This house is changing. For those of you that follow this blog, or know me pretty well, you know that I am living in my grandmother’s house, the one they moved into when my mom was in fourth grade. So, the 2 swing sets, the trampoline, the supersized sandbox, and the numerous ride-on toys are a new thing for the neighbor. One lady’s garbage is no where near the same sight as the overstuffed garbage can that sits outside our house, which sits close to the driveway so it’s easy to move down the hill of a driveway we have. I try to be responsible and recycle, but that produces a different stack of stuff on our carport until we get the chance to take it to the recycling drop-off. We are relaxed parents who like to have fun, and for every minute we spend creating order, there are five minutes of one of our children undoing that order. I wish it wasn’t that way, but I don’t desire extreme order so much that I’d give up the joy that each child has been in our lives. We have some order going on around here. It just wouldn’t be enough for Peter Walsh.
The neighbor doesn’t like this, and it has upset him enough to warrant two visits to our door and a name calling. He’s 50-something, and I don’t think he likes kids at all. He never smiles when we wave, and you can almost see him throw up in his mouth when he sees one of us. He came down and knocked on the door at 8:30 pm the first time. When Superman told him that he had boys in the bathtub and he couldn’t talk, he persisted to complain about the state of our yard, informing us that it is against the law to park in the grass. He finally left. The next visit occurred shy of one week later, while SM was on his way home from his four-day hospital stay over Father’s Day weekend. Nice timing, huh? This time I answered the door. He asked for SM, and I explained what had happened over the weekend. Guess what he did. Complained anyway. He brought up the car in the grass. YA’LL, Roomie moved her car out of the grass and parked it in this little triangular spot between our driveway and carport that has a little grass, but it’s not the front yard. He complained. I said, “I’m sorry. If she parks behind us then everyone has to get our here to move a car when someone needs to go somewhere. You can call and report us and let them come out and write us a citation and we’ll pay the fine.” There was a comment made about me deciding to have seven kids (like I didn’t know), and I responded that our backyard will reflect that. I didn’t say, “Yes sir, I will do whatever makes you happy”, and he just didn’t like that. He resorted to telling me I “give new meaning to the word trash.” No one has ever called me a name to my face. Maybe one of my siblings when we were younger, but that’s it. It made me shake. When my father-in-law arrived with SM, he spoke to the neighbor as he left and told him to not bother us again. This is what my friend Preacher had to say about it…
I just realized what has been really bothering me about your neighborly encounter. I don’t know if it was just a confusion of syntax or perhaps it was a metaphorical allegory gone terribly awry, but he is mistaken in using the term “trash” in reference to you and your family. Now, of course, I am making the assumption that he was shortening the term and his actual intention was to reference you as “white trash”. As a daughter of the South, I feel a mandate to clear up any confusion in this area.
I was raised that there were several levels in the caste system that comprises southern womanhood. In all honesty, southern womanhood is a complex issue. Everyone down here is jacked up on moonshine, humidity and Calvinism. It does lead to all sorts of confusion about the appropriate categories. Let’s review…
At the top of the system there is the “Southern Lady”. They are the women which we all aspire. Even during temperatures reaching the upper 90s with 100% humidity, they glisten or perspire – they never sweat. While their homes may occasionally be in disarray, they are never filthy. These women typically participate in some in a traditional Women’s Club, Bridge Club or Literary Society and are associated with a tour of homes during the holiday season. This variety of southern woman may, but not always, be associated with “old money”. They observe the time honored southern rituals with the most practiced grace: white shoes only between Easter and Labor Day, diamonds before 40 years of age are tacky, they don’t smoke in public, and Christmas cards always go out on time. They are our heroes. Unfortunately, they are almost extinct. it is really no wonder why now is it?
The next step down is the “Southern Belle”. Think Sally Fields in Steele Magnolias. A little less perfect, these women usually have some kind of a “past” associated in some sorority sort of context that is allowed and excusable under the existing social codes in the south. Their houses don’t make the tour of homes, but they do usually manage to have a freezer stocked with at least 2 emergency casseroles for families in need. They attend their churches on Sunday but are, in all practicality, unable to get the friend chicken on the table in their own homes under such time constraints. You’ll see them eating with their families at the Piccadilly instead. They are diligent about matching ensembles for family portraits and will go to great lengths to procure them. Their roots never show. I think it is the effort to achieve this level of perfection that can occasionally lead them to be the meanest breed of southern woman alive. When you hear them say, “bless your heart” what they really mean is: “you stupid bastard”.
