I think it can be said that most Southern Belles feel that reacting to any situation with composure—no matter how extreme the situation might be—is always the best method of handling a situation. I agree. I think a composed reaction can usually bring tense situations down to manageable levels. God knows I wish I could do it.
I do hope you’re sitting down for this shocking revelation: I am a bit of a hothead. I have furthermore been informed that my two-year attendance at a women’s college only served to exacerbate the issue. I don’t think you can classify me as one of those “Danged Women’s Libbers.” I agree that women can do anything men can do (as long as male “plumbing” isn’t necessary for the task), but I do like to have the door held open for me, my chair pulled out and I will never have a problem with the man picking up the tab for dinner.
I suppose it’s possible that I was a little more rabid about my beliefs in my wild youth. I was sitting at the dinner table with my parents one night when I was either still attending Peace or about to transfer to Chapel Hill. The University System had been in search of a new President at the time and the news reported that the first female president in the history of the institution had been offered the job and accepted.
Mom made mention of the fact that a woman would hold the job for the first time and that it would be interesting to watch her in office. I hadn’t yet heard the news, so I asked who she was and where she was transferring from:
Dad: Um...I can’t remember exactly. I think it’s some broad—
Me: Dad! That is such a sexist thing to say! I’m sure she’s worked really hard to get where she is and she doesn’t deserve to be belittled with name calling!
Mom: No, Ashley, her last name is Broad. Molly Broad. That’s her name.
Oops...well...color me red with embarrassment. Dad just sat there with a terribly put-upon expression on his face and Mom chuckled at the other end of the table, thoroughly enjoying the fact that I’d just given Dad hell on behalf of the Women’s Movement. Lesson learned? In my private life as well as in my legal career, I find it helpful to let someone finish their sentence or question so I can have a better idea as to just what in the hell we’re all talking about.
There have been countless other times in my life where, if I had been able to keep my composure, things might have gone a little bit better. I was conversing with my step-sister the other day and she helped me recall two such instances that both happened to involve my mother. (Please take note as to how I am dragging my step-sister into this and therefore diabolically deflecting at least a portion of the blame away from my person. I’m a lawyer.)
Once upon a time, we owned a boat. It was a nifty little thing and we had a lot of good times with it. Unfortunately, the day I aim to tell you about was not, in fact, one of those good days. Fairly early in the season one year, the Culbreths went a-boating. I can’t recall if we were going anywhere in particular or if we were just out piddling around, but we eventually found our way to the ICW at the Wrightsville Beach Bridge.
Passing under the WB Bridge isn’t the most fun you’re ever going to have. It’s quite loud and all sorts of debris from the passing cars finds its way through the grates and into the eyes of unvigilant boaters. It can furthermore be a bit of a tight squeeze at times in addition to the fact that various gross and icky coastal birds enjoy hanging out on the ledges and in the crevices.
I don’t like birds.
Anyway, Dad was driving, Ethan and I were in the middle seats and Mom was sitting at the back. Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, poor Mother got bombed right in the face by a pelican. I don’t know if you are terribly familiar with pelicans, but the only thing you need to know right now is that their poop is of a magnitude that one would expect from an elephant.
Thank God that Jackie O sunglasses were in at the time because they took a lot of the hit, but it was in her hair, on her face and let me assure you that her shirt was completely ruined. As one would expect from the victim of such a disgusting disaster, Mom started screaming. I have no doubt that I would have done the same. The problem was that, since Ethan and I weren’t the ones with the bad luck, we started laughing uproariously and refused to get near her and help with the clean-up because ewwwwww!
Strangely enough, Mom’s mood was rather poor for the rest of the day.
On another occasion, Mom and Dad took me, Ethan and Kaki to the Country Club for lunch after church. Lunch at the County Club was the reward for making it through church without too much wiggling and snickering—in other words, performing a miracle.
I can’t recall for the life of me whether it was the beginning or the end of the meal, but a young waiter came by with a tray holding a pitcher full of iced water and a pitcher full of iced tea. Of course, we all partook of the less healthy option, so the waiter took the tea off of the tray and leaned over to refresh Mom’s drink while ostensibly holding up the tray and the water pitcher.
Yeah, that didn’t go so well.
The tray wobbled and the pitcher of iced water fell right over and spilled all of its contents down Mom’s back. In an attempt to convey my lack of composure at the scene: I am sitting here typing about the experience at least twenty-five years later and I can hardly finish because I am laughing uncontrollably. Can’t...see..keys...through...the tears.
Dad displayed an amazing survival instinct that day by keeping a serious poker face, but the rest of us apparently had no will to live. We couldn’t stop laughing. We couldn’t stop laughing to breathe. I think it safe to say that everyone dining at the Country Club knew we were there that day.
It is also of note that our waiter on that fateful day was never seen again.