I am undeniably southern. My kids call me Mama. I relish turnip greens and crave barbecue on a regular basis; I like sweet tea and go to church every Sunday. And though I do draw the line at saying "fixin' to" instead of "going to," I have a surefire, oh-I-can-tell-you're-from-Memphis southern drawl.
As southern as my blood runs, though, I have botched my southern heritage in one respect: I fear I have failed to teach my children manners. True, life--even for a native southerner-- isn't as slow paced as it used to be. And with so many kids, the ambiance of my home is about as tranquil as the county fair. But excuses fall flat when you're from the south. Manners simply aren't an option.
Like any good, determined southern woman, however, I am resolved to remedy this blunder. Having given up on gentle reminders, I sometimes resort to fines and punishment: a dollar for every elbow on the table, two dollars for those who smack while they chew. Forgetting that burping is no laughing matter or neglecting to put your napkin in your lap means automatic KP duty. Reaching across Grandma at the table gets you 25 sentences in which you will declare: "I will not reach across Grandma at the dinner table." And if you forget the Granddaddy of all southern manners -- "Yes, ma'am" and "No, sir"--it's both money and sentences for you. I sometimes even threaten etiquette classes as a last resort.
"We southerners are known for our manners," I admonished my children around the table when we lived in the south.
"We are?" my son practically choked on his dinner.
It's a universal fact, I thought. He should have known that already.
Why do my younger children run through the church foyer like a band of southern Baptists on their way to dinner on the grounds? Why do they interrupt? Dash to the front of the line at potlucks? Talk with their mouths full?
Why? Why? Why?
"You're doing a good job teaching your children manners," a very kind lady said to me on one of our outings. "You're reminding them elders come first, to slow down, and say 'Yes, ma'am'."
"Are you from the south?" I asked.
"Yes, I am."
Ah, another native southerner. Perhaps all is not lost. She must know manners when she sees them.