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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.

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