The phone rang. Right after I said hello an unfamiliar voice on the other end presumptuously called me by my first name and then kept right on talking. "May I ask who's calling?" I immediately responded. Without taking a breath, the man continued.
"I need to stop you right there," I interrupted, trying to be straightforward but friendly. He finally paused and asked if I was in fact Lucy Adams, to which I responded that I was in fact not her.
Not willing to let me get away that easily, he questioned, "Are you her mother, a friend, or what?"
"A friend," I said. "I'm keeping the children. Thanks so much. I'll tell her you called, Rahib." I hung up as he spoke as fast as an auctioneer to get in his sales pitch before the dial tone.
Sometimes a little white lie is much easier, and certainly more pleasant, than the messy, messy truth. Just ask my Mississippi sister-in-law, who is perfectly content to pawn off Bi-Lo bakery buns as fresh-from-her-oven treats until the day she dies, if that's what it takes to save embarrassment. Not just her own, mind you, but also that of the man who made the gross assumption of homemade -- out loud, in public -- in the first place.
Little white lies and good manners go hand-in-hand, and every Southern girl must learn the subtleties, nuances, uses and misuses at some point in her upbringing. And every Southern mother, after years of touting truthfulness, must make that slight turn on her heel to amend the honesty clause.
Lord knows I've spent countless hours with my own children pounding in the importance of truth-telling, connecting honesty to everything from good character to beauty secrets. But some people, like those who ask for recipes in public places and those who have chosen telemarketing as a career, bless their hearts, force little white lies. I can't help but say falsehoods like, "It's an old family secret," or "The lady of the house is not home." That's how my daughter caught me.
As I replaced the receiver on the hook and turned around, there in the kitchen doorway stood my 8-year-old daughter, glaring at me. She heard the whole conversation.
"You're not my mother?" she gasped, as if she's always suspected.
"I'm your mama," I assured her, knowing exactly what she would say next. I followed up with, "It was a telemarketer." Her blank expression moved me to explain, "He wasn't going to let me off the phone and I couldn't hang up on him. That wouldn't be nice, would it?"
She shook her head no, but accusingly reminded me, "Lying isn't nice."
"It's complicated," I said.
I wanted to turn on my heel and slap that telemarketer for his boldness. "Sometimes it's better to tell a tiny little fib than to hurt a person's feelings."
When still she stood with her hand on her hip, I quickly realized I needed to turn on my heel and steer clear of the messy, messy truth about little white lies and how they're married to manners and how a girl needs them in her repertoire of social skills. "But you're right. I shouldn't say things that aren't true."
She silently stared at me, the wheels in her head making a racket like you wouldn't believe. I knew what she was thinking.
"I am your mama," I insisted.
I guess the messy, messy truth about little white lies is that they're never as little as I think.
(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson. Lucy invites readers to e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and to visit her Web site, www.IfMama.com.)