Friday, July 29, 2011

The Southern Dinner Table: Don't Hurt Yourself

For those of you unfamiliar with the Southern dinner table, let me tell you that it is a sacred place.  The South is a place of deep tradition and nowhere is that more evident than Grandma’s, Mama’s or Aunt So and So’s dining room table. 

First, let’s take a look at the helpful tips that could save your life:

  1. As you hopefully recall from The Other Trinity, you’d better by God be careful with Grandma’s good crystal, china and silver.  It might be hard to believe, but there are Southern Belles in this world who use their good tableware at least once a week.  These amazing women believe that it is a privilege to have family gather around their table on Sundays, ostensibly to enjoy each other’s company, but more likely to Hoover down some good cooking. 

Here’s my problem with the aforementioned school of thought:  Do you have any idea what it takes to clean that stuff?  S.W.A.T. teams defusing bombs move faster than someone taxed with the chore of cleaning up after a fancy meal.  Every single piece must be handled with the utmost care because that shit is fragile and it breaks if you so much as look at it wrong.  To make matters worse, one who washes fine tableware is denied the modern convenience of the dish washer.  Each piece must be scrubbed, but not scratched, handled while soapy and slick and dried by hand.  You.  Can’t.  Understand.  The.  Pressure! 

When I eat on “the good stuff”—be it mine or someone else’s—it takes me about four times longer to finish my food because I am a nervous wreck.  I’m careful that the silverware doesn’t scratch the china and God forbid that it accidentally tap the crystal.  When I pick the crystal up to take a sip, my hand shakes from the nerves.  This past Christmas, I stood at the head of my dining room table and told my family, “I love ya’ll, but you’re eating off the regular stuff.  Merry Christmas to me.”

  1. Use your damn manners, dammit!  Keep at it until they are second nature because—not to make you paranoid or anything—everyone is watching!  When you get invited out to dinner, to dinner at a friend’s house or to dinner at the home of your significant other, let me assure you that you are auditioning at all times and in all venues.  If you chew with your mouth open or eat your salad with the wrong fork, you are doomed forever.  You could come back next week and every week after that with manners to charm Emily Post herself and you will always be the person who looked like a cow chewing cud.

Well, now that we have the health and safety tips down, let’s take a look at what’s for dinner, shall we?

If you are watching your weight or attempting to lower your cholesterol, blood pressure or sugar, I sincerely hope you enjoy sucking on the cube of ice from your glass because that’s your meal. 

For the rest of us who are at least willing to suspend belief in health problems and angry doctors while our feet are under grandma’s dining room table, oh what a treat!  If it can be fried, buttered, candied, pickled or slopped in gravy, it is likely to be laid before you.  Fried chicken, fried pork chops, county style steak and meatloaf round out the top contenders. 

If you are someone who doesn’t like eating their vegetables, fear not;  those field peas and collard greens are buttered up and stewed with so much fatback that they practically slide down the throat without the trouble of chewing.  Rather than deal with the pesky matter of someone desiring potatoes over rice or vice versa, I’ve attended many Southern tables where both are served to cut down on preference problems—the same goes with biscuits and corn bread.

So, we’ve got the meat, veggies and starches, starches, starches, but we have arrived at the thread that ties the whole meal together:  Iced tea.  Southern iced tea should be dark and strong and it should have so much sugar in it that every sip feels as though it is eating through the enamel of your teeth and compromising your fillings.  Iced tea is taken very seriously ‘round these parts and one’s reputation as a tea brewer has been known to be a deal breaker in engagements and marriages.

How serious are Southerners about iced tea?  Well, at least 12 or 13 years ago, my husband and I were eating at the Bojangles in not-so-beautiful Selma, North Carolina.  As was Scott’s wont, he ordered a big ‘ol sweet tea.  When we finished eating, I threw our stuff away while Scott got a refill of tea to go.  As he was walking across the restaurant to rejoin me, he took a sip from his cup and I thought that the boy had been poisoned.  He doubled over and made this “WHHMMPPHH” noise and got all red. 

I rushed across the restaurant, preparing to call 911 or perform some sort of CPR.  “Honey, are you okay?”

His voice sounded strangled as he said, “Un...un...un-sweet tea pitcher.”

