Act Like a Lady

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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:

Act Like a Lady!

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.

~running away~


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  1. My grandmother whom raised me always told me to act like a lady too. Funny enough she cussed like a sailor and women were definitely the top of the food chain to her. I blame her 😉 for how strong minded I am.

  2. I got “Act Like a Lady” too!! Oh and lots of “Were you born in a barn? Shut the *Insert various devices that have doors attached to them … like doors… and cupboards*” And my mom was always on my butt about my language… if she could only hear me now…. LOL

  3. HAHA! LOVE this post and now you have me thinking of certain sayings my Mom used to say to me…And yes I to can hold my own with the men…maybe even better sometimes. High-Fives!

  4. This should be your anthem. Miranda knows how to “act like a lady”

    I use to hear “Don’t chew like a cow” from my grandmother.”

  5. I love this so, so much. Sound like you grew up to be a perfect TEXAN lady. 😉

  6. Lol…it’s like that Miranda Lambert song….”….hide your crazy and start acting like a lady….” I’m pretty sure that most ladies are crazy anyways:)

  7. My mom and your mom would have gotten along famously. You and I? Ditto!

    • Oh, my. If your mom was/is like mine, I can’t imagine what would happen to you and me if we were in the same room with all that admonishment!

  8. My mom’s favorite was “no one promised you a rose garden”! And she said it a lot. Then one day when she was moaning and crying because we could not longer let her live alone and it was time to place her in the nursing home I said to her…’ no one promised you a rose garden.” She stopped moaning and groaning and laughed out loud. And said, ‘and be careful what you tell your kids.” And I loved the day that my now 43 year old son said that he was shaving in the bathroom and talking to his kids, who were in the other room, and he looked in the mirror and said “oh my God, I am turning into my mother.” Thank you for reminding me of all of this today

    • HA! Love your mom and that she could instantly see the wisdom of “her” words and get a laugh out of it. And we kinda do turn into some parts of our parents, don’t we.

  9. I never got the, “act like a lady” speech. I was all girl, all the time. Regardless of the fact that I had three brothers. Interestingly enough though, when the neighborhood bully picked on my little brother, I busted said bully in the nose and made him bleed. My mother was HOORRRIIFIED! My father, upon entering the house and hearing the tale retold by my very upset mother, simply LAUGHED and said, “That’s my girl”.

    A girl can be a lady and still beat the tar out of a bully…and I don’t take no shit either 😉

    • LMAO! I credit the no-shit-takin’attitude from my father, a native New Yorker. While The German remained horrified throughout my time under her roof, my father was the voice of reason to her doomsday predictions of my future.

      I am totally loving the comments on this post. I am inspired to suggest a Walk Like a Farmer Day!

  10. I’m tellin’. M-o-o-o-m!! Patti’s CUSSIN’!! 😀

  11. Great post! I didn’t get “act like a lady” so much from my mom, but I definitely got lots of other advice;) The funny part is that now I find myself saying (or at least thinking) the same things!

  12. “Pretty is as pretty does!” That’s the saying I heard over and over again from my Oh So Southern Mother. Fabulous post!

  13. Running away! Hahaha! I love reading about your mom! Once when I was at my grandma’s not long after I had been married, she asked my hubs if he’d like something to eat. He told her he’d like a PB&J (we’re really fancy in the food dept.). She very matter of factly told me to go make it for him…I guess that’s what makes a good wife? Haha People were concerned with my quiet nature that my opinionated hubby would be too much for me…it didn’t take long for him to find out that I rule the house. His friends on the other were concerned about my red hair…you know what they say about redheads! Yep, I was sitting on the couch today and thought my little man had gone outside and I started to cussing; I don’t care if he swears but maybe not at 6 years old, unless he can use the words correctly. Hehe

    • Thank you. I have been laughing about y’all’s stories as much as you guys have enjoyed mine. Love it! I tried like hell not to cuss around Boy, but prior and after he left for college, it was back to horrifying The German (if. she. knew.)!

