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Thursday, March 27, 2008

The New Faux Pas

Back in Mama T's day, that's my late grandmother, smoking and walking was about the tackiest thing a woman could do. Going in public without lipstick ran a close second. Unlike the lipstick oversight, in which unkempt lips was the real error of her ways, in the walking and smoking travesty smoking had nothing to do with the transgression.

A woman could sit and smoke until her lungs fell out and she croaked like a midnight catfish and not a soul would bat an eye. A woman could chat on the party line and inhale enough creosote to pave a road from Georgia to Montana and no one would think the lesser of her. She could even drive carpool with the windows rolled up and her children choking pneumatically in the rear seat and who in the world would dare accuse her of behaving un-ladylike.

But as soon as she began the long, unvirtuous walk from her car to the doors of the grocery store with a tobacco stick dangling from her lip or squeezed between two fingers with painted over yellowed nails, the Junior League president would be on the phone with the Garden Club president. Her UDC and DAR ribbons would be stripped from her lapel, and she would never again be asked to make her lemon squares for the UMW bake sale the Sunday after Easter.

Of course, now that smoking itself has fallen out of favor and walking has gained great strides in the health and fitness world, we've had to search high and low for a way to distinguish quality folks from the undesirables. But sitting on Charlotte's front porch swing on Tuesday, I figured it out, the standard we've been missing. Some savvy socialites already apply it, but they've jumped ahead of the curve.

The new litmus test for judging character and self-worth is where people park their cars when they get home from a long day at the grind stone. Front yard parkers, who leave their cars on lawn or dirt (same as putting the car on blocks as far as their neighbors are concerned, even if the car is a Jaguar) for all the world to see, couldn't get an invitation to join the Colonial Dames if they descended straight from the Jamestown settlers.

A proper lady tucks her car at the rear of her domicile and enters through the backdoor, so that her premises will appear undisturbed, pristine, and desolate, just as a realtor or HGTV host would have it. She will never mar the beauty of her home by sitting on the front porch, allowing her pets to frolic in the front yard, or letting her children toss a ball where someone might see. No one wants to view an old lady tottering to her front door or sprawled on the steps with a broken hip. It's uncouth. Folks simply can't bear to watch a young mother tote groceries into the house. How degrading.

Walking and smoking no longer the downfall of genteel living, it's the misparked car that will bring civilization to a hallelujah-halt in the south. Untinted lips, however, still run a close second.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Living Fearlessly

"With hair like that, you oughta have more fun," my husband whistled Friday evening, when I came through the door. I had just been to my strategically planned, 6 weeks in advance, downplay-the-gray hair appointment. I looked in the hall mirror. "Oh my gosh," I whispered. "He's right. I should have more fun."

My hairdresser had left me a little long baking under the dryer. What appeared honey-wheat colored under the low lights of the salon now revealed itself to be popcorn blond - the shade of "more fun."

This morning I woke up (thank goodness) and I knew (finally) my New Year's Resolution. I've decided to live fearlessly, starting today. That means not simply existing from moment to moment, drifting wherever life takes me, but choosing my moments, driving my time, taking some risks, having more fun.

I started this afternoon by taking back a room in my house given over to laundry, storage, and clutter. I've avoided cleaning out the room because I didn't want to make decisions about the stuff. I didn't think I could ever get to the bottom of the pile. I agonized: What would be the point of the project, anyway? Why engage in an exercise of futility?

Good things are happening, though. Tonight, my city trashcan is full, I can see the floor, one of my children surprisingly hugged me and thanked me for my effort. And my husband has agreed that we will plunge forward and turn the space into a private den for the two of us, a love nest. Our own escape from the world.

One day down, the rest of the year to go, and tomorrow's Monday - a true test of my resolve. I have to go to work with my hair the hue of hand lotion. But I'm sticking with it, living fearlessly, even though I'm scared to death. The good thing is, since it took me three months to figure out my resolution, I only have nine months left to lose heart and break it. And, since most people have already dumped their resolutions by March, I'm ahead of the game.