The grand dames of the South are smart cookies—make that tea cakes.
Something happens to Southern women once they’re on the backside of 50. All of that wisdom they’ve accumulated starts bubbling to the surface. And they’re not shy about sharing it. Here are five lessons from some of our “elder stateswomen”:
Fingers were made before forks.
Mrs. Hinds was my first-grade teacher, and she had a no-nonsense way with children. One day in the lunchroom, she spotted me struggling to cut a tomato slice with my fork. And she just looked at me and said, “Dahlin’, fingers were made before forks.” I still think about that whenever I’m overcomplicating a problem instead of just using a little horse sense.
Babies come from the hospital.
—Icie Wyatt McCranie
Where do babies come from? For whatever reason, one of my younger male cousins decided to pose that question not to his parents, but to our grandmother. I can still see her—stretched out on the sofa, wearing one of her cotton “dusters” and reading a book—when he hit her with it: Where do babies come from? Without taking her eyes off her text, she flatly said, “I don’t know.” But this little guy was persistent. “You’ve got to know!” he cried. “You’ve got 8 kids!” There was another solemn page turn from “Miss Icie” before she gave us her final answer—in a tone that told us she was not open to further discussion: “They come from the hospital.”
My dear, you cannot argue with ignorance. You can only forgive it.
Aunt Callie was one of those pioneer-stock Southern women who could control a classroom full of rowdy kids, hand-paint beautiful china, and mend her own pasture fence. She drove a yacht-sized Impala. I told her once about a casual dinner I had just attended, where one of the guests, who wasn’t from the South, started attacking and belittling Southerners out of the blue. I had been disappointed in myself because I was so stunned that I didn’t have a clever comeback. That’s when she laid a little wisdom on me. In her genteel, old-school accent, it sounded like this: “My dee-ah, you cannot ah-gue with ignorance. You can only fo-ah-give it.”
Life is short—even if you live a very long time.
My paternal grandmother was on a hospital gurney, just about to be rolled into the operating room for some risky surgery, when she grabbed my arm and said, “If I live, I want a road trip.” I promised her that if she could just live through the next two hours, I’d take her anywhere she wanted to go. She chose Birmingham to Key West—by car. More road trips would follow, and I think we came to know and understand each other better on what she called “The Big Road” than anywhere else. No surprise that one of her life lessons, written in a memory book my cousin gave her, involved living life to the fullest. She lived well into her nineties—still dying her hair with Clairol, painting her nails red, and wearing more makeup than I do.
I so related to Toula’s mom in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She reminded me of my Aunt Mack, who loved to cook enormous meals and force-feed her kin. And no matter how many times you refilled your plate, she would always say: “I’ve been cooking all day, and you aren’t eating a thing! Eat something!” Like generations of Southern women, Aunt Mack prepared food as a way of sharing love, comfort, and hospitality with her family—and anyone else who happened to drop by.