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Publisher’s Letter: Mother Knows Best

Ashley Sexton Gordon. Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes.

We painted her little sister’s fingernails when she was five. We were a good bit older, and we thought that she might need some primping. And Hot Tamale Fuchsia looked so very good on us, that the young child wanted paint to make her big. Bad choice. Especially down here. My friend’s seriously Southern mother took one look at her baby daughter, fuchsia fingernails and all, and she about cried. The nail
polish remover was doused like water over a yard fire, and the word “hussy” came out of her mother’s lips more than once.

My takeaway from that experience: Southern girls—the good ones—don’t paint their fingernails when they are five. The year was 1987, and I can still smell the acetone and hear the shrieks. Fast-forward a few decades, and we’ve all but thrown decorum out the window. In fact, I saw a woman applying mascara to her own baby girl in the mall, before photos with the Easter Bunny. And it wasn’t Honey Boo Boo.

Now, I’m certainly not one to judge (I was the one to paint the nails, you know) but I was drilled, like many of you, with rules of right and wrong while growing up. And I’m not just talking the Golden Rule. I’m talking Southern rules. Rules that might not hold water, or acetone, north of the Mason Dixon. And these rules weren’t only enforced by my own mother. Heck, no. Every mother who crossed my path—from the slumber party mom to the bus driver—corrected my grammar and made me spit out my gum. “Yes ma’am,” they’d barked at you when you lagged. “Bow your head,” they’d prompt you when you wavered. “Cross your legs.” “What do you say?” “Close your mouth.” “Sit up straight.” And by all means, call your grandma and finish your thank you notes.

Now our culture would like to tell you that rules have gone out the window. Anything goes, they say. Well, the ones who say that don’t live in south Louisiana. And they must not have a grandma. Rules are there for a reason. And the ones that break them are breaking bad. I recently was reminded of this lesson the hard way.

Now, the old-school rule is that you can’t wear white before Easter and after Labor Day. Anyone who’s followed fashion of late knows that the very favorite thing those-in-the-know like to do is break the rules. So white has become more acceptable year round, especially in warm climates such as ours. But there is an additional, unspoken rule in these parts, that goes even further—don’t wear white jeans to a crawfish boil. Why? Because whatcha gonna do when you need to wipe your hands on your jeans? And frankly, you look a little uppity. Like you expect someone to peel for you.

I broke both of these rules on Good Friday. Two days before Easter I donned pearly white denim and I headed to the family farm for an all-day crawfish boil and shenanigans. It all started out OK, with only a bit of crawfish juice staining my right thigh. But later, my brother yelled, “Come on, white jeans, we’re going for a ride,” as he pulled up next to the house in an already muddy Polaris Ranger. Some times I don’t have any sense. And no, I’m not talking about getting in a sodden ATV with my brother. I’m talking about wearing white to a farm with boiling crawfish and sloppy trails of mud. When we emerged 45 minutes later from the tree line across the fields, the tiny lunch stain was the least of my washing-machine worries.

The rules are the rules to save us from embarrassment down the line. At least that’s what I was told when I was young enough to mold. The mothers whose voices continue to ring, and shrill, from my childhood affect me still. I don’t want to be a hussy, after all.