Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Golden Rule

Don't ask me why, but every morning as I run on the treadmill, I watch The Golden Girls on TV. That's right, The Golden Girls. The 1980's, shoulder pad-wearing, cheesecake-eating, wisecrack-spouting, "Thank-You-for-Being-a-Friend" Golden Girls! I have absolutely no idea why, but I love it! In addition to being written and acted superbly, I guess I just find tremendous comfort in viewing a group of older women (Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia) sitting around a kitchen table, discussing their troubles and devouring a caloric dessert! I'm able to run to it because The Hallmark Channel plays several episodes of the show every morning. But today, I got a late start due to some lingering chores I had to complete, so I was only able to catch the last of the daily Golden Girl morning-marathon. And since the remote was on the other side of the room, I decided to just stay on the Hallmark Channel and catch the "Made-For-TV" movie coming up next. Mistake. Big, big mistake.

The basic "plot" of this movie revolved around a small-town, southern, country girl that had left her home and family and moved to "The Big City Up North." Now, several years later, she was a successful, rich business woman, living in a high-rise apartment, wearing her hair in tight, slick buns. Her wardrobe consisted of tight-skirted, grey business suits accented with high-heeled black designer pumps. She climbed into the back of her waiting black limousine, simultaneously closing fifty-seven deals on her very complicated Blackberry cell phone. She was rich, successful, and (of course!) single and childless. Then her Blackberry rang with startling news, her father ("Daddy") had suddenly died, and she must return home to the life she abandoned all those years ago to attend his funeral.

Of course her family "back home" came running to greet her on their large wrap-around porch, pitcher of lemonade in hand. By the third scene in the movie, she has traded her patent-leather pumps and tight hair for cowboy boots and wide-brimmed hats. She reunited with her country-bumpkin high school sweetheart at the annual barn dance by scene twelve, and well, the rest is history.

As I watched this audio/visual nightmare, I suddenly realized I was running faster and harder, mostly because I was mad. I wasn't angered, however, by the fact that The Hallmark Channel had just greatly insulted my intelligence by broadcasting this swill. I was annoyed that the producers of this movie once again portrayed the simple, country folk of The South as much truer, real, down-home stock than those of the evil, crass, rude Northern city folk. All the townspeople in the country home segment wore blue jeans and gingham and were constantly embracing one another, begging their little girl to "come back where she belonged." The big, bad Northern, city folk were uptight, pinstripe-wearing blue-bloods who never smiled, worked incessantly, and spoke with accents resembling Miss Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies.

I know it was just a bad, mid-afternoon movie, but I see these images played over and over, and it's starting to really bug me. For example, I read a devotional each morning to kind of give my day a good jump start. The book contains writings from several different Christian authors, each one about a page long with a short story and thought for the day. One morning a few weeks ago, a female author wrote the day's entry, describing how proud she was of her Southern heritage. "Here we say 'please' and 'excuse me' and our words lack sharp corners," she wrote. Apparently up in the North, where I was raised, we're all a bunch of barbarians who eat with our hands, engage in daily shoving matches and can't possibly comprehend the meanings of these foreign words. "Please" and "Excuse me?" Huh. Never heard of 'em. Do they have something to do with eating with your elbows on the table or sucker-punching your fellow man? Because we Northerners are REALLY good at that!!

I'd like to set the record straight today, if I may. The South does not own the patent on politeness, or niceness, or for that matter, down-homeyness. We actually claim an abundance of all of those things up here in the North (Really!). Now, that's not to say that the South doesn't hold it's share of truly terrific people. My husband is one of them. And I can genuinely tell you that you can show up right now, unannounced, at ANY one of his relatives' homes in Alabama and they will greet you at the door, hug your neck and invite you in for coffee, biscuits and gravy. They are wonderfully generous and thoughtful and I can honestly tell you that I love each one of them fiercely.

But the same could also be said of my own aunts, who grew up in a tiny home in Maple Heights, Ohio, a stone's throw from downtown Cleveland. They were raised with no country hens or cows, no swimming hole or tractors housed nearby in large red barns. Their yard was the size of a postage stamp. They had the added disadvantage of growing up alongside my crabby, quick-tempered father. But if you showed-up on my Aunt Tessie's porch, she'd just as quickly invite you in, slap you on the back, and serve you coffee and her mother's famous nut bread. The same is true of my kind, loving friend Judie, who was born and raised in Syracuse, NY.

Shortly after I arrived in NYC all those years ago, I was cast in the chorus for a show in nearby New Jersey. One of my fellow dancers was a beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl from Georgia. I knew she was from Georgia not only because of her drawl, but also because she never stopped mentioning it. "Georgia, born and raised!" she'd proudly declare, flashing her perfect, pearly-white pageant smile. But as rehearsals progressed, we all began to witness her true personality emerging, one that wasn't so pretty. She was frequently catty, insulting her fellow cast mates when they were out of earshot, and she referred to the technicians and costumers as "The Help." She became increasingly annoyed when "The Help" couldn't seem to grasp that their primary job was to serve her. Ironically, it was the kind, soft-spoken "Jersey girl" who was her dresser that displayed true politeness. Even though she had every right to give "Miss Georgia" a good smack, she took it all in stride and assured us that rude people like her just weren't worth the trouble.

