In Praise Of The Fine Ladies Of The Old South
With this statement, I am literally, and figuratively, “going out on a limb,” but that is fine by me. Have you ever felt as if you have reached a place to where you just don’t care about what others say about you? That’s me. I don’t really care what those around me say or think of me for making this statement: “I sincerely appreciate the women from the Old South.”
My statement comes straight from my heart. No strings attached. Pure and simple. For years I have longed to make my confession public, but never had the just avenue for sharing this type of situation with you.
I am far from William Faulkner. And I am not a Tennessee Williams. But in my own labored words, I just have to say that there is ‘that special something’ about women from the Old South, a quiet, gloried era in our nation’s history. This has nothing to do, at all, with cotton fields, plantations, or living in the south. It has everything to do with my sincere appreciation for this special group of women, who, if you ask me, have for too long now, went without the proper respect. And recognition. I am going to do my best to remedy that.
Speaking purely from the heart, and for myself only, I cannot think of anything nicer than to visit the towns of Vicksburg, Gulfport, Meridian, Hattiesburg and Columbus, Mississippi, where you can, if you know how to look, can visualize the lovely ladies of the Old South gracefully gliding down the winding stairways of their luxurious and historical mansions. It is more than a thrill when I am in one of these ‘edens on earth,‘ to just sit still and let my imagination bring to my sight, women in beautiful hoop skirts, bonnets, shawls, and carrying pretty parasols to keep out of the sun come walking slowly toward me to take their place in a shady place to just enjoy the valued moments with me. And the finishing touch to these lovely ladies would be when they use their hand fans--moving gently, silently back and forth to keep themselves at a comfortable temperature.
No writer, alive or dead, can justly and satisfactorily, write enough volumes of appreciation for these ‘special creations of God,’ the women of the Old South for there are not enough adjectives in the English language to do them just honors. Life is that way many times. We are blessed with a priceless vision, in that of women of the Old South, and are bound helpless, haplessly groping for the right string of words to make them feel appreciated. I am in this state now.
For a moment, forget the unfettered beauty that women of the Old South possess. Forget for a moment just how fitting these women are in an area that sometimes goes overlooked by the “pioneers of progress,” “wielders of wealth,” and people (like me) who have obviously been born too late to really appreciate this special group of ladies. And please do not insult me or them, by using the always-over-killed tag, “Southern Belles,” for this doesn’t fit these fine ladies. Although, in their graciousness, they have quietly-accepted this name and worked to make it their badge of honor, still, “Southern Belle,” just don’t fit this picture of the real founders of the Old South, the quiet, mannered ladies who govern the Old South even if it’s only in a memory. To me, they are still a vital part of the South and a vital part of our history as a nation. I truly believe this with all of my heart.
Consider, for a moment, and look beyond the silk, satin, lace and parasols and visualize what our part of the United States, the south, would be if had not been for these ladies of wit, wonderment and many times, a silent leader when no men folk were to be found. Allow me to answer that question. In terrible shape.
You may disagree on the merits that you do not see what the women of the Old South had to do with preserving our heritage and way of southern living that includes having a fiery, progressive attitude of growth, both as a rich area of our country, but as a proud people who are not scared to admit that they were born southerners. And these humble women from the Old South’s heritage roots run deep. Deeper than the rich soil that covers our beautiful landscapes in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, North and South Carolina.
So deep are roots of these valiant women of the Old South, that they stretch into the market place as well as the workplace of 2011 where the proud and pure daughters and granddaughters of these fine ladies of the Old South not only work, but are C.E.O.’s, managers, owners, and directors of banks, factories and noted retail stores in every segment of the south. And these same daughters and granddaughters have time for appreciative families, neighbors and so many good friends that counting them would be moot.
To say that the daughters and granddaughters of their treasured mothers and grandmothers, are helping to shape our progressive south which does not include blind, ignorant bigotry, would be a laughable understatement. These ladies, the daughters and granddaughters of the ladies of the Old South not only help to shape their heritage, the south, but make their own priceless and treasured heritage each day they enter their workplace.
The beautiful hoop skirts, lace shawls, parasols and hand fans may be just a memory as thin as a Monarch butterfly’s wings, but the memories of the much-honored ladies of the Old South who wore their apparel with pride, dignity and solid self-esteem are still obviously-evident in the sharp-thinking, decision-making and management skills of their daughters and granddaughters that now represent a more-powerful position in the new south, but in our country as well. Look up, when you have the time, the telling statistics of the last presidential election that pitted Barack Obama against Sen. John McCann, and you will see stunning figures of legions of women of the new south who not only voted for, but helped in their meek-but-powerful way, to elect now-President Obama. To me, that means these ladies of the new south had to learn their stringent work ethic from someone. And those quiet-spoken mentors of their daughters and granddaughters of the new south were the women of the Old South. Heritage and human traditions run so deep that many times they cannot be measured by mortals. Much less the angelic beings that watch over us in times of change and rediscovery.