Then there is the species of southern womanhood of which I find myself, the “Redneck Woman”. Contrary to popular belief, this woman is at least semi-educated and always literate. She is just doing the best she can but has come to the realization that she cannot achieve the upper echelon of womanhood afore mentioned. Her home is marginally clean, but impeccable by Third World standards. As a global thinker, she is okay with this. Rather than abolish her home of cobwebs and dust bunnies during the holidays, you may find her just throwing tinsel on them. Her efforts are better put to use finding a good recipe for the perfect “hot buttered rum” to take to whatever Christmas light extravaganza she is required to attend with her extended family in celebration of the birth of her Lord and Savior. For all general purposes, she waits until 5pm to start drinking and never while nursing, even though I suspect the generation before us smoked and drank while nursing which is why we have many of our issues. However, she finds no shame in a Mimosa before church on the Sunday she has volunteered to teach the 2 year olds. She knows no shame in purchasing her clothes at Wal-Mart or Target. Her family will probably not match for portraits. As a matter of fact, if everyone gets out of the house with the same set of shoes on each foot the day has started off pretty good. Her yard will indeed be cluttered with parts of her life that overflow from the windows of her home. This may mean the blessings of toys, and tarps used to paint (I’m looking out on my fence as I write), and various furniture litters her lawn. She may behave in ways unfamiliar to the unaccomplished connoisseur of southern womanhood. On occasion, she may have to beat her dog because it ran out the back door with her favorite bra. You might hear her call out to her child: “Baby, run get Mama another beer out of the crisper.” While she may be many things, she is never disingenuous. If she thinks you are a stupid bastard she will just call you one to your face.
Here is where your neighbor made the great leap in error. While I feel you were just probably identifying with the Redneck Woman, he saw traits of what we sometimes lapse into which is the “Common” category. My grandmother had an entire list of things that classified you as “common”. Re-applying lipstick at a table in a restaurant, for instance, was common. Smoking on the front steps of the church was also common. I remember seeing a woman re-applying her lipstick in church after communion. I was sure my grandmother would’ve been mortified. One of the great things about the “Common” category is that it is fairly fluid. For instance, I may be a Redneck Woman but do things that are just downright common every once in a while and still maintain my status.
However, if you persist too long in the “Common” category you will unfortunately fall into the least sub-species of southern woman: “White-trash”. Now the trick about being white-trash is that you never know it until it is too late to do something about it. See the example below:
Now I promise you that she did not realize, until it was too late that she was, indeed, white trash. I’m sure she didn’t even know that her tattoo was showing. Of course this is another identifying factor of the white-trash woman. Not that she has a tattoo, but the odds are highly likely that it is either spelled incorrectly or the name of a former associate. She is often marked by a tendency to over accessorize her ensemble. Notice the dangly earrings and black purse. This outfit clearly calls for another choice. Alas, she didn’t know. The classification of white-trash can also be associated with poor hygiene. Whereas the Redneck Woman may leave her Christmas lights out all year long to honor the birth of her Lord and Savior, the White-Trash Woman doesn’t even try to decorate. There are also no toys in her yard because she has spent all her money on accessories.
Note: You won’t find the White-Trash Woman at church on a Sunday at all, not because she doesn’t believe in Jesus but because in the South we have predestined her to eternal damnation. There is nothing a Calvinist likes better than to play social piñata with her. See the story of the Woman at the Well for more details on how Jesus interacted with the White-Trash.
In conclusion, you are not White-Trash. I’ve never known you to over-accessorize and as far as I know, all of your tattoos are spelled correctly. I’ve never even known you to lapse into a series of common behaviors, but if I ever do please know that I will warn you of your impending compromise. Please inform your neighbor of his social faux-pas. You are strictly a Redneck.
Yes, she has too much time on her hands right now. She is resting up this summer in preparation for starting her master’s program full time in the fall, and she is an amazing writer. Jesus, autism, or social commentary…she knows how to put it into words really well. So, I guess I am a redneck. I don’t actually drink beer simply because I am almost always nursing or pregnant and I just don’t like the taste, AND I don’t have any tattoos. No judgment- they just aren’t my thing. But other than that, I guess I am a Redneck. That would mortify my grandmother, and I’m sure SM’s relatives have felt this way about me from time to time, seeing as the women are all at least hanging with Sally Field on this one. But it works for me and what God has called me to do. I don’t try to offend anyone, especially the neighbor. I guess he’s glad that he’ll be moving sometime in the near future. I know I am.