True South

Only in the South

When layaway simply won’t do

By Susan S. Kelly

Admit it: There are scenes and situations that could only happen in the South. I’m not talking about moonshine, magnolias, accents or tobacco. Collards, however, are involved.

Exhibit A:

One bitter-cold, sleeting January, my mother was hosting her luncheon bridge club gathering at her house (it’s worth noting, and also probably apropos to Only in the South, that my mother had lived in a different town for 18 years, and her bridge club had never replaced her; they’d used substitutes. For 18 years).

Never mind that these were the ’70s, they were still — again, Only in the South — the days of linen tablecloths, sterling silver, crystal goblets, and what I term girl food: lemon bars, asparagus spears, and a chicken casserole concocted with Campbell’s mushroom soup. Somewhere between the shuffling and the cleaning, the disposal backed up, the dishwasher broke down, and water from ice-damming in the gutters began running down the walls. The luncheon was not a success.

The minute the last guest left, my mother drove straight to Montaldo’s and bought herself a mink coat. (Also worth noting: All through my childhood, when I watched game shows on TV, and fur coats were the ultimate prize, my mother was very firm in her belief that no one under 50 should own a fur coat. She’d reached the required age, but only just.) However, she had to put the mink coat on layaway. That night, she told her mother, my grandmother, who lived in the ultra-sophisticated burg of Walnut Cove in Stokes County, what her day had been like.

The next morning, my grandmother drove straight to Montaldo’s, bought the mink coat herself, and delivered it to my mother. Not so much because she felt sorry for my mother — which she no doubt did — but because there was just no way that a daughter of hers was going to have anything on layaway at Montaldo’s.

Exhibit B:

A friend of my mother’s — we’ll call her Joan — was having a meeting at her house, necessitating finery, flowers, decorum, and girl food (see above). Minutes before the meeting, Joan smelled something awful. The maid had elected that particular morning to cook up a mess of collards (not girl food).

Joan panicked. “You can’t cook collards now, Myrna!” she scolded, revolted by the stench, and that a dozen grande dames were about to descend into her stinking living room. (Did I mention the meeting involved debutantes? Also Only in the South.) “You’ve got to get rid of those collards!” So, Myrna did what she was told. She took the big pot of greens off the stove and emptied the whole malodorous mess down the toilet. Which promptly stopped up and overflowed. And no embroidered hand towels in a powder room, or asparagus spears with hollandaise, can overcome a clogged commode, collards, and matrons clad in ultrasuede.

Exhibit C:

My friend Betty grew up with an irascible, alcoholic mother. A real character, who I loved, but was, nevertheless, a drunk. Years later, at a party, Betty was talking to a friend who was married to another adult child of an alcoholic, in a family that might have had even more dysfunction and irregularities than Betty’s. Still, the son — we’ll call him James — had survived and thrived. Thinking she was delivering a compliment, Betty said, “Look at James. He’s successful. Normal. Happy. With all that was going on in his house, how in the world did he turn out so well?”

The friend didn’t miss a beat. “Just like you did, Betty. Good help.”

Debutantes, collards, Montaldo’s, and good help. Only in the South.  PS

Susan S. Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and a proud grandmother.

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