Someone once noted that a Southerner can get away with the most awful
kind of insult just as long as it's prefaced with the words "Bless her
heart" or "Bless his heart." As in, "Bless his heart, if they put his brain on
the head of a pin, it'd roll around like a BB on a six-lane highway."
Or, "Bless her heart, she's so bucktoothed, she could eat an apple
through a picket fence."
There are also the sneakier ones that I remember from tongue-clucking
types of my childhood: "You know, it's amazing that even though she had that baby seven months after they got married, bless her heart, it
weighed 10 pounds!"
As long as the heart is sufficiently blessed, the insult can't be all
that bad, at least that's what my Great-aunt Tiny (bless her heart, she was anything but) used to say. I was thinking about this the other
day when a friend was telling me about her new Northern friend who was
upset because her toddler is just beginning to talk and he has a Southern accent. My friend, who is very kind and, bless her heart,
cannot do a thing about those thighs of hers, so don't even start, was
justifiably miffed about this.
After all, this woman had CHOSEN to move South a couple of years ago.
"Can you believe it?" she said to my friend. "A child of mine is going
to be taaaallllkkin' a-liiiike thiiiissss." I can think of far worse fates than
speaking Southern for this adorable little boy, who, bless his heart, must surely be the East Coast king of
mucus. I wish I'd been there. I would have said that shouldn't fret, because there is
nothing so sweet or pleasing on the ear as a soft Southern drawl.
Of course, maybe we shouldn't be surprised at our "carryings on." After all, when you come from a part of the
world where "family silver" refers to the large medallion around Uncle Vinnie's neck, you
just have to, as Aunt Tiny would say, "consider the source." Now don't
get me wrong. Some of my dearest friends are from the North, bless their hearts.
I welcome their perspective, their friendships, and their recipes for
authentic Northern Italian food. I've even gotten past their endless complaints that you can't find good bread down here.
The ones who really gore my ox are the native Southerners who have begun to act almost embarrassed about
their speech. It's as if they want to bury it in the "Hee Haw" cornfield. We've already lost too
much. I was raised to swanee, not swear, but you hardly ever hear anyone say that anymore, I swanee you don't. And I've
caught myself thinking twice before saying something is "right much," "right close"
or "right good" because non-natives think this is right funny indeed. I have a friend from Bawston who thinks it's hilarious when I say
I've got to "carry" my daughter to the doctor or "cut off" the light.
That's OK. It's when you have to explain things to people who were born here that I get mad as a mule eating
bumblebees. Not long ago, I found myself trying to explain to a native Southerner what I meant by
being "in the short rows." I'm used to explaining that expression (it means you've worked a right smart but you're
almost done) to newcomers to the land of buttermilk and cold collard sandwiches (better than you
think), but to have to explain it to a Southerner was just plain weird. The most grating example is found in restaurants and
stores where nice, Magnolia-mouthed clerks now say "you guys" instead of
"y'all," as their mamas raised them up to say. I'd sooner wear white shoes in February, drink unsweetened tea, and eat Miracle Whip
instead of Duke's than utter the words, "you guys." Not long ago I went to
lunch with four women friends and the waiter, a nice Southern boy, you-guys-ed all of us within an inch of our lives. "You guys ready to
order? What can I get for you guys? Would you guys like to keep you guys' forks?"
Lord, have mercy. It's a little comforting that, at the very same time
some natives are so eager to blend in, they've taken to making microwave grits (an abomination), the rest of the world is catching on
that it's cool to be Clampett. How else do you explain NASCAR tracks and Krispy Kreme doughnut franchises springing up
like yard onions all over the country?
To those of you who're still a little embarrassed by your
Southernness, take two tent revivals and a dose of redeye gravy and call me in the morning.
Bless your heart!
(My personal favorite was uttered by my aunt who said, "Bless her heart, she can't help being ugly, but she
could've stayed home.)