      • Hahaha! That’s awesome! 😀 I forgot to say I just knew which girl was you in the pic! Before I got to the part where you mentioned it, I thought I bet I know which one is her! Hehe The pic really lays it in stone that you are now who were then or vice versa! I love it! 😀

  14. I too am a Texas girl and was taught the same principles of being a lady. From learning to walk with books on my head so I did not walk like the dredded “plow farmer” to learning how to properly cross my ankles and all of the table manners a lady must know. I dutifully taught my daughter the same principles and my most shinning momment came when my adult daughter attended a very, very formal military ball celebrating the 50 year anniversary of an elite group of soldiers. The next day when she was recounting the wonderful experience she said to me ” Mom – I knew exactly what to do and I held my own with the Generals’ wives!” I was never so proud and never so grateful to my mother for teaching me so I could pass it down. CJ

    • The ankle cross! I had totally forgot about that one. I love that we all have a version of “don’t walk like a farmer” handed down to us by our mothers.

  15. My Mom would say cross your legs, sit up straight and act like a young lady. But when I was sitting on the front porch with a bunch of boys talking about cars, sports and surfing she wasn’t worried. When the neighbors said I had to be a slut having so many boys around, my 5 foot, 98 pound Mom let them have it. My Dad had been killed when I was 4 and she felt I got a lot out of these boys friendship plus we sat under a window and my Mom knew what was going on all the time. Thanks Mom for the love and understanding. P.S. My husband appreciates the knowledge I got from these boys.

    • Good for your mom! I honestly believe that my relationship with so many boys kept me out of trouble. They went where I went; I always had someone looking out for me. Sure, I developed a mouth, but there are worse things to develop.

  16. Both my Grandmas strove to make me “act like a lady.” I was super awkward and clumsy (I now know pretty much all kids are) and like to do things super fast to get them done. My maternal grandma (of stubborn, German stock) would glare at me when I dumped my glass after she told me to sit still, or tripped when she told me to watch my step, or dropped my food when she told me to hold my plate straight. She’d just look at me and say, “Well. Can’t call you ‘grace.'” Baha. I can still hear her, though she hasn’t said it to me in years. I think all mothers and grandmothers have some sort of “Act Like a Lady” handbook.

    • “Can’t call you grace.” LOL! Dang it! I agree on the handbook. Except, I never was issued one. Maybe because I had a boy.

  17. Oh gosh yes, the rules with no definitions or explanations. Like I was just supposed to intuit the important factors that defined whatever the desired or undesired behavior was?

  18. I can’t stop laughing – what a great post! We co-hosted on Moonlight & Mason Jars linky party and I just had to stop by. (Sharon)

    All the comments are so fun to read.
    Sharon and Denise

    • HA! The comments are my favorite part! Thanks for stopping in and glad it gave you a laugh. We could all use more of that!

  19. Thanks for sharing this. Thanks for sharing at Sweet and Savoury Sundays, I’d love you to stop by this weekend and link up!

  20. Did you also hear – Don’t bend yourself (keep your back straight ?)

  21. I wrote an earlier post about how proud I was that my daughter was able to keep up with the generals’ wives at a military ball – what I didn’t tell you is I also have a step daughter the same age as my daughter – 12 days apart – like having twins – I tried so hard to teach her the same as I taught my daughter – but she had 2 brothers and lots of male friends. I always felt like a failure – BUT – even though she will out cuss any man – and definitely stand on her own – I am so very grateful that she is the way she is. She has had to be strong enough to see not only herself thru breast cancer but also her son from the age of ten until current time (almost six years) thru an aggressive form of childhood cancer. If she had been a delicate flower – neither she or our grandson would have made it this far. So there is a time to be a lady – but also a time to kick the world in the “arse”!!! CJ

    • That you can recognize the value of each daughter’s differences makes me supremely happy. I’m sorry she had to battle the big stuff, but God bless her strength. Thank you for sharing this…seriously great stuff, CJ.

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