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Knowing when to cross the line

About this time of year in 1980, we moved above what storyteller Bill Harley calls the “rude and stupid line.”

Everybody below the line thinks everybody above the line is rude.

Everybody above the line thinks everybody below the line is stupid.

And, every true Southerner considers anywhere above the Mason-Dixon “the North.” No matter whether it’s the Atlantic Coast, New England, the Pacific Northwest or the Midwest. So, we were up North and stupid.

When I was in college, I spent my summers working out West. Aside from our Southern drawl, we meshed with kids from all over the country. We had all been unleashed and were as wild as loose mules or wild horses, depending on which side of “the line” you called home.

Now, I didn’t expect to be immediately welcomed into the hearts and homes of the folks from small town Ohio, but I did think that somebody would bring over a pan of brownies or a potted plant.

But I guess when newcomers move into a neighborhood driving a van with a cactus painted on the side and an Alabama tag on the back and “Eat More Beef” on the front, that’s reason enough for folks to close their window shades and lock the doors – much like Mama did when the Gypsies came through town.

No one came to visit except the woman on the Welcome Wagon. She was reluctant to step inside and was as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, like she was expecting me to offer her a dip of snuff or for one of the young’uns to stick a double-barrel shotgun under her nose.

I became visibly acquainted with some of the mamas whose young’uns were in the same rooms at school as mine and took heart in that bit of familiarity.

When I met one of the mamas in the grocery store, which was bigger than the entire town of Brundidge, I would put on this big smile and start putting the brakes on the buggy, fully expecting them to stop to visit. They didn’t.

They pushed their buggies right on by me like I was coated in vanishing cream.

They had not learned Southern shopping etiquette.

After eyeing me several times when I pulled the garbage can to the street, my left door neighbor introduced herself. Her courage came from the fact that we had not yet hoisted the Confederate Flag nor had we turned a coon dog loose in the yard.

Peggy and I became fast friends. She did not like her children and I was a good listener. Actually, she talked so fast I didn’t know half she said, so I just nodded sympathetically and sighed every now and then.

One day she invited me to come in and see her new dining room furniture. As I lifted my foot to go into the room, she let out a blood-curdling scream that would have stopped a runaway train.

“Don’t go in! We don’t walk on the carpet!”

I surveyed the jump from the doorway to the nearest chair and tried to think how her dinner guests would be seated at the table. I looked to the ceiling, expecting to see a pulley that would fly them there like Peter Pan in the picture show.

Being new in town and friendless, I looked for any opportunity to win friends and influence folks. When I read in the newspaper that the Presbyterians were putting on an arts and crafts show, I asked Peggy if she would like to go.

“No.”

I stood there waiting for her to explain that she really wanted to go and to offer a good excuse as to why she couldn’t go and for her to suggest that we do something else sometime.

She didn’t. She had not read Miss Manners’ “Etiquette for Southern Belles.”

I bumped into our across the street neighbors quite by accident. One of the young’uns released the emergency brake on the car and it rolled across the street and hit our neighbors’ ornamental twig of a tree.

I apologized and offered to pay. He presented me with a $600 bill, giving credence to that rude and stupid thing.

Then one day, things changed.

I got a phone call from the school principal who said that my eight-year-old daughter had been involved in an “altercation.” I was from the South. He should have said, “fight.”

When I arrived at the school, my daughter was in the office with a girl I assumed to be a teacher’s aid. But no, that big girl, a sixth-grader, was the one my daughter had punched in the eyes with both fists.

The big “bully” had drawn a line in the sand and dared the smaller girls to cross it. On her side was all of the fun playground equipment. So, my daughter socked her and crossed the line with a flock of friends following behind her.

The principal said, with a frown, that was not the way things were handled at his school.

“How do you handle bullies at your school?” I asked.

He didn’t answer.

That afternoon, I received several phone calls from mamas whose little girls had been too afraid to cross the line. They were appreciative that somebody had finally stood up to the “bully.”

Sometimes it pays to be stupid.

But, no more lines were drawn in the sand and I made it into the mamas’ social circle.

Jaine Treadwell is features editor of The Messenger. She can be reached at jaine.treadwell@troymessenger.com.