Somehow, unleaded was poured in the leaded pot.  My beloved gave the staff of the Selma Bojangles a serious “come to Jesus” about the dangers of serving un-sweet tea to unsuspecting customers wanting a refill of Cajun goodness.  To this very day, Scott still shudders every time he is reminded of that experience.  Poor baby.

My last caution to those new to the Southern tables is to be careful of innards.  Most folks have come over to the “normal camp,” electing to refrain from using innards in various foods and sauces because it is disgusting beyond the telling of it, but some folks still try to slip it in on the unsuspecting.  Speaking of traumatic experiences, my brother and I weren’t told that we’d been eating giblet gravy at my Grandma Pauline’s house for about 20 years.

Giblet-induced therapy bills aren't pretty.

Monday, July 25, 2011

William Peace University? I'll be damned!

When I escaped high school with a diploma in hand, I was the proverbial blank slate.  I had murky thoughts as to what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but I certainly had zero thoughts as to how to bring said nebulous goals to fruition. 

I attended an institution that encouraged me to stand up for myself, speak my mind and to not be afraid.  The institution taught me that my opinion was just as good as a man’s opinion (if not better) and it provided an atmosphere where I could discover who I was and what I really believed while surrounded by supportive sisters and female professors.  Thanks in large part to that institution, I was able to enroll my junior and senior years at UNC-Chapel Hill, believing in myself and refusing to drown in the nameless, faceless bodies of the enormous university. 

That institution was Peace College and it breaks my heart into millions of pieces that this might be the last time I will ever be able to say that with pride. 

For well over 100 years, Peace College championed the cause of women, even in when no one else did.  It provided a secure environment for the learning and growth of young women who were fortunate enough to attend. 

Of course, the college had to gradually change with the times in order to stay viable with the ever-relaxing rules of the decades. 

When I attended Peace, men weren’t allowed in the dorms.  On very rare occasions—and with the knowledge and consent of the house mothers—fathers and brothers of students were allowed up with their presence requiring their daughter or sister to bellow, “MAN ON THE HALL!  MAN ON THE HALL!” in warning to the other hall residents.  Boys were allowed to visit, but they were only allowed on campus at certain times and in certain public be perfectly honest, it wasn’t really worth the trouble. 

With the strong allure of N.C. State’s Fraternity Row in mind, Freshmen had curfews for the first semester and those curfews could only be lifted with good fall term grades.  We had to sign out and sign back in—even if we were going home for the weekend.  After the curfew lift, most Peace Ladies had fun with decorum because we were trained well. 

Peace Ladies were also required to attend Chapel once a week with services on Wednesdays and Fridays.  We put on our Sunday best and spent one hour sitting in a pew during service.  The services were very lovely and subdued I assure you that no one ever tried to pass me a snake.  Actually, I got to where I quite enjoyed Chapel because it was a place where I could sit and reflect.

Graduation from Peace College was one of the most special events in a student’s life.  Every girl donned white ball gowns and gloves and carried a bouquet of red roses.  When the graduation ceremony was complete, the ladies circled the fountain in front of Main, sang the Alma Mater and threw one of their red roses in the fountain. 

Boys allowed in dorm rooms, no Chapel, no curfew and all of the magic and tradition sucked out of graduation:  Yes, there have been so very many changes at Peace.  I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that we Alumni were thrilled about the aimless slashing and burning of 154 years of successful philosophy and beloved tradition, but we were able to find peace (pun intended) with the changes when the alternative was closing the college.

Now, this new “President” Debra Townsley has put a bullet in the heart of the school.  With only a year on the job, she has opted for the “dumbass and lazy” option of admitting men without looking for and implementing every alternative possible.  Her ineptitude has put Peace in a very sticky wicket:  What man is going to want to attend a school that has been known for the exclusive education of females for 154 years?  If a female can’t have a girls’ school at Peace, there are certainly more attractive co-ed options and if she persists in her search of a girls’ school, she only has to go down Hillsborough Street to Meredith. 

Maybe Townsley doesn’t get it—she did come from Pennsylvania after all and that’s the only thing I can surmise with regard to her categorical negligence and blatant disrespect of Southern tradition. 

Regardless of whatever useless excuse she might proffer, nothing will change the fact that she told a bold faced lie to Alumni.  In January, we asked the college if they were going to resort to letting men enroll at Peace, to which she answered with an emphatic “no.” 

