and one-handed. For the new bride, consider that meal to be something you make for a special occasion. By announcing this in your invitations (see above), you can compile a really nice book for your special honoree which includes pictures of the shower attendees.

While menu planning is solely up to you and your honoree, my advice always follows the KISS method. Ask your honoree favorite snacks, dishes, drinks, candy, flavors. But keep it simple- it’s not a Golden Corral Buffet, it’s a shower. In the interest of all involved, however, please place small, handwritten cards around your food items so no one keeps hollaring “IS THIS CRAB OR SPINACH DIP?” And for baby showers, for the love of Jesus himself, restrain the urge to offer alcohol at all. If baby mama can’t have any, why should the rest of us get hammered from 2pm-4pm?


Please have an obvious place for your gifts to be stored upon the guest arrival. There’s nothing worse than toting a damn toaster oven box or 17lb box of diapers and asking “where do I put this?” And don’t forget to decorate the table/location with some simple things like a small vase of flowers. Trust me, your honoree is watching this table like a hawk- looking for signs of registry fulfillment. I would also arrange for a nice basket to hold cards/gift card options- as more and more, we run out of time and resort to using these little lifesavers. KISS with that basket though- A nice hand-tied ribbon goes a long way.

Last but not least- a co-conspirator

Admit it, it sucks to do something fun alone. And in a southern shower environment, timing, grace, and execution matter. Your shower will be talked about on personal blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. The last thing you want to see is ‘damn, she just ran out of ICE AGAIN. wtf’.  A co-conspirator helps you manage those details- helping refill food (chocolate always goes first and remember to shuck foil from these pieces beforehand), pick up trash, keep lists for the honoree during the gifting, and so-forth. It should be someone you’re well identified with, so you don’t have to explain where the extra trash bags are, Lysol spray is for the bathroom or a quick Swiffer mop is for an accidental spill. You can split up responsibilities and create a fun environment without seeming like a total dictator.

Bridal Theme Suggestions

Steel Magnolia Shower

Does the bride like pink? Consider a “Steel Magnolias” theme complete with blush and bashful color palette—there’s not a southern woman alive who hasn’t seen Shelby celebrate her wedding. Add in a few Truvy-style favors (think compact mirrors and such) and trashy lingerie, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Christmas in July Shower (or other holiday themed event)

Another fun activity is to have a Christmas themed shower – wrap the gifts in fun paper and serve some ‘holidayish’ food.

Girls Night In

Nothing says fun like a bunch of gals in their PJ’s gossiping, sipping wine or martinis, and getting mani/pedis. Some high school gals in your church may be looking for some extra cash to pay for a summer trip and would like to help with those mani/pedis.

Domestic Diva

This is especially fun for your gal making her first run at marriage- especially if you know she’s a klutz in the kitchen. As your guests are gifting items for the kitchen, bathroom, etc- they can also share helpful tips about how to operate that fantastic zester, mixer, food processor, rice steamer (trust me, she knows how to use the blender and microwave).

Baby Shower Themes

Classic Childhood Book Theme

You cannot ever go wrong with basing your baby shower on a classic book. Ask baby mama what her favorite childhood book is. Maybe it’s a Seuss book. Maybe it’s Goodnight Moon.  Maybe its Little House on the Prarie. Almost any classic childhood novel can be brought to life in a baby shower (except the Twilight series, which is NOT a childhood book and you should know better).

Match the Nursery Theme (as in her chosen nursery palette)

This is the old standby of shower themes; however, with the influx of adorable baby patterns and furniture, much more can be done now over the traditional blue/pink or abc’s theme. This is the easiest one to overdo in terms of decorations- so remember to KISS.

Trendy Mommy/Trendy Baby

If your baby mama is a trendy, fashion forward gal, then you’re probably going with something modern, upbeat, and cool. Monkeys, ladybugs and animal prints are huge right now along with environmentally friendly themes and alternative gifting to charities. The one constant I’ve noticed in all of these is the heavy reliance on the color brown as part of the decorating palette. I suggest going with something different- like plum and light yellow. Or sea-inspired colors if she’s a beachy (not bitchy) gal. Buck the brown!

