My Grandmother, God rest her soul, defined herself a southern lady. I really should capitalize the "S" in southern and "L" in lady, because she'll roll over in her grave when she finds that I didn't.
We called her Mama T, and she could recite her heritage back to the American Revolution, or to Adam and Eve, depending on the patience of the listener.
I lacked the fortitude to sit through one of her lectures on lineage. What did capture my attention, however, were Mama T's unspoken, but vigorously adhered to, rules of ladylike behavior.
For example, a lady might smoke. And she definitely knows how to walk with just the right amount of swing in her hips. But she never, ever smokes and walks. According to my grandmother, "that's common."
I, conversely, think it's because running out of breath strolling to the grocery store entrance, and hacking like a lung will rupture, detracts from your aura.
A southern lady, too, must willingly suffer for beauty. If you have ever worn a pair of shoes, that bore holes through your feet, for the sake of looking "put together," or had your mother pull your tresses into a bun so tightly that it felt like your brain might burst through your hair follicles, then I need not explain.
A belle knows her fashion. Mama T kept her white shoes tucked safely in the closet from the Tuesday following Labor Day until Easter; whether Easter came in mid-March or not until a sweltering Sunday in April. And the Holiest of days did not pass without her togged up in those white shoes, and a hat, even if the temperature dropped to 28 degrees, and it snowed.
She put on that sleeveless pink dress, too.
A lady never wears red, black or white to a wedding, or white, red or fuscia to a funeral. She would not blatantly disrespect brides and widows by drawing attention to herself. I am of the opinion, nonetheless, that brides remain too self-absorbed, and widows too inconsolable, to notice what little 'ole me wore to the occasion.
But, we wouldn't want people to talk, now, would we?
Speaking of gossip, Mama T knew the proper way to prudently call attention to indiscretions. It pained her to mention other's errors out loud; so much so, that she spoke of them only in thunderous whispers, which could carry across three church pews during a robust rendition of Amazing Grace by the entire flock of the Mount Bethel Southern Baptist Congregational Church.
Yet, without exception, a girl of proper rearing knows when to talk and when to remain silent. Ladies might quietly gab about faux pas, but they never talk politics, religion or money in mixed company; unless, of course, the company brought mixers.
But, just because she doesn't converse on these subjects doesn't mean that a lady shouldn't look like she's on the winning wing, she's one of the chosen, and she's got it to burn.
And ladies' clubs, such as my grandmother's Sew 'n' Sews, serve as the proving grounds. I chanced to accompany Mama T to a club meeting once; no one pulled out handwork. They brought wine, deviled eggs, homemade pimento cheese finger sandwiches and pictures of their granddaughters' debutante balls.
In short, a woman with manners never reveals her own secrets, always gives "proper" kisses, loves her cousins, knows her pedigree, and remembers the South. And Mama T's life illustrated that a girl can have as much fun as she wants, so long as she conducts herself like a lady.