Every morning I walk down the stairs and examine myself in the full-length mirror hanging in the hall. Before going out, I take another cautionary look in it. Vanity holds no place in these proceedings. Southern Daughter Guilt does. I've still got it after all these years.
The head of my household commentates to our four children, "Oh, yep, there she goes, and, yes, the butt check," like they wagered some over-under bet on whether or not I'll turn to look at my backside as I inspect my reflection. "It's still there," he sasses, encouraged by giggles from the younger two children and embarrassed eye-rolling from the teenagers. "From the looks of things, I doubt it's going anywhere soon," he assures me.
It's my Southern daughter duty to ignore this heckling and stay the course. Any girl properly raised in the South will never, ever leave the house without doing at least one 360-degree turn, preferably more, in the mirror.
There's no other way to ensure that she looks just as put together from behind as she does from the front. One never knows when she might get into a Southern Moment and be judged by her exit.
The rear view becomes crucial in these situations and can make or break a dramatic self-removal from a room.
The other reason Southern mamas teach Southern daughters how to check their hind sides by keeping their eyes locked on the mirror while slowly rotating their bodies, a skill that requires balance, flexibility and finishing school, plus a debut to prove that it took, is because my daddy loves restaurants with buffets.
He's an expert ogler of the public and buffet restaurants with all the comings and goings diners do in efforts to consume their money's worth.
Sit there long enough and inevitably my father will grimace and cringe, mumblittng, "Did she even bother to look at her whole self in the mirror?" The stir of shock and wonder elicit an indescribable, but gratifying, emotion.
His table-view of bodies bellied up to the food bars like hogs at a slop trough, jostling against each other for that last heat-lamp crusted spoonful of macaroni and cheese, afford him an abundance of opportunities to utter this most beloved phrase.
The woman with back skin spilling from the armholes of her sleeveless tunic top forgets that she isn't the only one scathingly critiqued.
Her mama is looked upon in a poor light, as well. Yea, though the mama might have two dates chiseled in granite and a completed walk through the valley of the shadow of death under her belt, no matter, blame is placed.
That mama naturally bears responsibility for how her daughter presents every angle of herself, front, back, top, bottom and otherwise, to the world.
This is the South, by golly. Face to face, it's a friendly, "How's your daddy?" Behind your back, it's, "Didn't her mama teach her any better than that?"
It's how we help ourselves feel settled with how we turned out. If we can perform a more superior Southern Moment exit, should the occasion call for it, than the lady with her yellow polyester slacks creeping into her crack, then we're doing OK. And so are our mamas.
I turn on my husband and hiss, "You well know what happened the last time I got in a hurry and didn't bother to check out my rear view."
He smiles. "Everyone saw that it's still there."
Worse than that, I had to feel guilty about what folks were saying about my mama.
(Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson. E-mail Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her Web site, www.IfMama.com.)