Since the news broke on WRAL on Thursday (yes, that’s how the Alumni found out), I have been beside myself.  If it hadn’t been for Peace, I sincerely doubt that I would have had the courage to go to law school.  If it hadn’t been for Peace, I never would have met my best friends in the world.  Good Lord, if it hadn’t been for Peace, I never would have met my husband.  I have Peace College to thank for who I am today.

My Peace friends and I all had daughters and we had every intention of sending them to Peace.  My heart breaks when I look at my two Baby Belles and realize the amazing experience they might miss out on.

Many of the Alumni gathered around the fountain on Sunday afternoon in protest of the ill-conceived and absurd co-ed idea.  When I first heard about the gathering, I didn’t want to go.  The last time I was at Peace, I took Baby Belle 1 (about 4 at the time) with me to show her where she was going to school.  We laughed and I took pictures of her at the fountain.  I decided that I wanted that day to be my last memory of Peace because it was happy and full of hope—just like my time there as a student.  No, I didn’t want to go and say a despondent goodbye to the magical place before Townsley put it in the wood chipper.  I was emotional enough as it was.

It took one of my best friends (who lived next door to me in Davidson dorm) who can pack more guilt in one little finger than an army of Catholic mothers to change my mind.  I am so glad that she did.  What I thought was going to be a miserable farewell turned out to be a heart-felt “Hell No” instead.  I should have guessed that Peace Girls wouldn’t take this travesty lying down.

The administration of Peace College is going to face hundreds—maybe thousands—of Peace Girls ready to defend their beloved school.  Yes, Peace taught us to stand up and fight for what is right and we’re going to do just that.  Ain’t irony a bitch?

Beach Bunnies + Snow = Consequences and Repercussions

I’ll go ahead and admit it:  I’m not exactly the greatest Southern Belle in the world when I am taken out of my element.  I’m pretty well trained to where manners are a basic instinct, but there are some things so ingrained in one’s DNA that they override years and years of teaching.  It’s a problem that affects Southern Families as a whole, as well.

Example?  Ma, Pa, Ashley and Brother Culbreth were born and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina.  We all grew up with our toes in water of the Atlantic Ocean.  We are firmly planted in the beach sand and are also firmly in the camp of “People Who Freak Out at the Tiniest Little Bit of Snow.”  At the first hint of a flurry, we raid the grocery store, park our cars in our driveways and gaze out of the windows at the dreaded white stuff.

So what, pray tell, happens to Culbreths when they get whisked away from the southern coast of North Carolina to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado?  Well, hijinks ensue, of course.

My parents had a very limited flirtation with skiing before putting us kids on the slopes.  The stories were legendary.  During what might have been their maiden voyage down a mountain:  Dad somehow managed to fall flat on his back and the backs of his skis planted themselves firmly into the snow like posts.  Dad was stuck and moving him was going to take a little more than average effort.

As my father lay there flat on his back, looking as best he could for some sort of assistance, he chanced to look directly up from his position and saw my mother bearing down on him at an alarming clip.  You know those old silent films where the dastardly villain ties the heroine onto the train tracks and leaves her to watch her doom approach by way of a speeding locomotive?  Well, it was a lot like that.


“I can’t!”


“I don’t know how!”


“I don’t know how!”*

What happened?  Well, let’s just say that Dad’s ski jacket from that fateful day had two holes poked in the top of the shoulders from rather pointy skis traveling at a high rate of speed.  I don’t know if he still has it, but he did keep it for quite a while as evidence.

When it came to me and my brother learning to ski, I have to give it to my parents:  They let us learn on the Colorado powder instead of the North Carolina ice and thank God they did.  I had a hard enough time stopping on powder and I would have flat killed myself on ice. 

So, when I was about 12 or 13, my family took a ski vacation to Aspen, Colorado.  Buttermilk Mountain was known for its more gentle slopes, so we stayed in the hotel at its foot.  We did the little ski bunny class and teetered along the various trails. 

I screamed a lot.  Sometimes, I even shrieked.  It’s highly possible that I might have even let a couple of four-lettered zingers fly here and there.  It was terribly un-Belle-ish,

It wasn’t until after my first fateful trip to Aspen that I developed the Ashley Culbreth Council Method of Fall Management:  If you fall, stay down and stay still.  People will be less likely to laugh at you if they think you are seriously injured or killed.  (see Ice Possums and Other Anomalies.)

