Living Southern – When Your Wife Is Not

Any Southern man worth his grits can spot a woman not native to the Southland. Her dress, her demeanor, or her dialogue will give her away. 

I considered it a gift from God to have grown up in the American South.  Needless to say, when I started dating again after being a widower for several years, my online dating criteria specified a short driving distance around Atlanta.  Being Southern was important.  Or so I thought.

When I met my future wife, I was immediately struck by her cute smile and graceful demeanor.  Yes, she confessed to spending her early years in Europe, especially Ireland and England.  Yes, she went to college on the West Coast and has since shared many a story of her time living on a farm in western Washington.  But she had lived in Georgia for the previous twenty years.  Surely, this intriguing woman had picked up a few Southern ways and customs?

I should have realized something was amiss when I observed her eating fried chicken with a knife and fork. Or when she proclaimed her favorite football team was Manchester United. Manchester What? Who is this woman and what planet is she from?

Definitely not a Southern woman.

Alas, love is blind, especially to the subtle, ok, maybe not so subtle differences between a husband raised in the South and a wife who wasn’t.

Lord have mercy and butter my biscuit, I have some work to do.

I consider myself a Southern gentleman, raised on yes ma’am, no ma’am and yes sir, no sir.  As a youth,  I would get my fanny swatted if I failed to show the proper courtesy and respect to men and women.  So you can understand my shock at being scolded never to call my wife Ma’am.  As noted in my blog post of  December 29, 2017, Don’t Call Me Ma’am  …………… And Other Fine Print in My Marriage Vows, I first feared such a demand reflected some sort of feministic linguistic politically correct indignation. Until Patrice explained that she spent her younger years in England where the only woman referred to as “Ma’am” was the Queen. At which point, I quickly expressed my desire to address the Queen of my home and my heart as ma’am. Her silent, demure smile reflected a gracious acquiescence to my Southern upbringing.

But there’s more.

She thinks the Southern affinity with sweet tea is a shortcut to diabetes.  If you have ever had sweet tea from McDonald’s, you know what she means. Fortunately, this was an easy compromise for me.  I have long given up the full-bodied Elixir of the South and converted to a less sweetened version. 

I should have recognized how much remained for her full Southern indoctrination when she once asked me, with a straight face no less, “What’s a grit?”   Holy Hominy, pass the butter, this woman probably doesn’t know what chitlins are either.  I don’t have the heart to tell her that crunchy green beans in the South just means they haven’t been cooked yet.

She has yet to grasp why there are so many commercials during football games.  Real football,” she says, “is played non-stop.”  I wonder if it is wise to tell her that we have scheduled trips and vacations around college football games. 

And I still get an odd look from her when I say, “I am fixin to pay some bills.”  But she just chuckles when I seek clarification of her requests by asking, “Do what?  She shakes her head and thanks me for expanding her vocabulary of — what she calls — y’all-bolisms, which is her endearing term for Southern words and phrases. I sense a Dictionary of Southern-Speak in the making. I have yet to elaborate on such quintessential Southern terms as hissy fit and I reckon

Yes, my friends,  I married a woman who is as Southern as a bagel and lox. Her cute and disarming Irish accent occasionally flairs up, and someone will comment, “Honey, you ain’t from around here, are ya?

At which point, I think, “Does it really matter anymore?  For there is still hope for this Southerner-in-the-making woman.

I knew before we married that her heritage hails from across the pond. She readily admitted arriving in the South some 20 years ago expecting antebellum homes and warmer weather.  She got more than she expected — kudzu, all things fried, snakes, humidity thicker than a fruitcake, more snakes, and overwhelming hospitality.

Though she may not realize it, my beloved is becoming more Southern every day.

She finally understands the difference between a first down and a touchdown.

She has no problem treating Macaroni ’n Cheese as a vegetable.

She has started referring to pecan pie in the proper way, calling it “pa-KAHN” rather than “PEE-can,” the latter sounding oddly like an outhouse accessory.

She no longer thinks hushpuppy is something you say to our dog.

She gradually realized that “a hill of beans” can be used to measure value, and “Gimme some sugar” has nothing to do with the granulated version.

And the most Southern thing about her is that she can strike up a conversation with anyone anywhere.  It is not uncommon for me to discover her having an extended personal discussion with complete strangers in the grocery store, shopping mall, or restaurant.  The woman has a gift.  Before you know it, total strangers begin confessing their sins to her. 

Recently, as we drove in a funeral procession to the gravesite, Patrice marveled at how cars in the oncoming lane, pulled over and stopped, as a sign of respect to the grieving family.  While this public display of good manners is not just a Southern thing, it reflects how most Southerners, at least the ones in less urban environments, extend good manners to everybody, whether you know them or not. 

As you may have gathered in reading this post, our different upbringings have prompted many a conversation as my wife and I learn to discern, appreciate, and respect the differences in our heritage.  Yes, our backgrounds have produced the occasional debate, argument, and conflict.  But overall, I have found our conversations about heritage and customs to be insightful. She expands my understanding of the world, and I help her understand the uniqueness of Southern culture.

My wife may not have grown up in the American South, but she displays a grace and hospitality that is definitively Southern.

I think she is a keeper… even if she still eats fried chicken with a knife and fork.

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