As Reigning Queen of Mean mother (in North Little Rock) to Thing1 and Thing2, Berit Kimrey is a connoisseur of the beach, lime daiquiris, chocolate and Johnny Depp (although not necessarily in that order). She rants pontificates blogs over at wash, rinse and repeat while she waits on her reality show deal to come to fruition.

Southern Girl Academy: Funerals

I am an event planner by profession, so there is a bit of concern that my “final event” won’t be flawless if it’s not pre-planned, and, well, that just won’t do.  I have attended “receiving of friends” and funeral services for as long as I can remember.  This is the respectful thing to do and your presence does make a difference.  Because I have been to so many of these events, over the last few years, I have made some notes of practices that are fitting of a proper Southern funeral. Unfortunately, I have also noticed some that simply are not acceptable.

I should note: I am a Christian. However, because I’m blessed with friends of all walks in life (and I would assume you are too), an alter call, regardless of how Baptist the guest of honor grew up, is not appropriate.

When given a choice, funerals should be in a church, not a funeral home.  Let’s face it they are not pleasant places. While funeral homes serve a purpose, attending a service in a church is less traumatizing than in a facility that exists exclusively to deal with the dead.

One of the things for which some funeral homes have become known is their variation in hearse color. This is a sad claim to fame.  Hearses should only come in black or gray.  A pastel colored hearse is the equivalent of wearing white after Labor Day. It just isn’t done.

However, color should be present in the floral arrangements sent as tokens of sympathy. While this can be a lovely gesture, mistakes are common in this area.  No one wants to keep a funeral arrangement forever. Artificial flowers or plants have no place at this event.  It’s like claiming bridesmaids will wear the dress again. They won’t. They’ll be stuck with a baby blue silk dress hanging in their closet next to the plastic peace lily someone sent to granny’s funeral.

Under no circumstances should flowers arrive on an easel, with a brightly colored sash that has some adjective written in glitter across it. Leave sashes where they belong… with beauty pageant queens.

Unfortunately, an “expression sash” isn’t the worst thing that can happen. You must guide your florist to simplicity, not, well, this…

broken heart

This would be more appropriate to send to someone you hate on Valentine's Day.

trucker flowers

Arrangement TItle: Keep on Trucking. I have no words.

monogram flowers

Perhaps the worst use of a monogram. Ever.

At open casket services, you will note the deceased is usually dressed in their Sunday best. Accessories should still be considered, but a good Southern girl would want her real pearls kept in the family, and wouldn’t want “the good stuff” buried. Also, steer clear of any makeup artist who shows a tendency toward Tammy Fay Baker. It’s just plain traumatizing to see the deceased in false eyelashes.

Following the burial is what I consider to be the most crucial part of the whole funeral production: THE AFTERPARTY.  If you’ve been to a service in the South, then you have also gone to someone’s home afterwards, gorged yourself on various casseroles, congealed salads, and desserts, as well as visited with folks you haven’t seen in ages.

This is an excuse to have a full-on party so you might as well go all out. Caterers should be hired, music and mood should be chipper, and most importantly there should be at least one open bar (with a great quantity of Makers Mark and Coke in my honor).

Although some might consider this topic morbid, I find it a way to ensure that your personal requests are honored even when you are no longer present. A good Southern girl leaves no detail unplanned for a party, especially her last one.

Katy Faulk is originally from east Tennessee, but currently resides in Little Rock.  As a true Southern girl should be, she is an expert thank you note writer and card sender, preferring handwritten documents to electronic ones, hence her lack of a personal blog or twitter account.  While she demands perfection for her “final event,” she is busy living an imperfect, but very blessed life.

Southern Girl Academy: Weddings

Southern weddings are like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Whether you’re the bride, a bridesmaid, a guest or just an innocent bystander, the pomp and circumstance that comes with a true Southern wedding is something to behold.

Right about now you may be envisioning a Southern wedding – lots of big hair, bridal bouquets bigger than the altar arrangement, seersucker suits and bowties, loads of pink taffeta or (God forbid) grooms dressed in camo. Since this is the Southern Girl ACADEMY, I will be schooling you in what exactly a Southern wedding means and what it doesn’t. First and foremost, camo is not cool. It’s not OK. And it’s definitely not proper. Leave the camo for the deer woods.