I actually got right decent at skiing after a couple of trips to Colorado.  My problem was that, in the immortal words of that bald ship commander in Top Gun, “My ego kept writing checks that my body couldn’t cash.”  

As for the rest of the Culbreth Family, atomic expletives weren’t the only things going on.

Dad seemed to be unable to come to a complete stop.  Let me clarify that:  Dad seemed unable to come to a complete stomp unless he was able to grab onto a tree of some sort.  Actually, let me clarify that:  Dad seemed unable to stop unless he was able to grab onto a tree that was teetering on the ledge of a bazillion-foot drop into a snowy abyss.  Not to dwell on curse words, but I must say that I was able to add about 3 or 4 zingers to my already robust repertoire. 

Although I thought it was a wee bit chicken at the time, Mom actually took the best course of action:  She pulled or injured a nebulous “something.”  Details were foggy as to the type of injury and the actual body part that was, in fact, injured.  Said “injury” allowed her to sit on the deck of the hotel, sip a hot toddy and watch the rest of her family bust ass.  Today, with the gift of hindsight, I give her mad props.

As for Ethan...well...bless his heart.  Halfway down the bottom slope of Buttermilk, there was a place where skiers could ski in, grab a bite to eat, take a break and ski on out.  The genius who designed the building put the door to the basement right next to the deck where skiers were supposed to ski on and ski off as they came and went.  Some total dumbass who worked at the joint left the aforementioned poorly placed door open. 

Mom sat “recuperating” on the back deck of the hotel and had the best view of what happened next.  She saw Ethan drift off to the side as he skied down the last slope.  She wondered what in the world he was doing, but it became clear after moment that Ethan wasn’t exactly in control of where he was going.  Stopping didn’t seem to be much of an option either.  As Ethan headed toward the cafe, Mom thought he was going to use the deck to try and stop himself and she wasn’t exactly thrilled about it, but any port in a storm. 

Yep, Ethan wasn’t slowing down one iota as he got closer and closer to the building.  As Ethan actually reached the building, imagine Mom’s surprise when he missed the deck of ingress and egress and went through the wide open basement door.  Even though Mom was half a slope away, she could still hear everything crystal clear.  The tremendous cacophony was everything you would imagine from someone skiing full-tilt down basement stairs.

A wailing voice wafted up the stairs, “Help!  Hellllllllllllllp!”

Well, Ethan made it out of the basement and I think it was even of his own volition.  Amazingly, the only thing wounded was his pride.  He turned out to be a pretty good skier.  Of course, he doesn’t see the humor in his black diamond basement slalom.  Bless his heart.

*Please note that I am sparing you all of the extremely colorful expletives if for no other reason than my computer would positively melt if I typed it all in.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Deers Stalking

Southern Belles are called upon to deal with a great many things in life and we are expected to handle all of those things with great care and deportment.  Many of those aforementioned “things” can be quite unpleasant.  Although I don’t doubt that the North has issues in this area, there is one distasteful matter that the South is known for:  Road kill.

We’ve all seen it.  Have you ever played Road Kill Tag on some interminable driving excursion?  Possums are the lowest scores because they are a dime a dozen.  Lord knows I’m not expert, but those nasty boogers are either as dumb as paving bricks or their little beady nocturnal eyes can’t handle the bright flash of oncoming head lights.  Raccoons come in a close second.  Deer are unpleasant, but also some of the more frequent carcasses, especially in their “romantic season.”  Buzzards are particularly grizzly and chickens have more feathers than you could ever begin to imagine.  Sometimes one sees foxes and even the very occasional coyote.  I consider the wild turkey I saw once to be very rare because I am the wife and daughter of avid turkey hunters and I know how hard those varmints are to get.  Of course, alligators are off the charts.

Let me get this out of the way:  I do not eat road kill.  I do not know anyone who eats road kill, no matter how dire their straits.

Let me get this out of the way, also:  I’m not paranoid, but I think that Mother Nature is out to get me.  Ever since the day I turned 16, animals have been lining up to die by whatever I happen to be driving at the time.

