The proper Southerner


It takes a lot of time to be the proper Southerner, the kind respected for thoughtfulness and kindness. In fact, it takes so much time that it’s looking like I may have to give up my job, just to act like Mama raised me and Daddy expected me to do.

First of all, someone’s always dying. This isn’t a quandary in the city that it is in small towns and rural communities, because we all know each other or, at least, we know someone kin to the deceased. Everyone knows that when someone dies, there’s food to be cooked and respect to be paid.

The other week had not been particularly productive to me in the creative area. I had a couple of speaking engagements and a close friend had out-patient surgery so I had taken her (there again, being the kind of Southerner that Mama expected) and lost the day. Finally, Friday arrived and I awakened that morning to think, “Oh, boy, I get to write today. I get to do what I’m paid to do and nothing else.”

I was pretty joyous over this so I had my coffee and went for a run, which always helps me to organize my thoughts and center on writing. When I returned, I was in the kitchen when Tink appeared to tell me that someone had died and our church was serving a meal in the afternoon.

I set my glass of water down with a thump and just looked at him.

Now, the perfect Southerner would have been sympathetic and concerned. Well, come to think of it, I was. Except it wasn’t for the bereaved. It was for me who had just lost hours of work time. After all, there was a casserole to be made or a cake baked. Then, I have to get dressed and serve.

My sister is Janie-on-the-spot when it comes to cooking, serving and showing up. It’s a lot of pressure.

Secondly, Southerners give a lot of gifts so I always have a stack of notes to write. In our culture, saying “thank you” properly (this does not include by email), is important. Dot Burkett, one of the South’s most perfect women, believed mightily in the power of graciousness and the written word of gratitude. She had just received a diagnosis of cancer and was going to receive chemo treatments. A beloved member of our family, I knew how much she loved to read so I ordered several books I thought she’d enjoy.

At church a few days later, her face glowed as she talked about how thrilled she was to get the books. I took her hands, “Now, listen to me: Do not send me a thank you note. This is thanks enough.”

She smiled. “I’ve already started it.”

Seven days after the note arrived, Miss Dot passed from this world. Among her last conscious acts was to write three notes of thanks.

Well, when you have people like that in your family, the standard is set remarkably high.

Then, there are gifts to be given and hospitality items for hostesses. It’s overwhelming and, to be honest, despite my best efforts, I fall short a lot. Which frustrates me and adds pressure.

Mama and Daddy both did a lot of what they called “checking on” folks, especially those old, lonely, bereaved and sick. They called and visited and showed basic but important thoughtfulness.

Again, my efforts fall short. And, to be honest, I’m miserable about it. And torn.

“I reckon that I’m going to have to quit working so I can be a good Southerner and act like I was raised,” I said to Tink.

My ancestors, good examples of Southern thoughtfulness, were all poor. No wonder. With all their do-gooding, they didn’t have time to work.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Visit to sign up for her weekly newsletter.]