Southern Wedding montage

This includes the many and varying weddings where I have been a stand-up gal. The only picture missing is the wedding of my friend, Kristi, who is so old that there are no digital pictures of her wedding and the album is most likely missing among some attic stowaways, such as high school majorette costumes, college sorority paddles and her first child’s monogrammed bib collection. I’ll forgive her. Maybe. Also, please try to refrain from laughing too hard at some of my hideous hairdos. I know you have some of the same pictures hidden away somewhere.

Proper Southern weddings begin from the cradle, when, most likely, your mother has already picked out your groom, your dress and the color of your flowers. You grow up arguing with your girlfriends about the best shade of pink for the bridesmaid dress and whether or not you’ll allow whiskey at your wedding (basically, this can be pre-determined based on which church you attend – Baptists will have a punch-and-cookie affair, Presbyterians will have kegs, and Catholics will have lots of red wine and whiskey straight up).

From a very early age, you already know who will serve in your wedding party – from the 10 bridesmaids you’ll have to the never-ending parade of ring bearers and flower girls (because you can’t possibly tell Martha, your cousin three times removed who lives in another state, that sweet Lila Faye can’t be in the wedding). You will also, undoubtedly, already have a list of who will be hosting your parties – engagement, bridal showers, bridal luncheon and the all-important bachelorette party. These details are integral to the success of your Southern marital debut, and you can’t possibly wait until you’re actually engaged to make these all-important decisions.

For Southern brides and their moms, sisters, friends, cousins and acquaintances, it is all about the details, which is what makes it so incredibly fun to attend a Southern wedding and then gossip in detail for weeks about the music choice, her dress, the mother-in-law’s dress, the flowers, the cake, the band and anything else worthy of a thought. The bride knows that you’ll be gossiping, hence the massive breakdown three weeks before the wedding on whether you’ll be using navy or ivory ribbons on the programs. This stuff is life or death, and completely warrants throwing things and then huddling in a fetal position for 60 full minutes while you consider calling the whole damn thing off (not that I know any of this from experience, mind you).

This is about the time when the bridesmaids will be called in for a wedding planning therapy session (again, depending on your religious affiliation, this will mean a prayer group session, margaritas on the back porch or a night that you can’t remember that leaves you hugging the porcelain god at your fiancé’s house where your bridesmaids dropped you off because they couldn’t deal with you). This is why choosing your bridesmaids wisely is key. For brides getting married in their early 20s soon after college, it’s not shocking to have 10 thin, blond beauties accompanying her to the altar. For the rest of us getting married in our late 20s or (gasp) mid-30s, we’ve usually managed to pare it down to three to four key gals. Unless you’re me and get married at age 28 and still have seven bridesmaids and two “junior” bridesmaids. I wasn’t going to let all those girls out of having to wear a dress in the choosing of my color and style! Pay back is hell!

And then there’s serving as a bridesmaid when you’re no longer the maid of honor, but the matron of honor (I mean, could that make me sound any older?!). That was the case in 2009 and 2010 when both of my sisters got married. At least Becca just had her two sisters as bridesmaids (again, 30-somethings know not to go over the top). Unfortunately, with the youngest sister (who is 13 years younger than me), the old hag (me) was standing up there with the thin, 20-somethings (fresh out of college with actual waistlines and boobs). At this point, a proper Southern gal just has to put on her big-girl panties and make it happen. Buck up, put on the dazzling smile and squeeze yourself into the dress of their choosing (even though you swore 4 months ago when they sized that damn thing, you were two sizes smaller).

As any good Southern mom does, I couldn’t wait for the day until my children could be the stars of some girl’s wedding. Thankfully, their first gigs have been with my sisters, who (somewhat) put up with my stage mom antics. They let my kiddos walk by themselves down the aisle, wear bows bigger than their heads and turn up the heat on the dance floor.

At this point in life, as any good Southern mom does, I am turning my attention to my children’s roles in the weddings of the year. This is great training ground for the stage – costuming, hair and makeup, stage presence and song and dance skills. Of course, you don’t want your children to upstage the main attraction, but you want them to be a darn close second! You try not to be that annoying stage mom, but this is the role of a lifetime, and every move has to be perfect. If not, you’ll go down in history as the mother of that awful flower girl who stuck gum in the bride’s hair or that ring bearer who knocked over the cake after being told to stop running a 1,000 times.