When I was 17, I was driving home from a church retreat in Salter’s Path, North Carolina.  Back in the day, drivers were still allowed to take the shortcut through Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.  The cut-though road was heavily wooded and, despite the marine sharp-shooters’ efforts, wildlife was proliferate in the area.  A deer ran out in front of my car.  I slammed on brakes and the little stinker escaped with his life.

Less than 10 minutes later, two deer ran out in front of me.  If for no other reason than the old wives’ tale that says everything happens in threes, I pulled off to the side of the road and collected myself.  I felt safer spending the night at the entrance of the Red Team Firing Range than I did about getting back on the road, but I made myself plow on.  In spite of the apparent odds, I made it home without further incident.

When I was 19, I was westbound on I-40 at dusk.  As I approached Sampson County, I happened to look off to the right side of the road and there was a deer standing at the edge of the woods.  I hadn’t quite gotten over the deer incident on the military base, so the second I saw that fluffy little white tail, my foot came off of the gas and I slowed to a veritable crawl for I-40 (55 mph).  The deer was looking right at me and I really thought it was going to go into the trees. 

The damned deer didn’t go into the trees.  It took off like it was on fire and ran right across the road in front of me. 

I can hear what you’re saying.  You’re saying, “C’mon Ashley!  That sort of thing is normal when you drive in the rural areas of North Carolina!” 

Okay, fine.  Allow me to disabuse that particular notion:

Picture it:  The town of Chapel Hill.  Right slap in the middle of the town of Chapel Hill.  It was around midnight and I was driving on U.S. 54 toward the campus.  As I came up on St. Thomas Moore Catholic Church, seven—yes, seven—deer ran out of the church yard and into the road in front of me.

I stomped on the brakes and skidded like I was some kind of extra in The Fast and the Furious.  I hit the left flank on the last one and I knocked it down, but it recovered and ran off toward the other side of the street.  I sat there, stopped in the middle of U.S. 54 and shaking like a leaf.  The only thing that got me moving was the notion that they may have only been the first battalion in a soon to arrive legion prepared for war.

The irony is not lost on me that, when I see Bambi while riding on a golf cart at Bald Head Island or at the side of some snaky mountain road in Lake Lure, I’m the one staring at it like a deer in headlights.  Who would have thought that literal doe eyes could look so menacing? 

Is there a “WANTED” poster with my picture up in some sort of deer post office with the tag line “Dear or Alive?”

Anyway, you can relax the next time you see a deer on the road because it’s waiting for me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Councils and the Traveling Circus

The Council Family grocery go-getter was packed to the gills as we headed to the Appalachian Mountains for a family vacation.

We were less than a quarter mile from our driveway when Baby Belle 1 asked, “Are we there yet?” 

The problem was that Baby Belle 1 wasn’t remotely kidding.  She was as serious as a heart attack.  I thought to myself:  Oh goody!  Only five hours and fifty-nine minutes to go!

Dawson Street:  “Are we there yet?”

Cape Fear Memorial Bridge:  “Are we there yet?”

Leland:  “Are we there yet?”

Every town, county line and numerous times in between:  “Are we there yet?”

I think it was about the 536th arewethereyet when I said, “Yeah.  Get out of the car.”

She didn’t get out of the car.

My parents love to travel and my brother and I got to go on a lot of their trips when we were growing up.  Consequently, Ethan and I were trained in ways similar to the teaching I envision for those newbies in the Witness Protection Program:  Only pack what you can carry and you better pack it fast.  When it was time move out, there was zero tolerance for stragglers.  The whole point of having two kids was to have one extra if you have to cut bait because somebody can’t keep up with the marching line at Chicago O’Hare.

No, I don’t believe Ethan and I ever asked whether or not we were there yet.

Before the Baby Belles, Scott and I were known to pack up and go on a whim.  We didn’t go a whole lot, but sometimes knowing that that you can do something is plenty sufficient.  There’s nothing like throwing a couple of bags in the car and heading off for the sunset.

Then came Baby Belle 1:  We didn’t even try to pack up and go anywhere for quite a while.  The sheer magnitude of the perceived task was deterrent enough.  When we finally bit the bullet, we all but needed a shoehorn to get actual people into the car.  The real irony was that we only used a fraction of what we packed and we really needed a lot of the stuff we’d left at home.

