Shannon Bardwell: Class or crass

November 14, 2009 7:02:00 PM



My mother was definitely a Southern mother, and I appreciate her more and more the older I get. I feel that I must apologize to the following generation, especially the young women, for spending more time and money trying to preserve my own youth and less acquiring the wisdom necessary to pass on to their generation. " ... older women ... train the younger women ... "  


I still wince at being called, "Ma''am" and have to remind myself to be more impressed with a young person''s good manners and less affected by a reference to my own "maturity." 


In downtown Columbus there''s a consignment store where I thumbed through a 1965 book of etiquette. I was reminded of mother''s admonishment, "Good manners never go out of style." There''s also the "Southern Belle Primer," which candidly finds humor in some of our southern manners and idiosyncrasies.  


We are advised to always keep "funeral food" in the freezer so we are ready at a moment''s notice with Italian crème cake, baked apple pie or spaghetti with meatballs. Always write thank you notes. This was non-negotiable. The day after an occasion, a thank you note always went out in the mail. RSVP''s were mandatory. 


When I''m tempted to use the common word "butt" as in, "Does my butt look big?" I can hear that little mother voice, "Don''t be common. It''s crass." It was not good to be common or crass at my house. The same for words I hear regularly now like "crap" and "sucks." I actually bought a game recently called "Fact or Crap." I wanted to cover up the name for fear mother wouldn''t approve. 


Only once can I think of a time when I really stepped up to impart a tidbit of wisdom to a younger friend. Elizabeth was exuberant about a community service project where children''s clothing would be given away to those less fortunate. She was in charge and doing a magnificent job at organizing the event. 


With much trepidation I asked, "As an older woman may I share with you a piece of advice?" She was wide-eyed and eager. Most carefully I explained that in my years of service with charity organizations we had found it preserves the dignity of a person if they can pay even 10 cents for something. "It becomes then a bargain and not charity." 


She looked thoughtful, then thanked me profusely. My eyes welled up at the thought that perhaps I had actually imparted some small bit of wisdom earned through experience; that maybe I did have something I could give to this next generation of young Southern women.  


"Teach the older women ... to teach what is good.." Titus 2.  


Thank you, Mom. 


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the prairie. Her e-mail is [email protected]