by Whistling-Dixie Philly…
“Well, at least she’s no damn Yankee,” said Mother, and that was the closest thing to a compliment I was ever going to get. “That girl, while you were at Princeton, the one with the, the nose, you know, the…”
“The Jewish girl,” I said.
“Don’t you use that tone with me,” said Mother. “This new girl, she’s not, you know?“
Mother stopped breathing.
“No Mother, she’s not Jewish.”
Mother started breathing again.
“She’s a Southern girl,” I said.
“Watch your mouth,” said Mother. “You watch your manners in my house.”
I had to give Mother the benefit of the doubt. Before lunch today she didn’t even know I had a girlfriend, much less that I was engaged.
My girlfriend, my fiancé, I’d known her only three months now. I met her in Dallas. As far as I was concerned, she was as much a southerner as any belle from Savannah or debutante from New Orleans. But Mother didn’t regard Texans as southerners. Mother believed all ladies west of the Sabine River crowned their curtilage with cactus roses, and that all men moussed their hair with motor oil.
“Now, you know my problem with that last girl was not that she was Jewish,” said Mother.
“I mean, not for the sake of being Jewish. But go ahead and tell me how I was wrong about her. ”
“You were right about her, Mother.”
“Tell me how I didn’t warn you about her.”
“You warned me about her, Mother.”
“It’s not that I want to gloat. God forbid I should want to see you happy. But like I’ve told you a thousand times, you need—“
“A Southern girl.”
“So tell me about this new girl,” said Mother. Mother loved being right almost as much as she loved sounding magnanimous.
“Well, like I said, she’s a Southern girl,” and thinking about Mary made my eyes light up. “You’re just going to fall in love with her.”
Mother didn’t look so sure.
“She’s everything that’s splendid about a Southern girl. She has beautiful brown eyes, pouty lips, and a loving smile.”
“I see,” said Mother.
“And with Mary, family means everything.”
“You don’t say. Is she from a large family?”
“Eight sisters, six brothers.”
“Oh my, that is a large family. And what does her father do?”
“He’s a doctor.”
“What’s his specialty?”
“He’s a GP.”
“I didn’t know there were any old country doctors still around,” said Mother.
”He even makes house calls.”
“You don’t say. And her mother?”
“Where do you think Mary gets her exquisite eyes?”
“I suppose you two are already living together,” said Mother, “like you did with that one from New York?”
“Not a chance,” I said. “Mary wouldn’t have it.”
“Really?” said Mother. Mother was taken aback.
I grabbed Mother by the hand. I could see she was a bit startled by this. No one ever grabbed Mother by the hand.
“I have to tell you, Mother,” I said, “Mary, her whole family, there’s something so old-fashioned about them, as if they were from another time and place. It’s just like the stories you always told me, about how it was growing up with Mamaw and Papaw. There is something about her that reminds me of, well, of You.”
Mother had never heard me talk this way before.
“Mary is nothing like any of the girls I’ve dated before, nothing like women today at all. She doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t even have any tattoos.
“And now, this you’re just not going to believe,” I said. Mother almost looked frightened. “We’ve had a dozen dates altogether, and that’s counting the times I’ve been to her house. Never, not even once, have we been alone. Either her father or her mother or her grandmother has always been there to chaperone. I’m not kidding. That’s how old-fashioned she is.”
“My word,” said Mother, “sounds like someone straight out of a Herbert Sass novel.” Mother swallowed hard. “Sounds like your father and I.”
“So,” said Mother, “when do I get to meet this future daughter-in-law of mine, this Southern girl?” She smiled as she touched my hand.
“Well, I said, “how about now?”
“She’s right outside, in the car. I’ll go and get her.”
“Here? She’s here now?” said Mother, and she began searching for a mirror. “But I don’t even have my face on.”
Absent a mirror, Mother set to fixing her hair by her reflection in the silver tea set. I hadn’t seen Mother this out of sorts since President Clinton consoled her at my father’s funeral.
I gave Mother the few extra moments I knew she’d want, and even knocked first.
“Come in,” she said.
I opened the door. Mother was standing stiff as a board, smiling wide with the scent of freshly sprayed perfume in the air. It was the biggest smile I ever saw her make, and it lasted all of one second. At two seconds, the arch in her back gave way and her shoulders slumped forward. In the third second, all the color went out of her face and she was as white as a ghost. At least she looked bleached white, especially in contrast to Mary, who wrapped her ebony arms around Mother, hugging her like she was family already, saying “Mama.”
Mother should be happy. Mary reminds me of her in so many ways. She is the very definition of a Southern girl: ladylike, a natural beauty, and as old-fashioned as they come. And of course, one thing Mary most certainly is not: She’s no damn Yankee.
About the Author
Philip Loyd loves fat chicks and cheap beer, though not necessarily in that order. His first novel, You Lucky Bastard, is represented by New York Literary Agent Jan Kardys. Loyd lives in Dumbass, Texas. Find out more about Loyd at http://PhilipLoyd.com
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