Over the years, we got a bit better at packing our three person family.  As a matter of fact, we were so good at packing that I got pregnant again because we needed the challenge.  (Kindly take a moment and notice the dripping sarcasm.)

When Baby Belle 2 made her entrance—good Lord have mercy.  The family Jeep competently handled the giant piles of crap that we were now used to packing as parents, but two babies...well, we considered renting a U-Haul.  We weren’t even halfway to our destination on our first trip when Scott looked over to me and said, “This isn’t going to work.”

No shit.

I have all the respect in the world for folks that are brave enough to drive mini-vans and Scott might have done it, but I couldn’t go there.  Instead, we got one of those enormous, gas sucking monsters that takes a running jump to get into and a rope to rapel out of.  Scott drives in the west wing, I usually sit in the east wing unless the Baby Belles need me for something in the south wing.  Of course, now that there are movies and cartoons playing 24/7 on the dual screens in the south wing, a parental presence isn’t usually required and that’s a good thing because it’s positively exhausting to walk all the way back there.

On this particular vacation, a whole new element was added to the experience:  Carsickness.  As we approached Lake Lure and negotiated the perilous and snaky roads toward our final destination, Baby Belle 1’s voice came weakly from the back seat, “I don’t feel so good.  My tummy feels sick.”

It didn’t get any better.

As the week progressed, Baby Belle 2 got carsick and yakked all over a quaint little quilting shop outside of Chimney Rock.  Before and after the aforementioned pleasant experience, I got queasy a couple of times myself and insisted on taking over the driving responsibility.  Guess what?  Scott got carsick on the way to our Biltmore excursion. 

Yep, it’s a whole new era for the Councils.  What’s the silver lining?  Well, I can sleep comfortably at night in the knowledge that the Baby Belles could never hack running off and joining the traveling circus.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Yep, She's Slipping

B.C. = Before Children.

I adore my angelic little Baby Belles and I wouldn’t trade them for the world, but I admit to looking back at my life before the arrival of my sweet pumpkins and marveling at the things I set stock in.  I’ve already told you about my pre-pregnancy shoes and clothes versus the togs I sport now.  Sigh...

B.C....If I wanted to plop down on the couch and spend the entire day reading a book, I could.  If I wanted to spend the day puttering around in my garden (I had a lovely garden), I could.  Sleep...well I had no concept of how little I could sleep and still function and I had no desire to find out.  Manicures.  Pedicures.  Facials.  Trips to New York, Los Angeles, Vegas, the Caribbean,


B.C....I had hairstylist appointments at least every six weeks.  I alternated from blonde, to brunette to redhead on a whim to the point where I completely forgot the natural color of my hair.  As you know from my blog entry about a Southern Belle’s kevlar, you are well aware of how critical a hairstyle is to a lady’s appearance.  One time, I even kept my driver’s license two years past the expiration date because my hair looked so damn good in the picture that I wanted to keep using it.  The police officer who cited me for an expired license wasn’t able to follow my reasoning.

After I had Baby Belle 1...well...I counted any day that I was actually able to wash my hair as a success.  It was about three months into motherhood that I actually stopped and looked into a mirror and thought, “Oh crap!”  I looked like the mutant offspring between a rabid squirrel and a porcupine and I’m not even going to go into detail about the decorative spit up and bits of food here and there. 

I made an appointment. 

B.C.: I waltzed into a salon like I owned the joint.  A.C.: I snuck in all covered up like Quasimodo.  When I took the bedraggled mess out of my scrunchie, the lady bit her lip, but managed to suppress the horror that I’m sure she was feeling.  The stylist was instructing some students from the cosmetology school that day and I served as the cautionary tale for the afternoon.

So...then came Baby Belle 2.  I vowed before I even gave birth to not descend to “that dark place” again.  Ha.

When my mother asked me what I wanted for my birthday last year, I said a haircut.  My mother didn’t even bother to ask what I wanted for my birthday this year:  She told me that I was getting an appointment at the salon and I took the not-so-subtle hint. 

Well, I went to the salon yesterday.  The same brave lady as before actually gasped and recoiled when I let my hair down that time.  I felt the love.

