April 2018

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

DAR#22: What part of y'all don't you understand?

DAR #22: I was named for my grandmothers: Mary. I also have an aunt Mary Ann and an aunt Myra, which is just Mary scrambled up a little. I'm not sure if's it's Southern or just families, but there are a lot of recycled names in our family. My Granddaddy M. was Robert Thomas. My uncle Tommy was named for him. And my cousin Thomas. And his son Thomas. Mary Ann married my other uncle Tommy and Cindy married my uncle Tom, whose last name is Roberts, just to make it all fit together. We do have some outliers: Sylvia, Steve, Cindy, Susan, Jennifer, Isabella, but mostly we're all connected by names some way or the other. Both sides of my family were also white Southern Baptists, so some might say I was blessed and others might say I was doomed.

My name is just one way I fit in my family, but I never really fit in the South. When I was young, I was often told I seemed more like a Yankee than a southerner. This is not a compliment in the south, but I took it as one. (I have a habit of taking insults as compliments. Sometimes life just works better that way.) In a high school US History class we students took a survey of ideas to determine whether we were "conservative" or "liberal." To everyone's dismay, including mine, I came out "liberal." Classmates made be take it again just to be sure. None of us had guessed I would be so displaced.

It seems to me that belonging is culturally more important in the south than in the newer and more transient northwest. When I lived for a time in Dallas, I lived in a home surrounded  by octogenerians. I asked one neighbor, Johnny, who lived in the catty-cornered house, since I had not met them yet. "Oh," Johnny said, "Don't mind them. They're Yankees." When I asked how long they'd lived there, he said, "About 25 years." How long do you have to live here to be a Texan? "About three generations."

Coming out as a debutante (or "deb" as we said) was more popular than coming out as a lesbian, but when I came out, most of my extended Southern Baptist family embraced me and my partner in a way I would not have guessed or hoped for.

My parents' greatest fear, I think, was that my grandmothers would "find out." Each let me know in Southern code that she "knew" and was there for me. When Ann and I visited my Grandmother E. with my dad, as soon as Dad and I left the room to fix us all ice-cream (another inheritance), Grandmother said to Ann, "You're the one who lives with Mary. Right?...I thought so." And that was it.

With my other grandmother, things were never quite so quiet. My aunt Mary Ann had everyone over for Sunday dinner (the noon meal on Sundays). It's not a meal with this family unless there are at least 15 people there. Grandmother took a seat in the middle of the long table, seating Ann to her right and me to her left. The table conversation took its usual ADHD course: starting one conversation with someone down the table, then shifting to another in mid-sentence, all of it somewhat raucous. In the midst of all of this, grandmother would turn to Ann, say, "Who does the laundry?" and Ann would respond, "We both do." My grandmother would say, "Oh! That's good." Then she'd turn to me, "Who does the cooking?" I'd say, "We both do," and grandmother would again exclaim, "Oh, that's good!" before going on to the next chore of her life.

When I hear folks in the northwest talk about the south like it's where prejudice and backwardness reside, I think it's more complex than that. Though I am certainly more of a fleece-wearing northwestern do-gooder than a pearl-laden Southern lady, I am glad for my southern accent, for my tendency to exaggerate when telling stories, for a family that calls me by a name that belongs not just to me but to our heritage.

Ya'll have a good day now, ya hear? Mary

1 comment:

  1. I like this one, Mary. Maybe it's because I'm from the south. You say that belonging is more important culturally in the south (which I agree with) and also I'm wondering if there is more culture to belong to in the south. It's a rich place I realize, as a I travel around and compare the rest of the world to it. I love your blogs and think of you every day. Take care. May


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