Giving your elders a respectful place in your life is one of many acts of kindness we can’t get enough of.
We could all name some old-fashioned Southern customs that we have fought hard to hold onto: Yes, ma’am; no, sir; thank you; please . . . Once we let go of these, we might as well sell Mama’s silver, throw away our monogrammed note cards, and call it a day. The same is true of pulling over for funeral processions. If you’re too busy to pause on the roadside and show some respect for a grieving family, you need to get Mama to teach you how to delegate.
Other Southern niceties, however, have been tougher to maintain. To use a really old Southern saying, a couple of them are “plumb nelly” on the endangered list. We think they deserve a comeback in 2018. So be vigilant, Southern Mamas. Let’s see if we can establish a beachhead for these old-school Southern traditions:
Respect your elders.
Whether you’re 9 or 49, you should offer deferential treatment to those who are senior to you—and we’re talking about more than yes, ma’am/no, sir (those are givens). We’re talking about acts of kindness that telegraph “we love and respect you and want you to be part of our lives.” Ask the elder statesmen and grand dames of your family to say grace at gatherings. Give Great Uncle Jack his pick of comfy chairs in the family room before anyone else takes a seat. Have a teenage nephew escort his grandmother to “the big table” and pull out her chair for her. Teach the older kids how to work a room, checking to see who needs coffee and who would like more fruitcake. Take your grandpa to lunch. And don’t even glance at your phone—talk to him. Finally, never let go of Southerners’ endearing habit of showing affection to non-family elders with the “Miss/Mr. +First Name” address. Nothing sounds sweeter than a five-year-old saying, “Thank you for my candy cane, Miss Kathy.”
Revive “mixed company.”
When did it become okay for everybody to discuss everything in front of the whole wide world? My husband and I were strolling through the entertainment district of a coastal tourist town when we overheard two men talking on a park bench, with one loudly describing in graphic detail his date from the previous night. I wish Aunt Joyce had been there to smack both of them over the head with her pocketbook. Or her super-sized King James Bible.
Bring back special occasion dresses.
We’d be so much more us, if we could bring back these sartorial traditions of yesteryear: the funeral dress (black, navy, or dark brown, modestly cut, with monochromatic accessories); hats and gloves (see: Jackie Kennedy, British royals, and others who should’ve been Southerners); the Easter dress (pastel confections in which we froze to death because it’s always chilly on Easter Sunday, but what a lovely sight those little girls were in their crinoline-poufed dresses, color-coordinated to match Mama’s outfit); hostess aprons (nothing says “I know how to make a respectable tomato aspic and Mama-worthy chicken salad” like an organza hostess apron).
Buy Mama a corsage on Mother’s Day (and make sure everybody in the family wears one).
When did we abandon kind actions like this? Everybody used to wear a Mother’s Day corsage, even little kids. Here’s the rule: The color of YOUR flower is determined by whether or not your mother is living. If Mama is still with us (bless her sweet heart), you wear a red or pink flower. If Mama has gone on to her Great Reward, you wear a white flower (though yellow is sometimes allowed). Men can just tuck a rosebud into their lapel; children can have one pinned to their Sunday best. But Mama? She needs roses or an orchid and lots of baby’s breath.
He should call, not text.
Texting might be efficient, but when it comes to courtship, the smart phone has made cowards of us all. It takes very little courage to type. It takes a lot to dial a number and wait for the object of your affection to answer. Any date worth having is worth sweaty palms, an elevated heart rate, the embarrassment of an awkward conversation, and the potential pain of audible rejection. On second thought, maybe texting isn’t such a bad idea . . .
WATCH: Things Southern Moms Say To Their Boys
You can bet Mama's teaching Junior to respect his grandparents, open doors for ladies, pick his date up at her door and meet her Daddy, and show the world that he was raised right.