Now I am a Belle with blond highlights and zero split ends.  In an attempt to get myself out of the rut, I went really blond (I’m sure that some smartass will now make the comment that I’ve been really blond for a long time—go on and get it over with).  Surely the roots will look so bad in a few months that even I won’t be able to live with the zebra look.

Yes, I’ve let my Southern Belle sisters down and I am most heartily sorry.  If it makes ya’ll feel any better, I’ve written several thank-you notes about various things today, I’ve answered “ma’am” and “sir” to all questions asked and I told a new bride “best wishes” instead of “congratulations.”  (Ya’ll feel free to look that last one up.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

It's Not Rocket Science

Dear Gentlemen:

I don’t know if I am exhausted from my busy weekend, excited about my upcoming vacation or just plain overcome by the heat, but I’m feeling uncharacteristically benevolent today.  Accordingly, I’m going to give you a little bit of advice that will make your world infinitely easier. 

We spent the morning of the Fourth of July at the home of some very dear friends.  There were tons of community activities going on for the holiday and our Diamond Magnolia Hostess had to do some serious planning for optimum enjoyment—thou shalt not leave Baby Belles with a free moment lest thou doesn’t care if thou’s furnishings fall victim to magic markers or if thou’s dog collapses into exhaustion from being “fetched” to death. 

As our lovely Diamond Magnolia zipped around the house finishing up preparations, her husband walked around in circles for a moment and then finally sat down and said, “I still don’t know what the plan is.”

I answered, “The ‘plan’ is to do whatever she tells you to do.  Honestly, how long have you been doing this?”

There it is:  Just do whatever she tells you to do. 

So simple, yet so eye-opening.  As Gomer Pyle would say, Shaaaazam!

I know that men think they have cornered the market on planning.  Granted, storming the beaches of Normandy was no small feat, but a few successes do not make one bulletproof.  Yes, for every success there is a Bay of Pigs or a Vietnam.  Let’s also not forget that many of history’s great successes might not have even gotten to the planning stages but for the wives of the planners who woke them up and got them out the door in the mornings as per impeccable schedules:

Get up and go potty Dwight.  Put your clothes on and then come downstairs so you can have a quick bite before heading out to the Pentagon.  Let’s get those infantry numbers settled.  When I call you at work today, I want to hear about progress, not head-butting.  I also want to hear that you included my troop disbursement outline.  Let’s get it done, General Eisenhower!

When a matter is planned by a Diamond Magnolia, one can rest assured in the plan’s reliability.  One can furthermore rest assured that—in addition to impeccable precision—etiquette is taken into account so that, not only will a plan be accurate, it will be appropriate.  It does not behoove anyone to question a Diamond Magnolia’s plan and one doesn’t have to know actually know the whole plan—one only needs to be able to follow orders so, again:  Just do whatever she tells you to do.

Fighting against the plan will only make things hard on you and it will seriously screw with the other good folks who are following orders like they ought to. 

My paralegals will tell you that I often wander around the halls of the office moaning, “Why don’t they listen?  I’m always right!  If they’d just done what I told them to do, they would have been perfectly fine!”

I really don’t feel as though I ask the impossible when I give my clients instructions.  I furthermore promise that my instructions are for their welfare and are born out of ten years of legal experience and thirtysomething years of common sense.  I often find that many of my clients have enormous amounts of legal experience (I have several one-person crime waves at any given time), but they lack the commons sense that God gave a paving brick.

Yes, I can talk consequences and repercussions until I am blue in the face—and I often do—and it is so terribly disheartening to see my instructions go in one ear and out the other.  I would have a better chance of getting my point across to the Great Wall of China. 

What are some of my “bang my head against the wall” moments?  Well:

  1. Ashley to Domestic Violence Defendant:  Okay, the judge let you out on bond and—I know he went over this with you, but it bears repeating:  You  have got to stay away from her.  You can’t go to her home or her work or anywhere else she might be.  If you see her when you are out in public, walk away immediately and leave.  Do not call her on the telephone for any reason whatsoever.  I don’t care if she calls you or tells you that she doesn’t care if you go around her or not, I promise you that you will care when you are picked up, prettied up in an orange jumpsuit and plopped right back in jail.  DO.  NOT.  CONTACT.  HER.

Result:  He called her right when he got out of jail and she said it was okay for him to come over.  Shockingly, the police were waiting on her doorstep.