There are those that would say that this is a country/city issue when it comes to rudeness and friendliness, not a North/South thing. Again, I must disagree. I live in what can only be described as The Country. There are pigs, horses and cows all living right down the street from me, and the barns are far too numerous to count. These are definitely "Country Folk!" Yet, when I am at the grocery store, there are many days when I can't get a single person to return a smile, let alone a friendly "hello."

Conversely, as much as I really disliked living in NYC, it also has it's share of kind people. One of my fondest memories is of a cab ride I took there once. My ex-husband and I seldom took anything but the subway, and we frequently walked to save the one-dollar token money. Cab rides were an extravagance in which we seldom indulged. But I had an audition that day and had just spent about an hour or so on my hair and make-up when it began to pour outside. I decided to splurge on a cab to the audition site to preserve my "look." I boarded the taxi and was immediately greeted by the driver, a friendly older man with a Jamaican accent and kind eyes. I gave him the address, then sat back to mentally go-over my audition material. The driver introduced himself as "Sam" and asked where I was headed. I told him I had an audition. His eyes lit-up and he asked me about the role and the show, and how did I think I'd do? I told him there would be several very talented girls there, but I thought the part was something I could do, and was hoping for at least a call-back. He told me he thought I was beautiful and he had a very good feeling about my chances. "Trust me, I know these things," he said, pointing at his temple. "You're going to do GREAT in there today, I can tell!"

As he pulled-up to my stop, I payed the fare and thanked him for his kind words of encouragement. He handed me a card with the phone number of the cab company on it, saying, "Here. When you finish today, call this number and tell the dispatcher how you did in that audition, she'll relay the message to me. I want to know how it went!" He wished me luck and disappeared into traffic. Well, I DID get the call-back! When I arrived back at my apartment, I dug out that card and called the number. The dispatcher knew who I was immediately, because Sam had filled her in already. "He'll be so pleased you called. I'll be sure and give him the message. Congratulations!" That's those typical hard-core "city folk" for you -- making the day of a 23 year old actress. SO like them!

So, I guess my point today is this: We are who we are, regardless of the locations in which we were raised. Our rudeness or politeness isn't based on our latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, but rather on the choices we make regarding how we're going to behave. Boaz, Alabama hospitality is every bit as warm and welcoming as the kind you get in Cleveland, Ohio, as far as I can tell. The unfriendly, frowning lady at the supermarket in York, PA can also be found in aisle three in Macon, Georgia.

And just like Dorothy (the New Yorker), Blanche (the Southerner), and Rose (The Country Mid-Westerner), maybe we can all just get along together and truly appreciate that in the long run, we're all pretty similar. This is what The Golden Girls have taught me. That, and the assurance that there's NOTHING that can't be solved when discussed at a kitchen table over a pot of coffee and a chocolate chip cheesecake!

Thanks for reading!!


CentFla said...

Fun! That lady in the grocery store always smiles at me!

bademailname said...


Just that girl said...


DLE said...

AMEN! As a girl that spent her first 12 years in a small Ohio town, then moved to Orlando. Which seemed very large to me, and I was blessed to have the oppurtunity to travel. You hit the nail on the head! There are great people in the North and the South, big and samll towns and there are not so nice people in those same towns. As you stated we are who we are.

Erin said...

SO TRUE! My mom is a born and raised Queens NY gal and she is the nicest most giving and compassionate woman you'll ever meet :) Yay for us Yanks!!! (Cuz I'm a nice jersey girl!)

Jen Taft said...

I'll never forget the NYC airport bus driver who took pity on me and went out of his way to help.
In all my travels, the one thing I've found constant is that people are the same all over the world. A kind word with a warm smile can melt any harsh coating. Seattle sports fans have been criticized for being welcoming and too kind to the fans of opponents. Makes me proud that laid back Northwesterners (in our largest city) care more about the person than any team.

Anonymous said...

I'll trade being erroneously portrayed as rude and thoughtless over ignorant and racist any ol' day. :) And I absolutely agree with you, friendliness and jerkiness are not geographically specific.

Poor Mike though. He married into a family that still refers to "the War of Northern Agression" and can't resist any opportunity to comment on anything they deem his "squirley Yankee ways." I, on the other hand, via my in-laws, am constantly schooled on how poor my education was, how difficient my cultural upbringing, and the ever popular, reminders of my segregationist past.

And folks are shocked, shocked I tell you, when I say I dread the holidays.

Have a hot, apple cider for me!


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