A good Southern wedding is like the perfect show – full of drama (on stage and behind the scenes), pretty things and characters you won’t forget. Whatever role you play in your next Southern wedding, embrace it and break a leg!

Natalie Ghidotti, who finally got married after being a bridesmaid four times, served her last bridesmaid gig, hopefully, last summer – bringing the grand total to seven weddings. She has one bridesmaid stint left in her life, and she has made that friend pinky swear that she will do it somewhere warm, sunny and sandy (and that doesn’t mean her backyard). She lives in Little Rock with her husband (who eventually quit asking why she had so many bridesmaids), 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter (who says she’s having a Disney princess wedding come hell or high water).

Southern Girl Academy: Church

Come on in, ladies! Settle into your pew and get comfortable; it’s time to talk about church. I can see you squirming over there already, but calm yourselves. We Southerners tend to look out at the world through stained-glass windows; most of us have a long and complicated relationship with church.  I may or may not be the best person to give you advice about it. However, as the preacher might say, I’m the one with the pulpit. So listen up.

Sarabeth ~ Easter (undisclosed year)

I grew up a stranger in a strange land when it comes to church in the South. Not to say that I didn’t attend – I did, faithfully. Sunday mornings I sat in a pew and then went to my Sunday School class to hear stories about Jesus and other bearded figures wearing robes played out on a felt board in a paneling-lined room under a cool glare of the florescent lights. I was always slightly dismayed at the production values in these little one-acts; wishing for a more nuanced delivery of the narrative, or perhaps simply a visual medium that allowed for depth of field. Other than these issues, though, I was just like every other good little Southern Baptist, Methodist, or Church of Christ gal.

Only I wasn’t. I was Lutheran.

“A what?” was inevitably the response I would get from other kids. If you hail from the South, you already know that it is common practice to ask “What are you?” during the early phase of any grade-school relationship (as in, “I’m Methodist, what are you?”). For that matter, it’s not even frowned upon coming from an adult. Although if you find yourself in conversation with a Southern Baptist you may be hit with a variant of this, the one-two punch of religious small talk: “Where do you go to church?” with the almost immediate follow-up of “Are you saved?”

As a child, I may have enjoyed having the power to stop that conversation dead in its tracks just a little too much. Generally, we’d be going around the circle, mentally placing people in the right category with each answer. Until it got to me. It wasn’t like we had any Hasidic Jews running around. I didn’t meet a Pentecostal until middle school. Catholics? It was college. I was the odd bird, the person of exotic religious background.

As I got older, I began to experience more, go to more of my friends’ churches. I even went to a Baptist college, attended a charismatic church, and met and married a good Church of Christ boy. I like to think it made me well-rounded: I can fall into the cadence of a liturgy or smack a tambourine with equal ease.

I realize, however, that not all of you may have had the gift of such an eclectic upbringing.  You may find yourself in any of a number of places emotionally or physically when it comes to the subject of church. However, precious reader, it’s time to face facts: as a fine Southern woman, you live in the Bible belt. You can let that be a positive thing – make that belt useful for keeping your pants up and not showing your derriere. Or you can choose to be negative and spank somebody with it. WWJD, indeed?

Seeing how Easter is just around the corner, there’s not a minute to waste. And so, without further ado, here are the 10 Commandments for Southern Girls and Church:

  1. Thou shalt have no other nods, naps, or z’s. Besides the fact that it is not ladylike to drool, if you doze off who will be left to report the suspicious behavior of the youth group sitting in the balcony?
  2. Thou shalt not fashion for thyself an aura of perfume. Walking around in a cloud of ‘smell-good’ does not give you an air of intrigue and allure. It does, however, give everyone around you a headache. And on Sundays, we don’t need any help with that.
  3. If thou canst say something nice, then thou shalt say “Bless your heart.” Heavens, child. This is a basic that your mama taught you, and if you thought it worked well in everyday life, you should see the miracles that can be wrought with It on a Sunday.
  4. Thou shalt remember the white shoes and keep them in their proper season. Easter to Labor Day, sweetheart.
  5. Honor thy potlucks and thy covered dishes. This is no time for cute, complicated, or healthy. In times of celebration or sorrow, people need casseroles.
  6. Thou shalt not gossip. That’s what prayer request sharing time is for, precious.
  7. Thou shalt not bear witness on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or on a bumper sticker. Dear, dear girl. We know you mean well, but we also know that the vast mystery that is your personal relationship to the infinite God of the universe cannot easily be summed up in 140 characters, or in any format that can be ‘liked’ or purchased at a Quik-Mart.  We’ll make an exception every once in awhile if you can promise to stay on your best behavior. Bless your heart.
  8. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s pew. Don’t even think about that prime spot across the aisle and 2 rows up. That’s where the Miller family sits, and until they all die off that real estate is off limits.
  9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s bag. Or her strappy sandals. Honey, aren’t you supposed to be listening to the sermon? Eyes up front now, you hear?
  10.  Thou shalt not take any of it too seriously. Faith is one thing, church is another. The gift of a Southern woman is the ability to find humor in any situation, and there is plenty to find in a church pew on Sunday. Can I get an Amen?

Sarabeth Jones gets along with the voices in her head, for the most part. She loves dabbling in all things creative, and is thrilled that this place finds her employable in exactly that capacity. She writes about her life, her family, and occasionally her faith.

Southern Girl Academy: High Holidays

Southerners do many things well. Celebrating tops the list. And nothing gets us more excited than the high holidays, those special dates starred, highlighted and underlined in our agenda books.

But my calendar looks different from that of the girl sitting next to me. And hers has dates that don’t match those on her sister-in-law’s day planner. What unites us? That good old-fashioned camaraderie you’ll only find where the tea is sweet.

It doesn’t matter to us if you celebrate Easter in fabulous white peep-toes or Hanukkah in gorgeous dark leather boots; we’re here to lift you up and mark this day because it’s important to you. And if it’s important to someone we love, it’s sure as hell important to us.

That’s the thing about Southerners: Few experiences please us like being able to make others feel happy, welcome and looked-after. And what better way to do that than to host a throw-down to celebrate that very important date?

Maybe your high holiday is the arrival of your only child. On his first birthday, we’ll show up with an adorable smash cake, a stash of monogrammed bibs and a six-pack to enjoy when you’re cleaning up the mess.

Wait! Did you just say you’re about to be the first person in your family to earn a graduate degree?! How exciting! Give us 20 minutes and we’ll have a room reserved at your favorite restaurant so there’s a delicious dinner after the final melody of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

There are, of course, days that become important to us in ways we never expected. And those are often because of the warmth and graciousness of our Southern sisters.

When my grandfather died in 2004, I could never imagine looking back on the experience – which included multiple flights and four hours of driving to get to tiny Sale City, Ga. (pop. 253) – as a pleasant memory, let alone as one of my own personal high holidays.

But a brigade unlike any seen in that state since Sherman’s march showed up on my grandmother’s doorstep, carrying everything we needed: bottled Cokes, Ziplocks stuffed with steamy boiled peanuts and milk vases brimming with fresh-cut azaleas.

The morning of the funeral, my mother and I were alone in my grandparents’ house, and at 7:30 a.m. discovered a full, creamy banana pudding with perfect meringue peaks. It was left in their refrigerator as a surprise by a chain-smoking culinary genius with a blue-tinted coiffure who was just as adept at refilling your plate as at delivering a well-timed, “Bless your heart!”

Mama and I sat at the table where we’d both learned to eat solid foods and devoured the entire 9×13 pan in about 15 minutes. It is, to this day, one of my all-time favorite memories

In the midst of stress, we laughed a lot that morning, and we still laugh about our pre-funeral indulgence often. That makes March 6 one of my own high holidays, seven years later.

So if there’s something important happening in your life, sidle up to us and please do tell! Southerners know how to throw a heckuva party, and we know how to console you, too. We’ve got all the trappings to help you make your own high holiday.

But before you go on, just give me a moment to mark this on my calendar …

Hilary DeMillo is a Georgia peach through and through. But she still loves living in central Arkansas with her Atlanta-native husband and their mutt Sanford, named for that sacred ground where the Bulldogs play six or seven Saturdays every fall. She also shops a little too much.