Making the move from New York back to my hometown in Alabama was a cultural shock to my system. The pace of life that had once been so familiar in the Deep South now seemed to amble along at a sluggish pace. Visits to the small town post office became a painful lesson in patience. I had been in New York just long enough to forget the meaning of the word “patience.”
I always loved the excited commotion of the Big Apple. The city pulsated at a breakneck pace that produced whatever you wanted whenever you wanted it.
But not so at the restaurant kitchen turned post office (dis) service center in Jonesboro, Alabama. I pulled my brand new, used Toyota into the only vacant parking place, moved the gearshift into park, and pushed the ignition button to kill the engine.
As soon as I stepped out of the car, the moist, heavy heat enveloped my whole body. And before I could make it to the safe harbor of air conditioning inside the building, I was sticky; like I’d spent the morning frolicking in a giant vat of baby oil and Vaseline.
I no longer needed to stand upright because I was as slimy as a snail and could probably just slither to the front desk: no feet required. I imagined the woman behind the counter sliding snakelike to the cash register to exchange cash for stamps. Instead of saying things like; “What can I do for you today?” or “Have a good day,” we’d just wiggle our antennae and transmit the information through touch and something that resembled snail sign language.
But that would be too easy. And while life in this southern town was slow it was never easy. I found my way past the table littered with every type of envelope, tape, and pens to stand in line. There were two women behind the counter working and two women in front of me.
The woman at the front of the line had an afghan that she’d knitted. She held it out for the cashier to admire and they chatted about what they’d sewed for their grandkids and how long it’d been since they’d been to the knitting club.
“NO!!” my brain silently screams in protest, “not chit chat at the front of the post office line. There should be a law!!”
But it was too late. The Afghan Lady said to the cashier, “So how’s your Maaaaaaaaaaaaama?” And a sense of dread gripped my gut and knotted my knees because I knew that there’s no way I was making it out of here before dinner time. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and sigh loudly in hopes that somebody gets the hint that I’m waiting. I’ve been in New York just long enough to appreciate expediency and I’ve got to pee.
But I grew up in this region and I knew that if there was anything in this world a Southerners loved more than fried chicken and bar-b-que it’s their Maaaaaaaama. And any time a typical Southerner meets another it’s mandatory to ask about Maaaaaaaaama.
I’m never really sure why this social ritual is so persistent because regardless of your answer the obligatory Southern reply is always the same:
“Well, you know I been prayin’ for ‘er.”
It could be, “What?? Your Maaaaaaaama won the lottery!!! Well, chil’ that’s caus I been prayin’ for ‘er.” the typical Southerner says with great enthusiasm.
Or better yet:
“Your Maaaaaaaaama done been drinkin’? An’ run off with the preacher? Again? Well, sugar you know I been prayin’ for ‘er.” Typical Southern says with a deep frown and exaggerated head shake.
At the end of the exchange between the cashier and the typical Southerner there won’t be any “thank you” or “you’re welcome.”
Cashier would say, “Well, that’s mighty kind of ya.” While the typical Southerner would reply, “Well, bless your heart.”
I do enjoy getting my heart blessed. Only a typical Southern woman blesses your heart. Nobody in LA or NYC, or even Seattle can bless your heart like a typical Southern lady.
But all that sugary sweetness made me queasy now. I knew that that just beneath all that blessin’, and prayin’, and knittin’ that Southern Maaaaaaaaamas were the ultimate bad asses.
Once you cross the Mason Dixon, you don’t mess with Maaaaaaaaama; not and still expect to have any teeth left. Why do you think the stereotypical picture of a redneck is always missing a few teeth? It’s because somebody done gone and messed with Maaaaaaaaama.
Afghan Lady was finished. It was time to start the whole routine over again with Pregnant Lady, bless her heart. This could be a while. I think I’ll call my Maaaaaaaaama just to see how she’s doing.