Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Tomorrow is another, cooler day

The husband's air conditioning repair was short lived, and I was stuck in a dark and hot house most of the day. Today's schedule called for telephone work. Normally I enjoy doing this in the office chair that has become perfectly accommodated to my derriere, but today it was miserable. The upholstery I normally enjoy felt like torture, and it became increasingly difficult to put the smile and energy into my voice. I actually enjoyed the late afternoon drive to the womanchild's counselor because I froze us out with the air conditioning on full force. Most of it was highway driving, so I actually felt virtuous. At higher speeds, air conditioning is more fuel conservative than having the windows down.

This muggy, heavy heat has sent my mind to all the Southern literature I've read over the years. Tennessee's Stella and Blanche, Harper's Scout and Miss Maudie, Pat's and Ricky's mothers and lovers, Rebecca's Ya-Yas, and of course Scarlett and Melanie are all haunting me. Margaret Mitchell, an honest-to-God southern belle if there ever was one, was intrigued by the idea of gumption in a person, why some people rise from hardship that destroys others. Despite all the romance in the book, that's really the central theme. Scarlett and Rhett both had gumption. Melanie, in her own way, did as well. Ashley, on the other hand, really was as lost as his beloved Twelve Oaks.

I admit I'm enamored with the cultural mythology of the South and southern belles. Lacking a true debut into society, I don't meet the strictest standards of Southern belledom, but I was saturated in the old ways with an old fashioned upbringing by my older parents. I'm conversant with tent revivals and charm schools, supper on the grounds just outside the church cemetery gates, country club brunches with blue cheese grits souffle and tabasco rich Bloody Marys and fried bologna sandwiches with cooler iced beer from country stores and bait shops, civil rights marches and the art of the thank you note. I know that "bless your heart" can be said with as many different intonations and meanings as "dude." The more I read of the South, the more I explore my family, the more of the South that I experience, the more convinced I am that gumption is really the underlying theme of it all.

I've written before of my little fireball of a mother. A beauty who traveled through five continents, she could navigate a social situation that would send me traveling to the nearest corner to hide. She said whatever was on her mind as directly and bluntly as possible with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. People loved it and her. I look at my mother-in-law who literally spent her youth chopping cotton on the farm which is now a place where my family can play. She worked her way from the cotton fields to the offices of national politicians who wanted her in their election campaigns. I look at my grandmother who managed a 600 acre tobacco farm by herself in the Depression while raising my father and uncle to be two of the finest men anyone could know. Each of these women could be a page turning, Southern genre book herself, without any literary embellishment. Then I look at myself, wilted by the heat when I don't have physical labor to do, procrastinating opening the mail because I don't want to tackle the problems that might lie there, sometimes hesitant to even talk to people because I fear judgment, sometimes hesitant to write because I don't think I have anything of value to say.

I'm wondering where the gumption went, and it ticks me off. It's my birthright, damn it, and I didn't trade it away. I've just hidden it from myself. I had it when faced with the simultaneous illnesses of my father and daughter, and I'm going to find it again. And I swear, I'll do it with charm and a drawl.


Blogger Paula said...

Gosh, what a great entry, Cynthia. This by itself is Southern lit at its best--holy cow.

I was going to say more, comment on the details, but I won't. This is a wonderful piece of writing that needs no comment.

July 04, 2006 10:14 AM  
Anonymous elleme said...

Never fear. You have much that is of value to say.

I like the notion of women with "gumption" and the women of your family certainly had lots of it. But I think it can be found in abundance outside the South as well.

July 05, 2006 5:55 AM  
Blogger Lisa :-] said...

You haven't lost your gumption, my dear. You just haven't needed it. Gumption comes into play when all else fails. And you have a deep reserve of it.

It seems to me you have all the novel-fodder you could possibly need right there in your own family...

July 06, 2006 11:54 PM  

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