I was raised by a mother who insisted I be a lady. Or at least try and act like one.
My mother was a transplanted German living in a foreign land, in a small West Texas town, trying to raise her daughters with some semblance of decorum. Bless her heart, she tried so hard.
The rule above all: Act like a lady.
As she raised me (I’m Smirky McGee), this might have been the closest she got:
She would have died an early death had I raised a girl, or had a granddaughter, because my rule above all would have been: Be kind to all, but don’t take any shit.
~German accent here~ “Oh my Got, act like a lady, Patti Ann.”
I heard the refrain throughout my tender years. Act like a lady. What the hell (oops) did that mean exactly?
There were the obvious answers. I knew that during summer vacation when I plopped on the couch after coming in from outside, where I had played football with the neighborhood boys, to watch Cartoon Carnival while eating my lunch, that my mother would hand me, along with my bologna sandwich, an admonishment with specific instructions: Sit up straight and dear Lord close your legs.
Close my legs? Hot damn woman, (sorry, it just slipped out) do you know how itchy and sweaty I get when I play tackle football with my boys on a prickly, abandoned, rent-house lawn? Trust me, I need to keep all limbs akimbo. It’s a scorcher out there!
She would have none of my excuses. Sit up! Close your legs! Put the football down! Eat!
Cra..(oooo, that one was close)
The other obvious stuff included not playing tackle football with the neighborhood boys, no throwing rocks at anything, listen when men/boys speak (for the record, she was German and had a strange men-are-at-the-top-of-the-food-chain outlook that to this day is still foreign to me) and chew with your mouth closed. To be fair, my brothers got that last one too.
One of my favorite Be a Lady-isms of my mother’s was: Don’t walk like such a farmer.
The first time I remember hearing it was when I was about 12-years-old and in a dress on a family outing.
When she said it to me, I thought it hilarious. She did not. There would be no laughing, nor pretending to be a farmer, when given instructions on being a lady. She was serious. Yet, she failed to tell me exactly how a farmer walks (obviously like me) or how to correct such an affliction. I later deduced she meant that I should stop flailing my arms and approaching people with such a unladylike stride.
I blame the boys for my farmer-walking habit. When your childhood friends are mostly of the male persuasion, you tend to become one of the pack. Eat or be eaten. Being one of the pack meant walking with bravado, even when one’s mother wanted you to be a lady.
To this day when I see a woman walking with arms flying or having a hard time on her shoes, I think to myself: she walks like a farmer. I’m horrified and amused that her adage has stayed with me all these years later.
One of my husband’s favorite Be a Lady-isms: Ladies don’t argue with their husbands.
Good luck with that, buddy.
In our early, just-married days, he and I were at my parent’s home, having a lively discussion about how I disagreed with him on some matter. I wasn’t agitated. I wasn’t yelling. I was merely stating my alternative view, strongly.
My mother overheard us and told me that I should not talk to him in that manner. Ladies don’t do that. “Um, Mom, join us here in the 20th Century, won’t you? Ladies that you know may not do this, but I do and will continue to do so.”
She shook her head sadly in my husband’s direction, for his benefit, denoting her utter failings as a mother to a daughter who never learned the proper ladylike ways of her world. My husband loved that moment. Even now, 28 years later, he’ll tell people about it, picturing how life could have been had I only been more studious in the art of being a lady.
Today, so many years separated by my mother’s lessons in acting like a lady, I like to think some of her lessons took. Although, most did not. Many of them I looked over and discarded as antiquated and silly. Just as my son has done with our admonishments for him to act like the fine young man we know he is.
There are days when I purposely walk like a farmer just for the fun of thinking what my mother would say. Other days, I close my legs and drink my tea with a pinkie extended.
Though, most days a curse word slips out no matter what I am doing. My mother doesn’t know this about me. I rarely cuss around her.
It was a given in my education of what a lady does or does not do, that cursing was akin to being an uneducated heathen. It was coarse and jarring, especially from a lady’s lips. To cuss meant I was no better than the hobos riding the trains. I can’t even imagine the withering look or admonishment I’d get for that.
Mom, here’s to you and your efforts of molding me into the lady you envisioned. I may have fallen short of your expectations, but on the plus side I can hold my own with men. Hell yeah, I can.
Oh, and Mom…I cuss….regularly.