This I Believe
As my mom lay dying, she worried about her appearance and said her favorite expression one last time – “A little powder and a little paint makes a gal what she aint”. Baby boomers, like me, born and raised in southern small towns were nurtured by a dying breed of women. I believe these women are the last bastions of the graceful south and as they die a way of life dies with them. During the hot days of the 1950s, the era before central air was common, well bread ladies wore gloves, hats, matching shoes and purses to bridge parties, garden club meetings, PTA and even short trips to the grocery. Their undergarments were made of steal that kept their figures in place with no moving parts. Those garments were so restrictive that today’s women would faint from lack of oxygen. I can still see my petite mother sweating and struggling to pull on her thick rubberized girdle. Women of this era adhered to a strict unwritten code of dress and conduct. This code had its roots in the time when decorum was more important than being comfortable.
Much has been written about Southern women, but unless you were raised by one of these superwomen you will never understand their strength of mind, body and sprit. Some mothers of the 1950s lead rarefied social lives but more were like my mother and had jobs, took care of families, were room mothers and still found time to follow their mother’s strict rules of entertaining and social correctness. As a daughter and granddaughter of one such Southern lady, I learned how to be a gracious hostess from a master of small town entertaining. When mom and dad built their first and only house in my rural home town of 1,200 people, the architect had instructions to make the living room large enough to accommodate 3 tables of bridge. My mother hosted her share of bridge parties and Garden Club meetings. In the 50s these activities were the center of southern social life. The Garden Club ladies, lead by characters out of Steel Magnolias, spent long afternoons discussing serious matters of flowers and town beautification. Mom was also a charter member of the Business Professional Women’s Club that eventually lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment. She lived this active life while maintaining her 7 days a week working partnership in the family clothing business. Dad never treated her as a full partner and Mom allowed him his fantasy that he ran the business. In reality the business’s success was primarily due to Mom’s business sense, organizational skills, tireless work ethic and winning personality.
Mom was a hard act for me to follow and thank goodness the 60s arrived in time to save renegade girls like me. At the dawn of the 60s and teens gone wild, these mothers tried to adjust to their braless daughters. Our small town doctor helped the women making this transition by treating their moods with valium and gentle hand patting. In spite of the drastic social changes, these women never discarded their ingrained southern gentility, the importance of putting your best face forward and the strength to handle the most difficult man with charm. There are few of these wonderful women left and we must cherish their wisdom about life and living.
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