There are way too many things to list that the sometimes-silent women of the Old South bequeathed to us just by living their lives--in and out of the shadows of their successful husbands each passing day. And I am not about to humiliate myself by trying to list the things that we still have today in the New South.
Things like manners. Yes, manners. I am prone to believing that manners mostly had their beginning in the Old South. Refined ladies of this area of our country, for cultural reasons, I can only assume, started keeping themselves culturally-sharp and in style for they, the refined ladies, were always in the public eye--giving and attending teas with their women friends, throwing ball’s for young men and ladies to meet and learn the needed-social graces and manners that would shape them into future leaders of industry, education and society. And you, like me, just thought that all manners consisted of was saying ‘yes ma’am,’ and ‘no, ma’am.’
To the young, up and coming young ladies under the tutelage of the ladies of the Old South, came the responsibilities of learning the proper way to walk, talk, eat, sit, stand, and make the young beau’s of this area sit up and take notice. It was pure grace in motion to see a young woman and her mother gracefully-walking across a crowded ballroom floor. No amount of poetry or inspired music could truly capture the natural purity of the grace of the Old South that was possessed and passed along by the ladies of this forgotten era.
A young lady in the Old South had to be knowledgeable on the music that was popular at that time and be able to moderately chat with a gentleman caller on subjects ranging from politics to reformed religion in the south. All lessons were important. Nothing was left to chance by the ‘graceful guardians’ of the southern heritage, grace and traditions (the original ladies of the Old South) that are still alive in 2011 with three-worded names such as, Mary Kathryn Gracefield; Anna Sue Longley; Mary Elizabeth Cotton, to name a few. A woman’s name in the Old South told everything about her--age, family background and history, husband’s name, and standing in the community.
Personally, I am proud to see that many young mother’s in 2011 are naming their newborn’s with names with a solid hint of the Old South. Names that lend and receive respect, honor and pride not only for the newborn as she grows in life, but to her mom and dad. To ladies of the Old South, briefly, names are everything. Image is secondary.
Granted, ladies in the Old South, according to books written by men and women of this grand era, told a tale of the ladies of the south having to keep silent when her husband was in the room. And if she were asked a question, she either referred the person asking the question to her husband, as a true gesture of respect, or if her husband was a liberal-thinking man, she was allowed to answer, but only in a brief statement. And all while looking down at the floor--another gesture to show respect and humility to the person addressing her at the time.
Was life tough for these ladies of the Old South? In a way. Having to remember at all times, the various graces, rules, and manners that accompanied her during a visit to friends, the community marketplace or just a simple act of entertaining a few close female friends in the parlor--sipping lemonade and mostly chatting about social events that were on tap for their part of the community or town. Sometimes, in their husband’s absence, these fine ladies would be called on to make necessary decisions in the day-to-day operations of the family’s estate and land holdings which included whatever business her husband or father (if she were unmarried--living at home and her mother was also gone for the day) had formed to make additions to their already-coveted fortunes.
Most of the fine ladies of the Old South had husbands who owned thousands of acres in cotton, and the gin included; corn, potatoes and timber. The economy was full. And robust for many landowners and businessmen (and their wives) in the Old South. Seemingly, prosperity (before the War Between The States) and the south walked hand-in-hand and appeared to inseparable by man, fate or time. Life wrote history of these ladies and their families another way. Their script changed, but not their proud and dignified stance that remained unchanged (to this very day) and went with them into the unsure future.
What have I said in this story of giving alms to the ladies of the Old South that has not been said in thousands of other ways by far-more-talented writers than I? This is beside the point. I know that in my own heart, even with trying, sweating out these chiseled-words, I fell short on actually capturing the perpetual Magnolia spirit that lives, dies and resurrects itself each year in the vast family members produced by the wonderful ladies of the Old South. Simply said, their life’s memory, although faded a bit, is still as strong as the drooping cypress stress that adorn their once-proud plantation homes.
I have to, at this time, give a lot of credit, thank you’s, and time in the spotlight to: Columbus, Mississippi, for their Annual Pilgrimage that salutes the ladies and homes of the Old South by giving tours to obscure citizens like me of their fanciful estates and being blessed to see the graceful, charming women of today who are in original Old South wardrobe to accent this special occasion.
Also I give the same credit, thank you’s, and time in the spotlight to Vicksburg, Mississippi, for their Annual Tour of The Antebellum Homes in their town. I have taken this tour and in each home, I not only stood in awe of the timeless architecture of these Old South estate homes, but I believe that I could see the lovely images of the humble, soft-spoken fine ladies who lived in these utopic-homes. Take it from someone who knows. The Pilgrimage in Columbus and The Tour of Antebellum Homes in Vicksburg is well worth the trip and whatever the price of admission may be.
I applaud the many, many people in Columbus, Vicksburg, and other southern towns that have worked so hard--giving of themselves, sacrificing precious moments, materials and effort to keep the memories of these beautiful homes, and the lovely ladies who lived in them, alive today.