  1. Ashley to Rastafarian Defendant:  Look, I’ve talked to your probation officer and she said that you have been in compliance with everything except for the dirty drug screens.  You were busted on pot charges and you’re smoking pot on probation—you’re not exactly evidencing a growth experience, if you get my drift.  Here’s the deal: Test clean for two weeks.  Two weeks.  Fourteen days.  Hold on for fourteen days and she’ll recommend releasing you from probation.  You’ll be free to move to Jamaica and follow the Bob Marley Way.
Result:  Not only did he continue to light up at every available opportunity, he showed up at the courthouse to resolve a traffic ticket and the bailiffs found bags of ganja on his person.  He’s currently “stirring it up” in custodial rehab.

  1. Ashley to Civil Plaintiff:  Okay, the defense is going to take your deposition.  Their attorney wants to see how well you will do on the stand during trial, so it is vital to keep your cool.  Only answer “yes” and “no.”  Do not voluntarily extrapolate.  Explain further—as minimally as possible—only when they ask you to.  KEEP.  YOUR.  COOL.
Result:  Plaintiff dives across the conference table with the intent of soundly throttling the deposing attorney.

For the love of all that is good and holy, just do what we tell you to do.  You will be so much better off.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Celebrate, Dammit!

“I am American by birth, Southern by the Grace of God.”  I’m sure you’ve seen the aforementioned statement on bumper stickers, tee-shirts, hats and anything else you can slap a saying on.  From what I’ve experienced, the reaction to that statement is either love or hate and I’m guessing you can figure out for yourselves who does the lovin’ and who does the hatin’.

Regardless of what you think about the saying, I think we can agree that the Civil War, War of Northern Aggression or The Recent Unpleasantness isn’t that dim a memory to many folks.  I would normally say, “to each his own,” but I admit to being fairly dismayed when I recently came across a Southern American family who refused to acknowledge—much less celebrate—the 4th of July.

Why?  Well, this particular family really hasn’t gotten over the Civil War.  “The Independence Day” that they choose to celebrate is the 24th of December 1860:  The day that South Carolina seceded from the Union and spurred similar action from other Southern states which catapulted the nation into vicious conflict. 

Setting aside the obvious argument that this family likely wouldn’t be able to choose what to celebrate without the “original” independence of 1776, I have—like most folks—personal reasons for my discomfort:  Loved ones who gave absolutely everything they had for the defense of this country in its darkest hours and I’ll be damned if I’m going to dishonor them.

One of my grandfathers was in the Navy and stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1941.  He completed his tour of duty and shipped out for home mere days before the Japanese bombed the base and roped the United States in to World War II.  He worked in the Wilmington Shipyard building military ships for the remainder of the war and he then joined the Wilmington Police Department and protected his country in a law enforcement capacity until he retired as a homicide detective.

My other grandfather was in the Army and marched with General Patton across Europe.  He also stormed the beach at Normandy and I don’t care how much money Stephen Spielberg spends on rubbing Tom Hanks and other egotistical actors with a little dirt and dropping them on a beach to fake gunfire, no one but the steel-spined men that spilled out onto the French shore to conquer the impossible on June 6, 1944 can tell you what Hell really felt like that day.

I never knew my grandfather who was in the Navy because he died before I was born.  He died before he should have.  I knew my other grandfather and I loved him and I could tell he loved me, but he had a troubled soul.  My great aunts and uncles often said that what he saw and experienced during the war changed him forever.  More sacrifice. 

I have friends in the military, law enforcement and even the legal arena (those innocent souls with the lofty ideals that haven’t yet been punctured by reality) who fight on a daily basis to protect the spirit of what our forefathers envisioned for this country.  Everyone who stands up selflessly for this country at one time or another deserves respect and it doesn’t matter if they’re from the North, South, East or West.  The 4th of July is a holiday without borders.  It’s a time to celebrate an amazing country that lets you celebrate things like South Carolina’s secession. 

“I am American by birth and Southern by the grace of God.”  Okay fine, but for one twenty-four hour stint can we say, “I am American by the grace of God and in honor of the men and women who fought tooth and nail to allow me to call myself an American in the first place.”

We can get back to all of that other shit on the 5th.

Whew!  Blustering is exhausting.