(Girls Raised in the South)
1. GRITS have Manners – “Yes, sir,” “yes, ma'am,” “please,” and “thank you so much” are so ingrained in our speech patterns that we will even thank police officers after being issued a ticket, surly clerks who have just refused to take back a faulty appliance, and doctors who have told us we are dying of something awful. No Southerner thinks this is odd. It has the added benefit of making the exchange end well and leaves the other person either with a sense of relief or a sense of regret for having treated someone badly who is obviously so nice.
Your average GRITS will only withhold thanks under extreme offense and will say why, to make it clear she was not raised in a barn by rabid, mange-ridden wolves. An example of such a breach of etiquette might be, “Well, Sadie, I won’t be thanking you for telling me my daughter is a slut, as I don’t believe it, and I do not appreciate your foul tongue, nor your nasty little mind.” BETTER GRITS response: “Thank you so much for taking that no-account husband off my hands. I was tired of having to go to the doctor for penicillin. I wish you as much happiness with him as I had.”
2. GRITS know Food – Sadly, not quite as many modern GRITS can cook as well as their predecessors, however, they are still acquainted with the principles of what constitutes a good meal versus a Sunday dinner, and it is a point of honor to develop the skills and knowledge to be able to produce at least one food item so well that consumers thereof think it should be named in their honor. Typically, this food item would be a dessert, such as a cake or bar cookies.
I have known Southern mommas who were so insistent that their daughters learn to cook at least one dessert, that they would dedicate every weekend for a year or better to teaching them over and over and over again how to achieve the perfect Orange Dream Cake, including getting the frosting to look professionally done. The family seldom objects after the first two attempts, as they get to eat the trial runs, which may look nasty but taste great.
And, what Momma knew and baby girl didn’t, was that while she was teaching her daughter how to make that perfect cake, she was also teaching her confidence, building the kitchen skills necessary to be able to cook pretty much everything else she’d ever want to cook, and how to take pride in her accomplishments and not devalue “women’s work.”
3. GRITS know the value of manual labor – Every real GRITS has, at some point, stood out in the hot sun, grubbed in dirt, swatted sand flies, mosquitoes, and gnats, and done so for a good long stretch of several hours. Whether it was working in Momma’s rose garden, picking field peas for dinner, topping corn, de-worming tobacco, digging up new potatoes, picking peaches, or setting out tomato and zucchini plants, this is an absolute given in southern female life. Your GRITS may have done so only once as a tiny tot, or may have done so every growing season, but I can guarantee you that it’s been done. It’s as important as wearing a bra to church.
Consequently, GRITS are very sympathetic to those who earn their livings as farmers, landscapers, arborists, truckers, etc., and you are very likely to get an Orange Dream Cake as your just desserts (no need to pardon the pun) after having worked outdoors in the hot sun all day in appreciation of your efforts.
Conversely, GRITS will view anyone who has not engaged in manual labor at some point as some kind of aberrant sissy, male or female. Be warned.
4. GRITS are experts at Cussin’ – you have not been properly cussed out until you have pissed off a GRITS. True GRITS will abstain from the use of obscenities while in the full throes of a southern snit. Unless you yourself have lowered the tone of the disagreement, such epithets are not likely to enter the room. A typical string of cussing will include hyphenated words, evoke comparisons to disagreeable wildlife, cast aspersions on your heritage, and refer to your inability to function adequately in some major area of your life. It is not required to make logical sense, but rather to make stunningly clear just how egregious your behavior or statements have been. Your GRITS will demonstrate the breath control and volume of a professional opera singer to such an extent that you will be rendered mute and deaf by the end of her tirade and will probably have lost the ability to stand without assistance or without staggering around to regain your balance.
At typical tirade might be: “You mule-skinning, snake-licking, no-‘count, pea-flickin’, yellow-bellied, sorry son of a white trash, trailer-dwellin’, ‘gator-rassling’ carpetbagger! What do you MEAN, you are not going to pick up your nasty, smelly, stinkin’, mud-encrusted, filthy, damp, slimy, disease-carryin’ socks offa my living room floor? Were you raised in a BARN? I know your Momma, and she taught you better than that, and I know she’d be ASHAMED to call you her son, and if you don’t get your wide, old, lazy trailer-tail offa that couch, and pick those dag-nabbed socks up, AND put them in the hamper, where decent people put their disgusting, dirty clothes, so’s I can haul them off to the Washeteria and sanitize them before we all come down with the mange and I don’t know what all, I am going to call your Momma and have her drag her tired, long-sufferin’ tail feathers on over here and take you home and get you trained right before I EVER let you back in my house again!”
Or thereabouts. Oh, and you are expected to hop to it, get it done, and later apologize for doing whatever it was that upset her so badly, then she can apologize, and you can all have a good laugh at her creativity. For the target of such a tirade to reply in kind would be trashy and inappropriate, as well as being a horrendous misreading of the situation.
5. GRITS can become Mommas – Mommas are the court of last resort, the ultimate arbiters of disputes, unchallenged, saintly, reliable, calm, sassy, emotionally strong, unafraid, good cooks, practical, fun-loving, realistic, resourceful, revered by the pastor, generous, understanding, and are never, ever, ever to be referred to in any negative manner whatsoever. Even if, in their dotage, they wander down the street naked, covered in cake frosting, cussing up a blue streak, no one ever says anything bad about them publicly. Mommas are what hold families and homes together through thick and thin.
In return for such social homage, Mommas have a lot of duties. The house must have at least one room suitably clean for receiving august personages, such as the preacher, and all visitors should be offered libations appropriate to the time of day. Mommas are responsible for teaching their children how to live decently, be polite, learn to be adaptable to strange or scary situations, how to cook and clean for themselves, to behave and do well in school, show respect for their elders, and develop good life habits in general. Mommas must not spend to excess, and, in fact, are sometimes hilariously frugal – I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a Southerner who has not, at some point, heard “Don’t you throw that rubber band/egg carton/used Popsicle stick/piece of string/etc. out! I can use that in my garden next spring!”
Mommas are also expected to master at least one thing in each of the major domestic skills areas – it might be fried chicken for dinner, or it might be Mud Pie; it might be sewing, knitting, tatting, or crochet; it might be having the cleanest house in Christendom or being a creative decorator or being one helluva bargain hunter, and so on. Above all else, a Momma makes her children feel loved and accepted and safe.
Momma-hood is a journey, and it is considered a true, meaningful compliment to be called a “good Momma”. A good Momma can make all the difference in the life of her offspring and her spouse. A bad Momma is not a real “Momma” and will ruin everything and damage everyone. It is possible to become a Momma without having any children – by being a good person to whom others turn for advice, comfort, help, and reassurance. No man can ever really be a Momma, but he can be “near as good as” one.